Kristin Catherwood, Director of Living Heritage

You will be reading a lot about reconciliation on my blog posts this year. In 2020, my role at Heritage Saskatchewan will be primarily focused on reconciliation and how it relates to our heritage work. As I wrote in my previous blog in December, 2019:

My hands-on work in indigenous communities has led me to consider more seriously my own personal role in reconciliation, and also the role of this organization. Going forward in 2020, my work for Heritage Saskatchewan will be focused on this issue. My work will be grounded in the Truth and Reconciliation for Canada (often referred to by its acronym, TRC) reports, and will also be informed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)

I will be using these documents in conjunction with my experiences working in communities across Saskatchewan, my educational background in cultural heritage and ethnography, and in consultation with national and provincial organizations like the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and others as my research proceeds. In short, my task is to answer the question, how does Heritage Saskatchewan's work contribute towards reconciliation? From there, how can we help other organizations communities take action in reconciliation? 

I have nearly completed the online course Indigenous Canada, offered by the University of Alberta. Its teachings have given me pause as I reflect on how the History and Social Studies I learned in elementary and high school left a lot out of their accounts of Canadian history, and how the history was shared from non-indigenous perspectives. I completed two degrees in Arts & Humanities at Canadian universities and did not take a single course which was taught from an indigenous perspective. This was an oversight on my part (and one I now very much regret), but also, I would argue, a failure of the education and university system to adequately educate its students. I know things are changing now in school curriculums, and perhaps universities will soon require all students to take Indigenous Studies courses, as they require English, for example.

There is a term, deux solitudes, used in Quebec to refer to the lived reality of many of its citizens – the separate worlds of Anglophones and Francophones. Dr. Matthew Anderson employed it to refer to efforts towards reconciliation in an interview with Heritage Saskatchewan in 2017. It is an apt description of the experiences of indigenous and non-indigenous people living in our province today. And why? Of course, like so much else, it’s because of our living heritage – what we inherit from our parents and the generations that came before us. In my work, we often focus on what could subjectively be called positive living heritage – our traditions, sense of identity and belonging. But it’s not all positive.

We also inherit attitudes and beliefs, including prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Indigenous peoples live with the heritage of inter-generational trauma in families and communities. Government policies interfered and attempted to destroy the natural transmission of living heritage. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to eradicate indigenous culture (what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada defined as attempted cultural genocide), but there were far-reaching effects which have cost all Canadians a great toll. The reality is, we do not know each other very well. We live in separate worlds. It is our task to come together now in the spirit of reconciliation. We must all challenge ourselves, face uncomfortable truths, and confront biases within ourselves. This is hard work. It is necessary work.