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Education, understanding, and action: our commitments to Indigenous communities in Canada

21 June 2019 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto
At the YMCA, we’re on a journey of education, understanding, and action when it comes to the history and current realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Today, we’re taking special notice of National Indigenous Peoples Day: a time for recognizing and celebrating the cultures and contributions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

We believe everyone has an important role to play in understanding and addressing the Calls to Action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). That’s why our YMCA has placed a special and intentional focus on understanding past injustices and moving towards a more inclusive future.

What do we mean by reconciliation?

For some, the word has multiple meanings. For others, it feels focused on the past instead of the future. So what, exactly, does reconciliation look like? And who is responsible for making it happen?

We believe reconciliation is:

  • A critical, ongoing process that involves learning about the past and understanding its impact on the present, in order to build a better future, together.

  • An acknowledgement of the unique experiences of Indigenous peoples.

  • A commitment to co-creating inclusive, harmonious communities.

  • The responsibility of every single person in our communities.

Reconciliation is not:

  • About placing blame or evoking guilt.

  • A box we can check with an isolated statement, program, or gesture.

The YMCA Indigenous Reconciliation Working Group

One of the ways we’re demonstrating our commitment is through our Indigenous Reconciliation Working Group. This team of YMCA staff is leading our charity in building awareness and understanding of our collective history; nurturing relationships with Indigenous organizations and communities; and providing accessible, inclusive, and respectful programming to Indigenous peoples in our YMCA centres.

Tammy MacDonald, Acting Senior Vice President, Health and Fitness, is one member of the group. For her, the path is just as much personal as it is collective. “My father’s mother, although we know very little about her because she died just after childbirth, was Indigenous,” says Tammy. “I am on a journey to understand her story.”

Anusha Anowar, Youth Information and Referral Specialist, is also part of the group. As someone who works with youth, she’s particularly interested in how we can reduce barriers to programs, services, and opportunities for young Indigenous people. They are “the largest and fastest growing population in Ontario,” she explains, and they face many risks.

Anusha believes that everything starts with education, awareness, and meaningful relationships.
“As service providers, we can only provide our best if we understand holistically the history of Indigenous peoples and the contemporary issues they’re facing,” she says.

“It’s by working together with Indigenous communities that we can truly live our vision of making the YMCA home to the healthiest children, teens and young adults.”

Our journey towards inclusion

Tammy, Anusha, and the other members of our Indigenous Reconciliation Working Group are also committed to sharing their learnings with the thousands of staff and volunteers who make up our charity. To name just a few examples:

  • Our YMCA is committed to experiential education programs like the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, Wiigiiwaam projects, and Indigenous Cultural Competency Training

  • On June 7, Y staff met with a guest speaker from the Credit River Metis Counsel to hear about her personal life and learn about Metis culture. Listening to the stories and lived experiences of our Indigenous communities helps us build shared understanding.

  • While training sessions happen year-round, we’ve dedicated the entire month of September 2019 to a learning series. We’ll focus on Indigenous history, culture, and reconciliation. We’ll also aim to empower our teams with the knowledge they need to facilitate awareness and understanding in our communities through respect, sharing, honesty, and strength.

As we look ahead in our journey, we know there’s a lot of work to be done to understand and address the TRC’s Calls to Action. But our YMCA is committed to building healthy, vibrant communities — for present and future generations to come.


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