This upcoming Sunday morning, September 26, 2021, Kingston and surrounding area residents will have an opportunity to learn more about core aspects of Indigenous roles in Canadian history, and the sobering impacts that colonial injustices continue to have on Indigenous lives today.
Katie Koopman, founder of GAP (Good Ally Project), and Amanda Stolk of True North Aid have co-organized the free, educational event, called Bridging the GAP: A Walk Towards Reconciliation, since 2019. Despite pandemic safety measures forcing a cancellation of the event in April of last year, this year’s educational walk at the Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area will be going ahead in full force, with participation numbers expected to rise significantly from those of 2019.
“It’s an opportunity to educate people about our historical injustices and gives people the opportunity to engage with others about something they may not have learned or known about before. It includes history that’s only been uncovered in recent years and, to me, it means giving voice to Indigenous people everywhere, without them having to relive their trauma in repeating themselves,” Stolk said of what the walk means to her.
Koopman offered, “The reconciliation walk is important to me, personally, because in 2016, my family was called to a commitment of reconciliation when our eyes were opened to Indigenous issues in the news. We started to work backwards through a timeline of history as to why we are where we are. Lack of clean drinking water on reserves, housing crises, inequitable education for Indigenous youth… the list is very long, and we wanted to understand how we got there.”
Koopman also described the walk as “self-guided reflection”, where participants can read printed texts along the walking trail which highlight facts, research, and quotes about Indigenous history from Indigenous politicians, writers, historians, and other roles of significance within Indigenous communities. She said that her experiences within the northern Ontario community of Eabametoong First Nation have also been significant. Through True North Aid, Koopman and her family became peer-educators, and the walk for reconciliation became an extension of her experiences for the past five years.
“We (GAP) are also hosting a blanket exercise, which is an opportunity for Kingston to more deeply explore the timeline of residential school history in a small group setting – we are very grateful to the generosity of CRCA (Cataraqui Region Conservation Area) and Little Cataraqui Creek, who have worked so wonderfully alongside us. They’ve been immensely accommodating and supportive of this event,” added Koopman.
This free educational event occurs just four days before National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (also referred to as Orange Shirt Day) on September 30, which calls attention to past atrocities against Indigenous Canadians, and is a national day of remembrance for the victims of the Canadian government’s residential school system. As of this year, it’s has been officially recognized and elevated to statutory holiday status for all federal government employees – with governments of Ontario, British Columbia, P.E.I, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories also observing Orange Shirt Day in provincial statutory legislation. Remaining provinces and territories are anticipated to follow suit in declaring Orange Shirt Day as a statutory holiday as well.
While this federal recognition is seen as a victory and a profoundly positive step forward for Indigenous Canadians, Koopman put forward that there is still much work left to be done, not just at a national level, but also among individual Canadians.
“I don’t like the term reconciliation, but it’s a term we have to use. I personally prefer the term ‘repentance’, because I’ve been saying for five years that, until this country is down on its knees in repentance, true reconciliation can’t follow. We have to educate ourselves first. It requires a lot of reading, it requires a lot of listening, and a lot of research.” Koopman explained.
As such, the walk for reconciliation will allow attendees to begin that process, Stolk explained.
“We will talk a little bit about Sir John A’s legacy, and his involvement with these residential schools. We’ll learn about the ’60s Scoop, and we of course will talk about the champions who are raising awareness of these issues throughout Indigenous communities in Canada,” she said.
For those wanting to attend, proof of full vaccination and photo ID will be required to join the educational walk, and attendees must register before 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 at truenorthaid.ca/reconciliation-walk, where more information on the event can also be found.