Continuing the Journey: Better Together Sharing Our Stories is an extension of the work done in the community during the original Journey Together St. Thomas-Elgin Truth and Reconciliation St. Thomas Elgin (JTSTE) initiative supported by the Ontario Ministry of Education (MEdu). At that time, the goal was to develop a local grant application that would have enhanced access to culturally relevant, Indigenous-led early years programs and services off-reserve, including child care and child and family programs. Last year, Sarena McLean and her team at SNJ Associates connected in person and through community feedback opportunities with 41 members from the Indigenous community in St. Thomas-Elgin, which represented 143 children, family members, and others who lived or worked in the community. The local Indigenous community shared what they wanted and needed for their children and families locally. Of great importance to all who participated last year was creating more opportunities for Aboriginal culture, tradition, and celebration locally. Regrettably, in the fall of 2017, it was announced by the MEdu that the original grant application was unsuccessful.
On September 18, 2018, the initiative’s first event was hosted in St. Thomas’s Destination Church, which, under the leadership of Senior Minister Beth Fellinger, and with support from SNJ Associates, came forward to offer space, refreshments, and support to help continue to create opportunities for listening and sharing with people in the Indigenous community. According to McLean, “Beth was an early and committed community partner in 2017 and it was important to our whole team at SNJ Associates that we find a way to ensure the voices of so many people we connected with are remembered while continuing to work together to create new opportunities.”
The event’s main speaker was Max Fineday from the Canadian Roots Exchange – Échanges Racines Canadiennes. Fineday is from the Sweetgrass First Nation in Treaty Six Territory, Saskatchewan, and works with youth to advance reconciliation across Canada. He shared his story and vision for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, bringing insights from his background of being the son of a residential school survivor.
Fineday spoke about truth and how important it is in the journey to reconciliation. He was raised in Saskatchewan, the last province with an operating residential school (closed in 1996), with the full knowledge of the abuse and genocide that happened to Canada’s Indigenous people. Fineday believes that reconciliation is not just about legislation, but about compassion, love, kindness, and humility shown from the ground up. His story was full of hope for a healed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.