A conversation about reconciliation

I’d like to share the spirit of a conversation I had this morning over breakfast – and some thoughts about healing, Hudson Bay, Wikipedia and the stories we tell.

My conversation partner was Mike DeGagné, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Since 1998, the AHF has administered federal funding for projects that address issues affecting residential schools survivors.

In March, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s government funding was cut off.

I wanted to know more about that. And I support conversations about reconciliation. So I asked Mike for an overview of what the AHF does, and what the cuts mean for the organization and its many clients. We met for a business breakfast in a downtown Toronto hotel.

Over eggs and coffee, Mike drew me a picture off the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s work: stewardship of funds, research, results, follow-up, and impact. Projects ranged from the making of a ceremonial quilt by residential school survivors, to identifying and archiving collections of photographs, to sponsoring reunions where stories of abuse were shared among fellow survivors and witnesses.

Mike described the painful decisions the AHF has had to make: determining who would get funding, based on their capacity to use public money well. I got a sense of how people were helped by the projects they funded, and who would lose out when funding was gone. For some who have just begun to show progress, losing support at this time is tough. Mike says the funds were carefully marshaled for this eventuality, so that there will be at least a transition as the AHF winds down their operations down.

It wasn’t all business. We also talked about lacrosse – Mike’s son is a whiz – tree planting, Georgian Bay, Champlain, snowmobiles, black flies, and East Africa, where Mike spent much of his youth.

We talked about what happens when people leave the land they love, wherever that is. We talked about efforts by Native people to reach out to Sikhs, Japanese and Chinese Canadians, who have all had to move through difficult relationships with Confederation, to help bring the stories together.

We talked about Moose Factory – the first place English people settled in Canada – and the rivers that flow into Hudson Bay. They drain a vast area of the country, stretching nearly to the Rocky Mountains. Those rivers are the fur trade highways, but today most people don’t know their names.


Mike DeGagné and I talked for about two hours. We could have talked all day, I think, but we both had other work to do.

When I sat down to write this afternoon I did some quick research. Funny thing: even Wikipedia’s Hudson Bay page doesn’t list rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. Well, it is the people’s encyclopedia. If it’s missing part of the story you have to fill it in yourself.

I know some of the names of the rivers: I think there’s the Moose, the Albany, the Churchill, the Nelson… but I only know what I’ve learned. I only know the modern names. I can only tell my story.

That’s the point of a conversation: you don’t just tell your story, you also learn from the other person’s story. You try to find the shared story that ties them together.

We’re writing a story together as we go, eh? It’s a story called “Canada,” and it’s a work in progress.

Sort of like Wikipedia: it’s everyone’s job to contribute, and it’s important not to leave things out.

Hudson Bay image from Google Earth

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