Peterborough aims to build relationships with reconciliation gathering

A mall in the centre of Peterborough, Ont., was filled with the buzz of live music and the sound of drumming Friday as local non-Indigenous and First Nations communities came together to promote reconciliation.

Event aimed at bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous together 'to get to know one another, to become friends'

Shirley Williams and her Niece Liz Osawamick (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

A mall in the centre of Peterborough, Ont., was filled with the buzz of live music and the sound of drumming Friday as local non-Indigenous and First Nations communities came together to promote reconciliation.

The Nogojiwanong/Peterborough Reconciliation Gathering was held at Peterborough Square after being moved from Millennium Park due to the weather.

The event marks three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report was released.

This is the first city-wide initiative of the Nogojiwanong settler community to engage with the process of reconciliation," said Chris Welter, one of the organizers. 

"These are opportunities for Native and non-Native people to spend time together, to get to know one another, to become friends. As we become friends, we learn to walk together and become one community."

From left, Paige Stewart, Florence Osawamick and Willow Sinclair-Berard in their traditional regalia. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

Elder Shirley Williams, an Anishinaabe/Odawa residential school survivor from Wikwemikong First Nation, said she couldn't have imagined an event like this when she was younger. 

"I always thought that we were unwanted and we had to really survive in order to get to where we are," said Williams.

Williams was approached by a committee made up of LEAP members and school board directors to consult on plans for the event so that it was done in a culturally appropriate way. 

"In our language, reconciliation means rebuilding something that hasn't been done in a good way," said Williams.

From left, Sherry Lajoie, Linda Slavin, Chris Welter and Dawn Lavell-Harvard. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

The event began as an idea from Linda Slavin of Peterborough, who is a member of Localizing the LEAP, an activist organization that aims to enact the LEAP manifesto.

The manifesto, published in 2015 by a coalition of Canadian authors, artists and activists, focuses on environmental sustainability beginning with "respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land, starting by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

"This is about celebrating and learning about the land with a focus on Indigenous knowledge," said Slavin.

She said she hoped that participants begin to feel that building bonds and sharing culture are a part of the Peterborough community.