For the past two years Plenty Canada has invited youth of all backgrounds, from ages fifteen to thirty, to attend a series of monthly Truth and Reconciliation educational workshops on the history and culture of Indigenous peoples. The workshops have mainly shifted to the online sphere this past year due to COVID-19, but this just meant that even more students from across the country were able to participate in a valuable cross-generational and cross-cultural dialogue.
The topics that the program covers change on a month-to-month basis, allowing for a surprisingly diverse curriculum. From Indigenous history, media, and the arts to land rights, water rights, and cultural resurgence, the program strives to ensure that a broad range of topics related to Indigenous community projects are covered at some point during the instruction. Each month’s workshop relates to a particular theme. For example, Larry McDermott and Jeff Beaver (wild rice harvester and member of Alderville First Nation) taught participants about the current ecological issues surrounding wild rice, complete with hands-on demonstrations of planting and harvesting techniques.
In addition to these workshops, every month the program holds a Tuesday night online meeting, wherein the participants talked about issues related to that month's topic and shared updates about their own burgeoning community projects. They are also given invitations to special events and community engagement opportunities, and are offered further support as they continue to progress through the program.
While these workshops are meant to be learning experiences in the short-term, providing the participants with valuable cross-cultural skills and knowledge, the Truth and Reconciliation Program is also meant to build leadership capacity within local communities. Through the support and guidance of the Elders and experts involved in the program, the participants are empowered to create their own community projects, thereby giving them the opportunity to address the issues that matter to them most.
The program emerged from the initiative of several students who worked for Plenty Canada in the past. They identified the need for such a project, and when funding became available from the Government of Canada through the Canada Service Corps, Plenty Canada jumped at the chance to support and create a program that would mobilize young people in the service of both conservation and reconciliation. Furthermore, the organization believed that the youth initiative would align with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action, specifically number Sixty-Six, “to establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation and establish a national network to share information and best practices."
Given that the Truth and Reconciliation Program has already been approved for a third year of funding, it's likely that Plenty Canada will continue to support these reconciliation efforts for quite some time. The organization will share registration details and other relevant information on its website in the near future.
(Photo: Youth participant harvests wild rice, Manoomin, during program held in Lanark, Ontario.)