Big Brothers, Big Sisters undertakes reconciliationYouth, Professional Development, Child Welfare
Annie Battiste is a Mi’kmaw woman from Potlotek First Nations situated in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She currently lives in Saskatoon and is the Indigenous Relations Director at Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Saskatchewan. The organization began their path to reconciliation on Aug. 15, so the OTC sat down with Annie to get an understanding of what they are doing and why.
Why you have decided reconciliation is something important to undertake for Big Brothers, Big Sisters?
Before I started, there was a conversation that said we’re not doing the best we can for Aboriginal and Indigenous youth in our programming. We have over 60 per cent of our youth as Aboriginal and we don’t have anything specifically to showcase the differences in culture and world view and languages within our programming.
When I started, the number one thing I said is if we are going to go down this path of Aboriginal specific programming we’re also going to go down the path of reconciliation so that we can change our systems our organizations, our policies, our procedures to match the programming we want to have in the future.
So that’s the big reason why we chose to go down reconciliation with Big Brothers, Big Sisters was because we recognized that we needed to make changes, to things more thoughtfully and meaningfully for the Aboriginal community and we needed a baseline to start.
What does looking at reconciliation mean for programming?
Before we did reconciliation and we said it outward, we did a lot of internal work and one of the big things we did was cultural capacity training. We did six hours of it and made sure that everyone had an individual understanding of reconciliation and had a very strong sense of where the organization was going.
We have gone down paths of creating a safe, welcoming and respectful place for Aboriginal people, individuals that we use, the communications that we put out, the pictures that we use, so it’s very much been an evolving target.
In reality what it means to us as an organization is that we’re changing and recognizing that we need to do things a little bit differently and that we’re open to the idea.
What would you tell other organizations who understand that there are calls to action from the TRC, but don’t really know where to start?
The number one thing I would say is to reach out to organizations that are doing reconciliation work, like the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, all those places have the resources to tell you where to start the real big conversation.
It’s all about awareness of the past and acknowledging the harm that legacy has had with residential schools and so education is the number one key to understanding what the next step is. Talking to people who are willing to share that is the number one goal when starting down this reconciliation path.
Is it hard to get buy in?
It all depends on where people are in their reconciliation journey. I think most people know that there needs to be a change and we need to create a better outcome for Aboriginal youth through education and employment, but I think a lot of people don’t know the staircase, you know what is the first step. It’s not hard, but most people don’t know how easy it is and how many resources and how many organization we actually have that tell you the next step to take.
We’re coming from a humble place; in no way do we think that we are doing a great job at reconciliation. We recognize that we are on a journey, but it’s a start for us. The baseline is we wanted to say that we are doing it so we can engage the community and say “how to do it better?” and “how ways we can nourish reconciliation in our office?” In no way, do we believe that we are experts or masters at it. We are coming from a very humble place to say “we want the community to tell us what we can do better.”
(The conversation was edited for length and clarity)