For Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS), Reconciliation means many things. It means relationships built on knowing truths about what has happened in the past, and an unwavering commitment to build brighter futures for the unique needs of a community. From this commitment came the renowned Nowh Guna “Our Way” Foot in Both Worlds Carrier Agility Training program, a Reconciliation education framework based in north central British Columbia. Facilitators and knowledge holders from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds create space for participants to examine their own practices and institutional policies, and learn how to better work with Indigenous community members. Based on the Carrier values and First Peoples Principles of Learning, training sessions are led by Elders and Knowledge-Keepers.
CSFS was founded on the principle that Indigenous peoples must have equity, as well as equality, to ensure the holistic wellbeing of their families and communities. Organizational values of respect, integrity, compassion and responsibility, developed by founding matriarchs and leaders and based on cultural values, are carefully integrated into the work of CSFS. Prior to creating Nowh Guna training, CSFS worked with Cindy Blackstock on her Touchstones of Hope initiative, which in part inspired the development of their own educational programs for moving toward, and for, Reconciliation. Many CSFS staff members and professionals from the larger community have now taken part in Nowh Guna training. As the interest to learn more about Indigenous culture and Reconciliation grows, CSFS has recognized the need to create space for non-Indigenous partners to understand the past, present and future of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to society.
A typical training session brings together a mixed group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from a wide variety of sectors, both public and private. A safe space for learning is established. Truths are told about historical experiences, tears are shed, and new understandings are built. It’s an authentic space to learn directly from the wisdom and generosity of the Elders, and to unpack the history behind inaccurate assumptions. The training follows a formal process, but it’s the experiential exercises and story sharing during which many students and trainees report breakthrough connections to the materials. By the end of the second day, participants leave the closing circle with a sense of profound transformation. Many stay behind to ask for opinions on how to remove systemic and/or unintentional barriers to access or provide welcoming and helpful services. Hearts are changed, strong relationships are formed, and nothing seems impossible. Every experience shared, each conversation and action taken, creates meaningful change.
“[CSFS’ Nowh Guna ‘Our Way’ training] is an important educational program with a global component whose impact has enriched people’s lives,” says BC Reconciliation Award juror Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers. “It speaks to the inclusion of Indigenous people sharing their knowledge, and underlines that, as Indigenous peoples, we do have the capacity to govern ourselves.” In 2020, CSFS celebrated 30 years of work to reassert First Nations control of justice, health, social and family services, all of which have suffered through the process of colonization. The BC Reconciliation Award recognizes the importance of this work, as culminated in a training format that’s helped CSFS First Nations staff learn more about their shared histories and experiences as well as sharing this knowledge with the larger community. It’s a methodical walk-through of history and law that teaches descendants of settlers to understand the uneasy transition from bright history through dark past, into an optimistic future. The BC Reconciliation Award celebrates this future, and acknowledges the commitment of CSFS staff from all backgrounds toward reconciling past injustices.
CSFS has worked long and hard to meet the enormous needs stemming from the colonization of their communities. While CSFS is proud to have provided three decades of service, in some ways, particularly the long road of Reconciliation, they understand this may just be beginning. CSFS continues to seek innovative ways to re-build their Nations and communities, so in that bright future, every child is provided with the tools and opportunities to reach their full potential.