Judy Pelly says there were almost no Indigenous people in Saskatoon when she arrived from the Cote First Nation in 1968.

But the response to a conference focused on reconciliation that opened in the city Wednesday seems to prove how much that's changed.

Pelly was a member of the inaugural graduating class of the University of Saskatchewan's Indian Teacher Education Program, and went on to serve as a long-time dean at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology.

She'd overcome the trauma and abuse of the residential school that she and her parents and her grandparents attended. She overcame the resulting alcoholism.

Pelly watched the First Nations and M├ętis population grow steadily in Saskatoon, but so did the racism, she says. Few non-Indigenous people wanted to know her story or learn about residential schools.


Gilles Dorval, the City of Saskatoon's director of Aboriginal relations, is one of the organizers of an annual reconciliation conference which runs Wednesday and Thursday at TCU Place. (Jason Warick/CBC)

She said now, that's all changing, and it's changing faster than in any other Canadian city. Reconciliation will take time and hard work, but Saskatoon is moving in the right direction, she said.

"There's nothing as strong as what's going on in this city. The right people are all coming together," Pelly said.

"People mean well but some don't understand. Telling our stories will help."

Some now refer to Pelly as an elder, but she prefers the term "knowledge keeper." She's one of more than 500 leaders in health, education, sports and other fields gathered in Saskatoon this week for the Wicihitowin conference on reconciliation.

Gilles Dorval, the City of Saskatoon's director of Aboriginal relations, says it's one more sign that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are ready to make real change.

The conference began with fewer than 300 delegates several years ago.

"I think it does show that, you know, people want to learn, understand and make some change. Status quo is not working to provide a good quality of life for everybody in our community," Dorval said.

The conference continues Thursday at Saskatoon's TCU Place.