One year after Alberni Valley residents walked for reconciliation, more than a hundred people gathered at a forum to discuss the next steps for reconciliation in the Valley.
The Reconciliation Forum, held at the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel on March 27, drew educators, young professionals, politicians and concerned citizens to ask questions and offer solutions.
March 27 was not a coincidence—it was the one-year anniversary of the Walk for Reconciliation, which drew together members of the city of Port Alberni, the Tseshaht First Nation and the Hupacasath First Nation on a walk from Harbour Quay to city hall, and eventually culminated in the creation of a Reconciliation Committee.
Organizers were impressed by the turnout, which was 112 people in total.
“It’s such an uplifting feeling, and the same feelings we had last year when we did the Walk for Reconciliation,” said Tseshaht Chief Councillor and Reconciliation Committee co-chair Cynthia Dick.
Discussions about reconciliation in the Valley were kickstarted last year by a much-debated council motion to change the name of a street in Port Alberni.
Mayor Mike Ruttan noted that five of six city councillors were present at the forum. “It’s important that we do this because this is a journey that we have gone through as a council, not just as a city,” he said. “We began with the process that gave the solution, before we really explored what the problem was.”
He cited the fact that 20 percent of the city’s population is Indigenous, and referred to Port Alberni as the “gateway” to Nuu-chah-nulth territory.
“We are the front door,” he said. “What do we want our front door to look like?”
Fellow co-chair and city councillor Sharie Minions said that a common question following the walk was, “What do we do now?”
The forum sought to answer this question, through a World Cafe-style discussion of 10 different questions:
1. What does reconciliation mean to you?
2. What can the community do to advance reconciliation in Port Alberni?
3. What do you know about the Truth and Reconciliation calls for action and the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People, and how can we better educate people on these two documents?
4. What does Port Alberni look like as a more reconciled community?
5. What would you like to see the city of Port Alberni, Tseshaht First Nation and Hupacasath First Nation do to further reconciliation in Port Alberni?
6. What do you know about the Reconciliation Committee and its work, and do you have any suggestions for the committee going forward?
7. What are some reconciliation success stories that you’ve heard?
8. What does reconciliation look like in the urban First Nations population?
9. What are some of the positive things happening in our community?
10. Who needs to be part of the reconciliation discussion?
The questions were also posted up along the walls, and participants could write down their own ideas. “Support a neutral project that crosses all barriers and brings people together towards the same goals and values,” read one comment.
“Be uncomfortable and do not apologize for others’ discomfort,” said another.
The word “educate” came up frequently, whether in regards to schools or a public education project.
Many people also wanted to know how they could participate in the Reconciliation Committee. All committee meetings are open to the public: the next one will take place at city hall on Wednesday, April 4 at 4:30 p.m.
Comments from the Tuesday forum will be brought to a future committee meeting, and committee members will decide how to move forward with suggestions.
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, who is also the Minister for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said the forum was inspiring, calling it “reconcili-action.”
“We’re trying to figure out how to do it at the provincial level,” he said. “I want this to inform us in Victoria, not the other way around.”