Rivers Speak Logo
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Gigidoowag Ziibiik (Rivers Speak) Community Play. This fantastic project was the culminating event of Thinking Rock Community Arts‘ efforts to engage community members in story telling and art making. Since 2013 Thinking Rock has involved over 1500 individuals in hands-on making and storytelling with an emphasis on reflecting on local rivers and waterways. This initiative also worked to create spaces for cross-cultural conversations and involve both Indigenous and settler communities.
The Rivers Speak play included over 30 cast members of all ages and was held on the traditional pow wow grounds of Misswezhaging (Mississaugi First Nation). This community art project was a joy to see come to fruition. The play was based on the stories, oral histories, and memories collected by Thinking Rock since 2013.
The play intertwined settler and Indigenous perspectives on water, community, and family — it followed Marie (settler) and Ira (Indigenous) community members who lived locally but passed away within recent years. The play was guided by two local elders and the narration was a mixture of English and Ojibway. It also included audience participation components – for example the audience walked through an outdoor living stage and were invited to participate in a round dance at the end of the play.
It was an extremely powerful experience to participate in as an audience member and it was beautiful to see such a nuanced story come together based on community narratives and memories. The work undertaken by Thinking Rock is a great example of community engaged history, community arts and participatory story building. I’m looking forward to seeing what projects Thinking Rock tackles in the future.
The 4Rs Youth Movement is a youth-led organization dedicated to facilitating conversations and changing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. 4Rs is committed to the values of respect, reciprocity, reconciliation and relevance and brings those values into all of the dialogues and programming it runs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with 4Rs on a couple of events in recent years and to participate in some of their facilitated programming. They are a fantastic group of change makers and a source of inspiration for anyone involved in cross-cultural or reconciliation work.
4Rs recently released their dialogue framework, Seeding Reconciliation On Uneven Ground: The 4Rs Approach to to Cross-Cultural Dialogue. This is a must read for anyone engaged in facilitation, cross-cultural dialogues, or youth engagement. Seriously, go read it. The framework shares what 4Rs has learned through their youth-led community drive dialogues and cross-cultural conversations. It provides examples of how 4Rs has fostered safe spaces to encourage cross-cultural conversations with an emphasis on mix-methods and experience based learning processes.
The section of Seeding Reconciliation which reflects on the term reconciliation is particularly powerful and relevant for anyone who has been part of an organization which is interested in engaging in conversations of reconciliation, Indigenization, or decolonization. The framework highlights different perspectives on reconciliation that have been shared by Indigenous activists, scholars, and thinkers. These perspectives highlight the ongoing relationship building inherent in reconciliation work and the need to understand that reconciliation is about way more than just residential schools.
The actual step-by-step guide for cross-cultural dialogue is represented using through the use of a garden analogy, connecting conversations back to land. The guide is broken into five steps:
- Getting There: Pathways to new relationships
- Preparing The Ground: Restoring balance to the landscape of reconciliation
- Planting The Seeds: Growing leadership, relationships and truth
- Connecting Our Roots: Going deeper into dialogue
- Harvesting: Taking it home
Each step focuses on youth led conversations and the fact that building strong relationships takes time and effort. Creating safe spaces and facilitating conversations requires a lot of groundwork to be laid before important dialogues can take place. As Seeding Reconciliation notes “We are not thinking about an end product that can be easily packaged or replicated; our Framework is not an assembly line…This Framework emphasizes that cross-cultural dialogue cannot be rushed” (p. 34). Approaches to reconciliation and cross-cultural conversations are not a one size fits all situation. This is a deeply thoughtful and inspiring document that I would encourage people to engage with, especially those in the heritage field who are beginning to have conversations about reconciliation. The frame uses easy to understand language but has the potential to provoke challenging questions ideas about reconciliation that are applicable in many contexts across Canada.