Being brave enough to have uncomfortable conversations will be key to authentic reconciliation and fostering truly diverse communities.
And it won’t be easy, said Tanya Kappo, the opening keynote speaker at the two-day Fostering Diverse Communities Conference at Westerner Park on Thursday.
Kappo brought her message of authentic reconciliation, which means not having a pre-determined definition of reconciliation. It has to be decided together, she said.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Kappo.
“We can’t be afraid anymore of each other … The attempts are there but I am very optimistic. There is a lot to be done. I think we are heading in the right direction.”
Kappo is a lawyer, public speaker and Indigenous Rights activist from the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.
She has often been credited with starting the Idle No More movement across Canada and she has played significant roles in Walking With Our Sisters and the Round Dance Revolution.
In her address, Kappo gave examples throughout Canadian history such as the language including assimilation and colonization, treaty relationships, The White Papers, Meech Lake Accord and the Oka Crisis that did not echo diversity but in fact were the exact opposite.
Cree Métis elder Corky Larsen Jonasson said a diverse community means one that is accepting of everybody “as is, all the way and not just the pretty bits and pieces.”
Like Kappo, Larsen Jonasson said there has been a shift but there is still a long way to go.
Larsen Jonasson said First Nations peoples are often asked to give blessings or show up at events and sometimes they are prohibited from smudging. She has always been taught to respect how other people pray, said Larsen Jonasson.
Smudging allows the First Nations peoples to acknowledge what gives life — earth, water, sun and air.
“It is an insult of not knowing,” she said. “I truly believe we are moving to a place but it is super frustrating when we still run into it.”
Red Deer is doing its best, she said.
“But we still have to get to a place where we don’t make decisions without the people that are going to be affected by those decisions, said Larsen Jonasson.
She said there is opportunity to learn every time there is a conference or a workshop. Right now she is interested in learning more about the Filipino community, for example.
Conference co-organizer Taz Kassam-Fuller said the conference provides an opportunity for networking with community members to ultimately bring the city together in a meaningful way. She said it is about uniting the community regardless of race, ethnicity, soci-economic status, youth, seniors, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The attendees will participate break out sessions, workshops listen to other keynote speakers and network. It wraps up on Friday afternoon.