Moving Forward through Reconciliation and Relationality

By Cole Buhler, Elliott Young and Michelle Lean

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation grew out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s ‘Call to Action #80’. The recognition of September 30th is built on the idea of establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between the Survivors of the residential school system and their families. This day is an opportunity to honour the lived experiences and acknowledge the truths of Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island to move reconciliation forward.

As we develop our own plans for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we must remember that this occasion is a reminder of all the work that still needs to be done. Indigenous Peoples still face systemic racism in our educational, health care, judicial and law enforcement system. And Indigenous communities still face higher rates of substance abuse, poverty, violence and incarceration. Reconciliation requires acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes and action to change that behaviour. Reconciliation is a journey, not a goal.

pipikwan pêhtâkwan is an Indigenous owned public relations agency focused on elevating Indigenous voices, projects and issues. We assist organizations like Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) to build relationships with Indigenous Peoples and ultimately work together on common areas of interests like digital health.

One approach we take is informed by an emerging Indigenous research methodology called keeoukaywin: the Visiting Way. Framing engagement as visiting implies a reciprocal accountability and responsibility to building and maintaining a relationship. Visiting is a traditional way to build relationships with people, but also hold us accountable to relations with the land, environment, animals, the past and future.

keeoukaywin has been explored by Dr. Janice Cindy Gaudet. She shares that, “…with relationality at its core, keeoukaywin re-centres Métis and Cree ways of being, and presents a practical and meaningful methodology that fosters miyo pimatisiwin – living and being well in relation.”

In the days leading up to the first visit between Infoway and an Indigenous partner, we were very conscious of our role as facilitator and mindful of implementing this Indigenous research methodology with careful deliberation. On the surface, the visit looked similar to a conventional “meeting” but the way we approached it and the terminology we used was intentional to show that it was far more than a regular call.

The visiting method was appreciated by the Indigenous partners, as it provided an opportunity to learn about each other in a more personal way. But above all, it was designed to establish a mutually respectful relationship.

With trust and relationship building at the heart of our work and practice, keeoukaywin promises substantive, not just symbolic, engagement. The approach pushes for long-term relationships compared to short-term goals. And having set that precedent from the start we offer communities a voice, we up-lift Indigenous Peoples and most importantly offer a safe space for equal participation and collaboration.

Reconciliation and decolonization are a journey that must commence with relationality. We are certain visiting will prove to be an appropriate method to help relationship-building grow and thrive.

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear from you.

About the authors
Cole Buhler

Cole Buhler

Cole Buhler, nehiyawak (Plains Cree), is a Communications Coordinator at pipikwan pêhtâkwan and is a graduate of the Bachelor of Communications program at MacEwan University, where he majored in journalism. Cole is originally from Falher, Alberta, with roots in British Columbia. Both of Cole’s grandmothers were of Indigenous descent, but he grew up disconnected from his heritage, which has led him on a path of rediscovery and belonging.

Elliott Young

Elliott Young

Elliott Young is the Director of Engagement at pipikwan pêhtâkwan and is a member of Ermineskin Cree Nation, which is one of the four First Nations that make up Maskwacis. His father is from Ermineskin and he has family from Louis Bull Tribe and Samson Cree Nation. His mother is from Tsuut’ina Nation; which is located just west of Calgary. Tsuut’ina is a Dene nation and Elliott is related to the Starlight family.

Michelle Lean

Michelle Lean

Michelle Lean is Director of Communications at pipikwan pêhtâkwan, is of Cree/Scottish ancestry and is a proud member of Frog Lake First Nation located in Treaty 6 territory. She brings over 15 years of communication experience working in industries like engineering, healthcare, post-secondary education, utilities and finance. Her expertise includes communications planning, event management, issues management, media relations and employee engagement.