Nova Scotia

This Mi'kmaw woman is helping Scouts Canada address its history

Kayla Bernard, of Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, is the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the Scouts Canada national board of governors. She wants to acknowledge the organization's past and use learning to help it move forward toward reconciliation.

Kayla Bernard hopes to use her new role on the national board of governors to push for reconciliation

Kayla Bernard teaches Mi'kmaw history to her five-to-seven-year-old Beaver Scouts, and exposes them to traditional teachings, stories, crafts and sacred items. (Submitted by Kayla Bernard)

Growing up in the Guides and Scouts movements, Kayla Bernard didn't see herself and her culture reflected in the organizations' leadership. As an adult, she's decided to do something about that.

Bernard, who is Mi'kmaq from Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, joined Girl Guides of Canada to meet friends when she moved from her home community to Halifax as a child. 

"I think a little bit of the impact not having diverse leaders had on me was me questioning if I belonged in this movement, because it didn't feel like it … was meant to include me," Bernard said in a recent interview. 

Inspired to create change in the organizations she had grown to love, Bernard became a Scout leader while studying in university. She progressed in leadership roles and has now been elected a member of the Scouts Canada national board of governors.

"I'm just really excited to have the opportunity to show other Indigenous women and girls that this is possible, that you can go for these titles even if they weren't designed for you," she said. "And it's scary to be the first, but I hope I'm not the last."

Bernard, back right, is shown at the Scouts Across InterAmerica regional leadership training in Ecuador in 2018. (Submitted by Kayla Bernard)

During the residential school era, the federal government supported Guides and Scouts programs in the institutions as a way to steer children away from Indigenous communities and toward assimilation into white society. 

Bernard hopes to address the history of Scouts Canada and drive the organization toward reconciliation, all while bringing an Indigenous perspective to the work she does with her Beaver Scout troop in Halifax. 

"I really believe that when we make our groups more diverse and more inclusive, we just make stronger groups and stronger programming for young people," she said. 

Bernard's work fits in with Scouts Canada's recently adopted "strategic plan," which focuses on inclusion and reconciliation. 

"As an organization that is rooted in land-based programming, we believe the heart of our journey to inclusion must begin with authentic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples," the board's chair, Andrew Obee, said in an email. 

Obee said while the organization is still early in its journey toward making amends, it is "listening to and learning from Indigenous communities," and "exploring the nature of any actions and inactions that have caused harm."

'Nobody needs to be perfect'

Bernard recognizes Scouts Canada's involvement in the residential school system, and said the discoveries of unmarked graves on the lands of the former institutions last summer spurred her to take action within the organization.

She pressed the organization to make a statement regarding their involvement and how they plan to move forward. She participated in listening sessions and now leads training for Scout leaders across the country on how to use a trauma-informed approach to teaching young people about residential schools.

She said she can see the organization making progress. 

"Nobody needs to be perfect in this role because lots of us don't know the perfect way," Bernard said. "Even as an Indigenous person, I don't have all the answers for how the organizations can start unpacking this journey themselves.

"But the worst thing organizations can do is not try and try to pretend it doesn't exist because that doesn't help anybody."

Kaelem Moniz, a Scouts Canada council youth commissioner, said it reflects positively on the Scouts Canada organization that it is striving for diversity and reconciliation.

Kaelem Moniz is the council youth commissioner for the Greater Toronto Area. (Submitted by Kaelem Moniz)

"We [often] see organizations that have histories that they won't even admit to. And that is troubling," Moniz said. "It has given me a lot of faith in the movement itself that we want to move forward … in the way that best accommodates all of our communities … especially the communities who might have been affected in the past."

Moniz said Bernard's influence on the board of governors is "crucially important."

"I think that if we have a diverse board of governors that can only encourage the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion that we really do want to do," he said. "And Kayla … [is] a tremendous person to be on that board representing those ideas."

He said Bernard is breaking new ground with the Indigenous-influenced programming she brings to the five-to-seven-year-olds she works with. 

Bernard said she teaches Mi'kmaw history to her Beaver Scouts and exposes them to traditional stories, crafts, and sacred items like eagle feathers. But she said the learning can also go deeper into how the organization functions. 

"So for example, how can we look at the way we do intergenerational learning? How can we look at the way we have relationships to our land? How do we look at the importance of community and really look at those from a policy and really high level as well as a local level and see the connection between Indigenous ways of being in the world as well."

Bernard said the scouting movement has many elements in common with her culture, and she hopes to help guide the organization to new levels of understanding and respect. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

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