03 Feb Learning Together: Indigenous-guided reconciliation for allies
CHET WA TELNEXW / SKÚLMIN’LHKALH / WE ARE LEARNING TOGETHER
Each year, September 30th marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as Orange Shirt Day, and offers time to recognize and reflect on the tragedies and injustices of residential schools. Listening and learning are necessary tools for reconciliation, and their application is an ongoing invitation to understand this country’s colonial history and current practices. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre offers an opportunity to engage in learning and gain new perspectives on this important day, but also offers diverse ways of authentic learning throughout the year through the Cultural Awareness Workshop as well as daily tours.
Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee from Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish Nation) —a decolonial consultant and founder of Nahanee Creative Inc.—and Tanina Williams of Líl̓wat7úl (Lil’wat Nation) —Knowledge Keeper and founder of amawílc—are leading an Indigenous Cultural Awareness Workshop throughout the winter of 2023. The course is presented by the Squamish Lil’wat Culture Centre and Whistler Community Services Society and is offered free of charge with support from Heritage BC and the Province of British Columbia, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.
Taking place on the shared territory of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation, Ta7talíya and Tanina share a breadth of insights highlighting the diversity of language, culture, customs, and approaches to governance amongst Indigenous peoples. SLCC Youth Ambassadors lead a welcome, and a guided tour, and share their unique stories and experiences as part of the workshop.
Ta7talíya opens the course by examining various definitions that come up in decolonial work, and provides an overview of her workbook Decolonize First, a copy of which is provided to all attendees. Ta7talíya offers “an invitation to language, tools and frameworks, [allowing people to] define what reconciliation means to them today, next year and to the generations that are coming.”
On the importance of incorporating reconciliatory practices year-round, Tanina says, “As a whole country, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, we need to unlearn colonization and learn a different way that is inclusive of all people and lifts up all people, including decolonizing how we live and the land we live on.”
Tanina notes that this is “an introductory course that skims the surface. It provides a glimpse of past, present and future of governance for Indigenous people. I hope it stimulates people to be more curious and delve deeper.”
A personal approach to decolonization
The impacts of decolonization and reconciliation are widespread but the initiation of action begins at an individual level.
For Ta7talíya, a 25-year career in communications and design prompted the question, “what can I do?” and inspired a return to school in her 40s to complete a thesis on decolonizing identity.
“I was unsure how to talk about the word ‘colonization,’” Ta7talíya says about the start of her journey. “There is a huge barrier to dismantling colonialism if we can’t talk about it,” which guided Ta7talíya to apply her skills as a designer and educator to create resources for people who want to learn and do the work.
Ta7talíya’s teachings build a foundational understanding by providing people with the proper words and definitions to begin learning about, and ultimately working towards dismantling colonialism. “The more accessible the information is, the more people can integrate the teachings into their lives,” says Ta7talíya.
Tanina’s journey stirred in her childhood, awakened by uncomfortable conversations she would hear amongst adult family members. “I could feel the pressure of the government and institutionalization in the air; it was like I was living and breathing it everyday and I didn’t like it,” says Tanina.
“I had to do a lot of personal healing, I was an angry person,” Tanina recalls. “I started with my heart bent towards everyone getting along and then I lost that direction. My decolonial work guided me back to a heart-centered perspective.”
At the centre of Tanina’s work—which includes bringing her knowledge to elementary school children, teachers, and parents—is her personal struggle with colonialism.
“I had to decolonize myself which was hard because I was adamant in saying ‘I am a matriach’ but you can’t be a matriarch and be colonized.”
Decolonial work begins with a personal call towards action and is further facilitated by community support.
“I couldn’t do it myself,” says Tanina, who relied on her family and network. “I remember my carving teacher saying to me, ‘Our people love you, our people see you.’ He filled my cup which helped me on my journey.”
Allies in action
“When you decide to become an ally, find other people to support your journey who are like-minded,” advises Tanina. “Only allies can teach each other; I can provide a Lil’wat perspective and teachings from my people but I can’t teach someone to be an ally.”
Tanina notes that a large part of the work in allyship is to find and support each other on the journey towards truth and reconciliation.
“I offer a full perspective of what I have learned over time,” says Tanina, “but I am a starting point to other teachings.”
Another important approach in being an ally is taking a step back and allowing Indigenous voices to be heard. “It’s not about your ways of knowing, or being the bigger voice; be humble and be a learner at this time,” says Tanina.
Ta7talíya recommends focusing on education and picking a few things that resonate.
“We are undoing hundreds of years of oppression, racism and inequity so it requires more than one day of discussion. Apply small, incremental acts in your personal life and within your organizations.” She also states that decolonial work is “personal work for everyone to find their role within their sphere of influence, and call people into learning and action.”
Ta7talíya and Tanina offer some concrete examples of how allies can begin and continue their practice:
- Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action
- Read the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit’s Calls to Justice
- Read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
- Register for group and corporate consultations, training, and resources with Ta7talíya and Tanina
- Watch Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams on YouTube
- Find a group to keep accountability going and maintain social change
From October 2022 through to February 2023, the Indigenous Cultural Awareness Workshops were presented to sold-out audiences. To sign up for the March 2, 2023 event or register your interest for future workshops visit slcc.ca/cultural-awareness/
Engaging with Ambassadors and programming offered at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre ensures an authentic connection with both the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and Líl̓wat7úl (Lil’wat Nation) while on the shared territory of Whistler, and directly supports Indigenous families living in our communities. As a non-profit society and registered charity, the SLCC relies on the support of partners, guests, and donors to continue our work and thrive in our mission to be a world-celebrated centre, sharing meaningful experiences, educating all, and lifting our distinct Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Líl̓wat7úl ways. Learn more – Invest in Culture.
To keep in touch and get notified about all our cultural and educational offerings – sign up for the SLCC newsletter at slcc.ca/signup
Former residential school students can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and Indigenous peoples across Canada can also call 1-855-242-3310 counselling and crisis intervention.
CHET WA TELNEXW / SKÚLMIN’LHKALH / WE ARE LEARNING TOGETHER
Story by Jessica Brown of Root Creative.