Manitoba’s second largest city “pulls together” for Truth and Reconciliation

Members of the Indigenous community and police services were among those paddling the Assiniboine River in Manitoba’s second-largest city on Saturday in an attempt to improve relationships.

The Pulling Together event in Brandon, about 215 km west of Winnipeg, was part of a number of activities held throughout the week to mark the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday.

The day was set aside as a federal statutory holiday to remember children who died while being forced to attend church-run and government-funded residential schools, those who survived, and the families and communities still affected by the lasting trauma. 

“It’s really important for us to work together and to show that we can have positive rapport,” said Amanda Conway, Brandon’s Police Services Indigenous liaison officer and a Truth and Reconciliation planning committee member. “This is part of the reconciliation process to show that we can actually have positive relationships and work together.”

Pulling Together included Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Brandon Police Services and other community members paddling five canoes from Dinsdale Park to the Riverbank Discovery Centre, where other Truth and Reconciliation activities were being held. 

Conway, who comes from a Métis background, said learning about Indigenous cultures and knowledge has been a defining pursuit of her adult life and that she wants to help build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

A woman and a man carry a canoe.
Julia Stoneman carries her canoe to the Assiniboine River. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

It was important to have an event rooted in fun and creating new friendships in the Brandon community, Conway said, adding relationships need to be based on respect, understanding and empathy about what’s happened in the past.

A group of woman wearing ribbon skirts play Indigenous drums.
The Sweet Medicine Singers sing for Pulling Together. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Relationships between Indigenous communities and the police have been challenging.

The CBC special report Deadly Force reported police in Manitoba killed 28 people between 2000-20 and 17 of them were Indigenous.

A part of this ongoing work to improve relationships is to recognize the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report in 2015 and incorporate them into daily life, Conway said.

“It’s definitely important work because we can achieve so much more when we can work together,” she said. 

Barb Blind, an Anishinaabe Kwe from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan who is a knowledge keeper in Brandon and sings with Sweet Medicine, said the positive connection with Brandon Police served as a chance to break the cycle of fear many Indigenous people have when it comes to interaction with cops.

A woman paddles a canoe.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jenifer Bone paddles on the Assiniboine River. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The symbolism of pulling together is a powerful message the community at large can embrace, Blind said, because it is the only way to move forward in a good way.

It will take more than a week of Truth and Reconciliation to foster positive relationships, Blind said. The entire community can learn to be united and work on forging stronger relationships year-round.

“We have to work together,” Blind said. “We’re not going any place. The settlers aren’t going any place, so even though we have this history of violence we still have to overcome it.”

A canoe with people moves down the water.
Paddlers from the community joined in the Pulling Together event. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Wakpa McKay, a Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Truth and Reconciliation Week planning committee representative, hit the waters with his canoe partner Jennifer Bone, Chief of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in western Manitoba. 

“It was honestly such a nice feeling to be on the water again,” McKay said. “It almost made me emotional.”

He appreciated the chance to visit with others and build bridges.

Two men carry a canoe up a gravel hill near a river.
Paddlers arrive at the Riverbank Discovery Centre. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

McKay described it as a rejuvenating experience that added to the Truth and Reconciliation activities.

“It was great pulling together along the river,” McKay said. 

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