A ‘walk towards reconciliation’ at the Little Cataraqui Conservation Area

“The reality is that, if you are in your 20s today, you could have been a residential school survivor.”

They are words that carry a lot of weight, and for good reason, Katie Koopman explained.

“It is staggering, and it’s true,” said Koopman, who runs Good Ally Project (GAP), a non-profit organization under the umbrella of True North Aid. Koopman’s vision for GAP is “to build bridges with the community of Eabametoong First Nation and Kingston in the spirit of reconciliation through good allyship and meet the practical and measurable needs in the community.”

In the spirit of reconciliation, Koopman’s organization has planned an event this coming weekend aimed at educating participants on the (not so distant) history of the residential school system. Through that education, Koopman hopes to inspire action on reconciliation, she expressed.

“In the midst of the bigger picture, it’s important to connect on a community level on different issues that settlers and Indigenous people can come together on,” Koopman said.

“We host events that will tell the story of Canada, whether it’s its past or its current state, and as we approach the fall, September 30 is Orange Shirt Day, it is important for our organization to bring awareness to the history of the residential school system in Canada because it’s not that far in the past.”

With that in mind, GAP is hosting ‘Bridging the GAP: A Walk Towards Reconciliation’ at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. The self-guided walking tour will feature the Sisters of the Drum drumming for a few hours of the event, and will have organizers and volunteers on hand — not only to help guide participants on one of the two available trails, but to offer information about the history of the residential school system in a way that “will allow people to absorb the amount of information they feel they can absorb,” Koopman said.

“People can expect that this is a somber event, that this is an event of reflection, and of learning some things maybe people did not know about the timeline of residential schools, how treaties greatly affected the outcome of residential schools, how Canada did not fulfill its promises to the bands across Canada, in particular Ontario,” she explained.

“We hope to provide this information, and it is about 30 minute to 1 hour time for reflection and to challenge ourselves.”

Inside the Outdoor Centre at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area there will be a display with information about the various projects currently being run through True North Aid, a non-Indigenous, non-profit organization that serves Indigenous communities across Canada with the mission statement of practical humanitarian aid. GAP will also have copies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action on hand for those who are interested, as well as video of residential school survivor stories, which people are also invited to “absorb at their own pace.”

“Yes, it will be intense, and again, as much information is available to people as they think they are capable of absorbing. There are many settlers who are not ready to recognize their role in this because… most of us today are not directly responsible for the residential school system,” Koopman expressed.

“But we do live in this country alongside our Indigenous friends and potentially family members, and it is important to understand what has gone on, because it also greatly affects our understanding of the current issues in so many reserves, if not all of them, across this country.”

And the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area — who waived the fees for the event, making it a truly free, educational community event — is the perfect setting for an important journey down the same path for community members to take together, Koopman explained.

“We are all on Turtle Island together, and the environment and nature is so close to the foundation of Indigenous teaching,” she said.

“The goal of reconciliation, sometimes it’s not the goal that we have been told — it is a journey, it is a process — but the point is that we keep moving forward. The motion of walking together and learning together, that momentum, I think is quite symbolic when we’re on the trail together.”

Bridging the GAP: A Walk Towards Reconciliation will take place at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (1641 Perth Road) from 12 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. The event is open to all ages and is free, but donations to any of True North Aid’s projects will be accepted if people feel moved to make them. For details or to register, go to www.truenorthaid.ca/reconciliation-walk.

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