Nipissing University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Degagné with Reconciliation North Bay Box City Proclamation.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY—Dr. Mike DeGagné, President and Vice-Chancellor of Nipissing University, has spoken hundreds of times on residential schools and reconciliation. Dr. DeGagné is also the Chair of Reconciliation North Bay. Recently, Dr. DeGagné was the Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation which addressed Indian Residential Schools.

Dr. DeGagné wants to continue to educate the public on what reconciliation can mean to them. He reflected on The Four Colours of Reconciliation Conference—the two-day event which brought together people from sectors of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy’s Community Action Circle such as health and wellness and education.

Dr. DeGagné introduced a sacred Box to Reconciliation North Bay at the conference.

“It is a common question—what can I do? People often ask that, especially if it is the first time they are hearing about it,” stated Dr. DeGagné. “The question really is, what can you offer? The other challenge is to make things more concrete. So for example, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was travelling across Canada, they commissioned a Bentwood box.”

As the TRC sacred Box travelled with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the provinces and territories, offerings were made to it commemorating journeys toward healing and reconciliation.

“What I thought was brilliant about that was that it asks, ‘what can you put in the box?’,” stated Dr. DeGagné. “For example, a government office would put in a really good book for children about reconciliation and agree to purchase one for every school in Canada. Then people started to realize this is a concrete thing.”

Dr. DeGagné gave another example for a different government department.

“If you have a policy to change on water on reserve, you make that policy change and go forward and say I’m going to put my policy in the box,” added Dr. DeGagné. “That’s a gesture of reconciliation.”

He discovered a special decorative box from the Eagle’s Nest crafted of cherry and maple by Andy Restoule to be Reconciliation North Bay’s sacred Box.

“I asked the Mayor to put the City of North Bay’s Proclamation in it as a concrete example of a gesture of reconciliation which is the same language the TRC used,” shared Dr. DeGagné.

After reading aloud the proclamation, North Bay Mayor Al McDonald placed the proclamation declaring 2017 the Year of Reconciliation in the City of North Bay into the Box.

Dr. DeGagné has opened the way for more offerings to the Box.

“We are a [Reconciliation North Bay] group, that in a ceremonial way, people can make their gesture, too,” noted Dr. DeGagné. “We can provide context for public education.”

Dr. DeGagné was recently asked by a big Eastern Ontarian hospital what they could do as a reconciliation effort.

“What can you do? I asked. If you’re a hospital and you’re huge, and you have a human resources department, you could be helping hospitals in the north, say James Bay, who are looking for good qualified Aboriginal administrators,” stated Dr. DeGagné. “Wouldn’t it make sense if one or two Masters of Health Administration students were brought in and given some sort of apprenticeship program within the institution, moving from focus from those who have to those who need?”

DeGagné points to lessons to be learned from Sioux Lookout with a population of just over 5000 people.

“Years ago, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders started an Anti-racism committee to address what had been happening in their home town and to give their response to it,” explained Dr. DeGagné. “All of these people are connected as they are in North Bay. So it has evolved and now they are an authoritative municipal body on reconciliation, diversity, and the right relations between people called Sioux Lookout’s Municipal Truth and Reconciliation Committee.”

In the case of Senator Beyak, the committee invited Senator Beyak to meet to gather understandings of the survivors of Indian Residential Schools. There was widespread disbelief of comments made by Senator Lynn Beyak that Indian Residential Schools had good intentions and that she had suffered along with Residential School survivors. Beyak is from Northwestern Ontario where nine Indian Residential Schools operated. She has since been removed from the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal People’s by the Conservative Party.

The Chair of Reconciliation North Bay says Senator Beyak’s behaviour is a case in point why the committee will continue to offer resources for learning about Indian Residential Schools and encourage every Canadian to offer personal gestures of reconciliation.

From The TRC Final Report …

Pathways to Reconciliation: By establishing a new and respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, we will restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.

The North Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy partnered with Nipissing University Enji Giigdoyang Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, Canadore College, Nipissing Parry Sound Catholic School Board, Nbisiing Secondary School, Nipissing First Nation, Dokis First Nation, Aanmitaagzi, the North Bay and District Multicultural Centre, and the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre on the Four Colours Reconciliation Conference.