A platform approach to nurturing inclusive participation and reconciliation, in a Halifax neighbourhood: Insights from the Ground.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am living and working in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People, which is covered by the Treaties of Peace and Friendship.
Over the past 9 months, I’ve been learning and working amidst a small team and with many partners, to develop a pilot initiative in the North End neighbourhood of Halifax, Nova Scotia that is inspired by the work of Participatory City in East London, UK. This reflection piece was developed as a way to share some of the story of this work, with an emphasis on a key theme that has become central to our work in Halifax — Indigenous Reconciliation. This is Part One, and for those of you who are already familiar with the story- feel free to jump to the reflections at the end! For others less familiar, let’s start with some background:
For 10+ years, the Participatory City Foundation researched and documented a platform approach to building inclusive participation in neighbourhoods that supported many different residents to design and build neighbourhood projects that benefit them and their community — in effect, making them “co-creators” of their neighbourhoods. The breadth of rich data surfaced a key finding: that participation in practical everyday activities can transform people’s lives and the neighbourhoods in which they live.
In the summer of 2019, a group of city builders and innovators from across Canada and abroad gathered for Participatory City Camp, to learn from tested approaches and explore the potential for adaptation in cities across Canada. The gathering included organizations from Halifax, Toronto and Montreal, each of which went on to launch different versions of a local support platform that could nurture inclusive participation on the ground, in local contexts. Throughout 2020/21, specific geographic areas within these cities became testing grounds that have been supported and connected by a newly emerging National platform called Participatory Canada.
Pushing Boundaries — A Platform for ReconciliACTION
In Halifax, momentum quickly grew among regional and provincial partners, each of whom recognized valuable links between the envisioned participatory ecosystem and the range of social and economic impacts that could transpire through resident-driven solutions. And here in Mi’kma’ki, on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq, local partners which include the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre (MNFC), committed themselves to exploring how a support platform for everyday participation could simultaneously serve to advance the process of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and communities.
As someone stepping in to understand and map the work at a later stage, I immediately felt the enormity of it, as well as the opportunity to collaborate on a long-term process which would undoubtedly be as critical and valuable as all of the potential outcomes. In the Truth and Reconciliation Comissions’ final report, the 94 Calls To Action place a responsibility on governments, businesses, educational and religious institutions, civil society groups, and all Canadians to acknowledge the harm done through Canada’s residential school system and the impacts of colonialism, and take meaningful action towards reconciliation. There is no question that this is big work for all of us — personally, in our organizations, and across the institutions that shape our society. It is with this consideration that this work is recognized as the beginning of a journey, with MNFC , to explore and take meaningful steps towards ReconciliACTION — on the ground in neighbourhoods.
Bringing it All Together: Every One Every Day Kjipuktuk-Halifax
Our project team is housed at the MNFC and made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous team members who were coming together for the first time. There were high points, bumps in the road, and a whole lot of learning around the importance of building trust and understanding, particularly in the context of cross-cultural collaboration; But more importantly as human beings navigating difficult and emotional work together. The local partners who have been engaged since the beginning have been on their own journey of exploration, including getting to know one another in new ways. While it’s hard to say how each of them would describe their experience thus far, as someone observing from the middle, I have witnessed a range of slight shifts in perspective to some very big “lightbulb” moments. These relationships and interactions are another critical part of this story (stay tuned for Part Two!!).
The building phase began in September 2020 and over the course of six months, we brought to life a mini-support platform, developed alongside Indigenous community members. We called it: Every One Every Day Kjipuktuk-Halifax (EOED). The platform included functional spaces connected across an area of Halifax’s North End, a project team working side-by-side with local residents, ideas and resources to stimulate a network of practical participation projects, and a community newspaper to generate broad interest. The team worked with Elders and Indigenous community members to embed Indigenous wisdom into the platform and co-create opportunities to learn from and with Indigenous community members. It seems important to say that this process was possible because of the existing relationships and trust that a few of our team members already held in the community — this was our starting place, without question.
The result was a 6 week program featuring 8 neighbourhood projects and 30 resident-led sessions. The EOED sessions were made possible by local residents, coming together to share their ideas, time and talents. Together, they sparked our collective imaginations around what we could be doing more of together each and every day, and above all, gave us valuable insight into how we may intentionally design a platform that could nurture inclusive participation and reconciliation, hand in hand, in neighbourhoods.
Insights from the Ground
Since we began, our small team has been learning and practicing participatory approaches that truly embody the spirit of co-creation. As we have done this it has reinforced the true nature of this work, which is about centering resident voices, making space for people to define what is valuable to them and their community, and building the support structures that enable diverse residents to act on their ideas with others. At some point along the way, a question emerged around if, or why, so much support is actually needed for residents to take action. What I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been engaged is that it’s the ability to provide both intense and light touch support that allows every individual to feel like they can enter and take part. And specifically, that the primary function of the support platform is to enable many different journeys that reflect different starting places, and draw upon the unique gifts and talents that are the inherent sources of inspiration in all of us.
