All Change: A New Job and a Canadian History Lesson
My last post was about a very exciting day, and it just gets better with this post about a very exciting week. The reason for my increased excitement? I started a new job! You heard it here first (probably, unless I already told you), I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of the Reconciliation Canada team as of Thursday June 20th. It’s been quite the whirlwind couple of weeks featuring one very big and very difficult decision, after which the world started moving very quickly. In Canada, the standard resignation period is only two weeks (I know!) which doesn’t give you very long to wrap things up and move on.
This brings us nicely onto the next burning question…what exactly did I move on to? Here’s where the history lesson begins. You may or may not have heard about Indian Residential Schools, which were a network of government-funded boarding schools for Aboriginal peoples of Canada. The goal of the schools was to assimilate Aboriginal children into European-Canadian society, and the vision was described in a government document as ‘killing the Indian in the child’. They existed from the 1870’s, and when the Indian Act of 1920 made attendance at schools mandatory for Aboriginal children, Indian Residential Schools were the only option available in many areas. Approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their homes by RCMP and forbidden to speak their own language from then on. Subsequent investigations show that 90-100% of children were subjected to extensive physical, emotional and sexual abuse and the mortality rate was 40-60%. The last Indian Residential School was closed in 1996, and this was followed by a 2006 Settlement Agreement which provided funding for reconciliation initiatives and minimal compensation for survivors who could prove that they attended an Indian Residential School. In 2008 the Canadian Government issued a formal apology for the creation of the schools and of previous governments’ policies of assimilation. The long term impact of Indian Residential Schools can still be seen today, with second and third generations of Aboriginal people whose perspective on the education system has been changed forever.
When I first learned about the extent of the suffering of children and their families, I was shocked that something as barbaric as this cultural genocide happened not only here in Canada, but so recently. Did you know that the Indian Act in Canada was used as a blueprint for oppression during arpartheid in South Africa? I didn’t. As a new immigrant, these extreme policies go against everything I’ve seen and heard about Canadian history, and it seems that Indian Residential Schools are a topic brushed under the carpet even among Canadians. This is where Reconciliation Canada, my new employer comes in. In the spirit of Nam’wiyut (we are all one), the initiatives of Reconciliation Canada create opportunity for Canadians, Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians, to learn about the impacts of residential schooling, heal together by sharing knowledge and experience, and develop strategies for moving forward in a mutually positive manner. It’s not about blame, politics or money, but about providing opportunities for reconciliation through dialogue workshops, community outreach and a series of large-scale awareness events during Vancouver’s Reconciliation Week in September 2013. That’s a whole other blog post – stay tuned this summer! I was lucky enough to spend my first day on the job at the City of Vancouver Year of Reconciliation Summit, and I got to watch Mayor Gregor Robertson officially proclaim June 21st 2013 to June 20th 2014 as the Year of Reconciliation in Vancouver. To give you an idea of how awesome this is, there hasn’t been an official Year of Anything in Vancouver, ever!
So that’s a very brief background on the organization, but it wasn’t just the mission that excited me. My new position is Director of Volunteer Engagement and I’ll be developing and implementing processes for recruiting, screening, selecting, training, motivating and evaluating volunteers. It’s a unique and exciting opportunity to use the skills I’ve learned in my previous roles and build a completely new program from scratch. It’s a big step up for me and it definitely won’t be easy, but it’s an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t turn down at this point in my career. One of the reasons that this was such a big decision is that it is a contract role with an end date of October 31st. After that – who knows? I don’t know for sure what I want to do next in my career, so this way I have some time to really think about my next step so I can be strategic in what I apply for next. It’s actually pretty liberating!
The other reason that this was such a big decision is that I have had an amazing two and a half years with the Canadian Cancer Society, with the opportunity to work towards another meaningful mission. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a fantastic group of staff and volunteers, and it’s been a non-stop learning experience. That said, even though I’ve moved on in a paid capacity I’ll always be an advocator of cancer prevention, research and support, and you’ll still be seeing all of those Daffodil Month tweets in April! For the moment, I’m focusing on getting my feet under the table at Reconciliation Canada (which includes navigating buses across the Lionsgate Bridge!) and to enjoying a memorable summer in Vancouver.
– Connect with me on LinkedIn here: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/elizabethgross/