In this video, I share two nuggets of wisdom that have particularly informed my understanding of what reconciliation means to me from Chief Robert Joseph and Dr. Jeff Schiffer. As you watch, you will learn about the parallel process of both personal and systems transformation and why it’s an “inside out” approach requiring “all hands on deck.” In fact, what is described is at the heart of our approach to building cultures of belonging.

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What reconciliation means to me: summary of video

Hi, I'm Jessie Sutherland, the director of Intercultural Strategies, and I wanted to recognize Canada's second National Day of Truth and Reconciliation by sharing a little bit about a presentation that I did earlier this month. I was so honored to do it with Chief Robert Joseph for the United Way of British Columbia all staff meeting. The topic of our presentation was "Reconciliation Begins With Me". I want to take the time today, as everyone is recognizing this day, to share what reconciliation means to me, and I'd love to hear from you what it means to you.

During our presentation, Chief Robert Joseph shared what reconciliation means to him and you can learn more about that from his book, Namwayut: A Pathway to Reconciliation, or attending his talks. Here, I want to share what it means to me.

I've been very inspired by many Indigenous leaders, Elders, scholars and activists who have all informed my understanding of reconciliation. Two of these leaders that have especially influenced my thinking around reconciliation are Chief Robert Joseph and Doctor Jeff Schiffer.

I met Chief Robert Joseph when I attended a workshop he did over 20 years ago for residential school survivors and this is what he said: “For some [who went to residential schools], they're in denial about how bad it was. With enough support, they move out of denial and take on a victim identity. Then, with enough support, they move out of their victim identity and take on a survivor identity.” What he talked about in this workshop is that he was interested in supporting people in moving from what he called “survivor identities” to “human being.”

After this workshop, we met and I shared my thoughts with Chief Robert Joseph:

You know, I loved the personal journey that you laid out. I think it's similar to non-Indigenous people. I think at first we're in denial about what happened and how horrific it has been and continues to be. And then, with enough support and information, we move into an “offender identity” where we see our ancestors, our culture, our systems and ourselves as offenders.
With enough support, we move into more of a “self-responsibility,” “cultural responsibility,” “system responsibility” identity where we recognize what happened and continues to happen.
Then we reflect… What's my role? Am I going to participate in replicating the systems and relationships that have been, that I've been born into, or am I going to be part of creating and innovating a new pathway forward? So that's a sort of “responsibility identity.” I don't know how else to name that. 
And then, with enough support, that also becomes a bit of a “human being” identity. In this work on reconciliation, sometimes the “human being” identities can very much look like denial, but if both parties have gone through this journey, it's a powerful partnership. Sometimes in certain reconciliation efforts, there can be a collaboration between “victim identity / identities” and “offender identities;” however, it can get a little bit stuck because it doesn't actually change the paradigm. 

So this is how Chief Robert Joseph really influenced my thinking and helped me become a little bit more clear on what the personal restorative journey looks like that we all need to be on for genuine reconciliation.

The second person who really influenced my thinking is Doctor Jeff Schiffer. He’s an Indigenous leader, scholar, activist, executive director and so much more. He has a framework for thinking about the “systems journey” from decolonization to Indigenization.

He defines these two things in a particular way. What he writes and talks about is that “decolonization is a process of identifying elements of a structure or process that privilege European people and cultures, and then considering how remaking them might lead to more impactful, cost effective and sustainable outcome.”

Decolonization is something we can all benefit from. He defines Indigenization as “the intentional process of remaking inherited structures and processes in ways that acknowledge, respect and include Indigenous worldviews, knowledge systems, values and approaches.” So that is very cool. It's pretty much a process that we all want to be part of.

When I think of all the diverse cultures on the land and all the ways that these systems have hurt people in different ways, with the Belonging Matters framework, sometimes I also like to think about it as... What are we changing? That's a whole other topic. What is a genuine cultural belonging? But for now, I wanted to give you this one slide snapshot of what reconciliation means to me.  

To me, reconciliation is a parallel process of personal and system change. And it's not a top-down or a bottom-up approach. It's an inside out job. Reconciliation begins with me, and it requires an “all hands on deck” and “an inside out” perspective and approach. It's the bottom, it's the top, it's the middle, it's everybody rolling up our sleeves to really do the kind of cultural and personal change that will meaningfully impact every way that we address the variety of challenges we face. That's what I wanted to share with you. I'd love to hear what reconciliation means to you and how you're spending today.

In the spirit of gift giving, I'd like to offer you a free gift if you're interested. It's our Tools for Genuine Reconciliation bundle that we pulled together because so many people wanted some free ways to get started. So in this free bundle, you'll access the research that we did looking at Truth and Reconciliation processes in over 72 countries and getting to key nuggets we think will help you.
In the bundle, you will receive handouts on:

  • Indicators of False Reconciliation: This is so important to know so that you can avoid pitfalls and unnecessary mistakes.
  • Four Touchstones for Genuine Reconciliation: This will help guide your decision making on your strategies and initiatives.
  • Indigenous Engagement Checklist: This came out of a focus group with Indigenous leaders.
  • Metaphors for Understanding Culture: This is key to unlearning the habit of non-Indigenous people of imposing our worldview on others.
Tools for Genuine Reconciliation - National Day of Healing and Reconciliation - what reconciliation means to me
I'd love to hear from you. Reach out and let me know what reconciliation means to you and what you're up to today and planning for the year ahead.

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About the Author

Jessie Sutherland

An international speaker, trainer, and consultant, Jessie Sutherland works with organizations and communities to engage diversity, build belonging and ignite intercultural collaboration. Her approach creates sustainable community change that effectively addresses a wide range of complex social problems.

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