The NWT Recreation and Parks Association Annual Conference is an opportunity for recreation leaders from across the territory to explore trends and issues in recreation and receive training related to programming, leadership, and facility management. Historically, the Conference has not had a theme. But recent conversations amongst the Board, staff, and members about the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have prompted the Conference Committee to do things a little differently this year.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was convened in 2008 to “inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools.” Seven years later, after gathering testimony from more than 6,750 survivors and witnesses, the Commissioners released a comprehensive report detailing the policies, operations, and legacies of residential schools in Canada. The report was accompanied by 94 Calls to Action, addressing everything from child welfare, language and culture, justice, the media, business, and museums and archives.
While the term “recreation” does not appear in the Calls to Action, the six-volume final report reveals how recreation was one of a number of tools used by school administrators to “kill the Indian in the child.” At the same time, Indigenous children and youth turned to recreational activities to survive the many difficulties and in some cases horrors of residential school life.
In January 2016, the NWTRPA Board of Directors formed a working group to explore how the organization might best engage the TRC’s findings and Calls to Action. The working group made the following recommendations to the Board: endorse the TRC Report and Calls to Action; adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a document which affirms the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, self-government, equality, language, and land; and participate in decolonization training with the intention of exploring how the NWTRPA can actively work for reconciliation.
During the training, which was facilitated by Dene Nahjo, we arrived at the following definition of decolonization: Decolonization is about transformation and the dismantling of an unjust system. It is about revealing and owning the harms of the past, raising awareness about inequities of the present, but most importantly, about remaking social and political systems in order to truly respect the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples. In particular, the NWTRPA is interested in understanding how recreation and colonialism are intertwined, but also how recreation might contribute to unlearning colonialism and nurturing vibrant Indigenous communities.
The Board and staff of the NWTRPA have identified the Annual Conference as an opportunity to put some of our learning and reflection into action. To this end, we are inviting speakers and presenters who can help us on this decolonization journey. For example, acknowledging the importance of truth before reconciliation, one of our keynote speakers is Crystal Fraser (Gwich’in), who will speak about recreation, sport, and health at residential schools in the NWT. We are also asking presenters to think about how colonialism and decolonization might relate to the topic of their session and to actively incorporate the principles of decolonization into their presentation.