While there are many questions and insights that have surfaced along this journey, the question that rises most is how we see and understand how meaningful steps towards reconciliation could emerge through this work. And so the EOED project team members took some time to reflect on a question that gets to the heart of the matter:
What comes to mind when you think about Truth and Reconciliation and how it could manifest in our day to day? Were you able to see glimpses of this through the development of Every One Every Day Kjipuktuk-Halifax?
Aimee Gasparetto — Program Director
As a non-Indigenous person living in Canada, I’ve come to recognize that I am part of the system that is still colonizing Indigenous Peoples, and that part of my personal work around reconciliation is to build my own understanding around the layered impacts of this. This includes educating myself about the history of colonialism, including the Peace and Friendship Treaties and what it means to live together as Treaty People. I continue to think about reconciliation as a process of listening and learning, in order to guide my own reflection while respecting and honoring the knowledge and wisdom that is shared with me. In working with the community at the Friendship Centre, I have been honored with the gift of new relationships which are meaningful in many ways, but also help to shape my own understanding of how I can continue to show up to support the rights and actions of self-determination.
As a new staff member at MNFC and just getting to know the many stakeholders involved, I wasn’t quite sure of how we would work together to weave reconciliation into the work. I was working outside of my comfort zone and knew I was going to learn a lot. Over the course of the pilot, I witnessed many curious minds that were unsure of how to proceed, questions raised around what it could look like to do it another way, and recognition that learning about one another and our different ways of knowing and doing, is central to our work together.
Perhaps these are things that could arguably be applied to any team or initiative however in the context of reconciliation — this set of interactions and relationships certainly unearthed, for me, the opportunity to constantly call into question: What is being prioritized and by whom? Why do we choose the timelines we do? and what would be different if we thought about progress differently — such as through the lens of our relationships, social networks, or sense of well-being, at work and in life? And, to really consider these answers — What ways of thinking and doing need to be re-considered, or torn apart, in order to make way for something new? This work has put front and center the idea that in all the complexity of systems transformation work — there is some simplicity to be in found — in that the work begins, wholeheartedly, with the transformation of people, which extends to our teams, our organizations, and finally our communities — each in relation to the other and the world we live in.
What I saw on the ground was this: team members working alongside MNFC staff and community members to embed Indigenous knowledge into the platform — like creating space to spend time with Elders, opportunities to learn cultural knowledge and traditions, and modelling cultural protocols such as ways to honor and express gratitude to one another and the earth. There were many instances where I heard and saw residents express their desire to learn more about the Friendship Centre and get to know Indigenous community members living nearby. It was a combination of many small yet intentional acts, which seemed to make all the difference in creating the conditions for people to come together to share and learn in new ways and build cross-cultural connections in informal spaces. At the heart of all the planning, building and doing — it was the simple act of residents being called and supported to share their gifts, the deep expression of gratitude for opportunities to express and learn cultural ways, and the simple yet powerful invitation to connect with the humanity in each of us — allowing us to move forward from that place.
Frances Palliser-Nicholas — Project Designer
Canadian citizens and Indigenous people are already engaged in the truth and reconciliation in establishing a relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples of Canada to improve the future of all. The legacy of the residential schools affected seven generations of Indigenous children through cultural genocide. It will take time and a number of generations to heal and grow from this point, as Senator Murray Sinclair has stated in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. Reflecting on the history of Canada, I say with a heavy heart that I feel hopeful to be a part of moving forward in a positive way.
To build a community of inclusion and acceptance for all we must get to know each other, and Every One Every Day gives people this opportunity through everyday activities together. When you invest time and energy in community development it allows people to learn about each other’s cultural background, personalities and in turn creates relationships. The Every One Every Day program is structured for this to happen on the foundation of the rooted Indigenous culture through shared experience.
As the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre has opened its doors to the surrounding north end community with this specific program, it has extended its hand in trust. According to the numbers registered for the project launch there was a stronger interest in the Indigenous culture shared through drumming, smudge ceremony, powwow knowledge, elder knowledge, crafting skills and local hunting/ gathering/ fishing skills. The Indigenous community members took pride in their cultural teachings and experiences, which were then followed by participants wanting to share their knowledge from their perspective or their own culture. This allowed us to build a strong list of future hosts and a variety of topics and interests led by multicultural community members.
As we were implementing the project pilot there were several heartfelt moments that were clear to me we were on the right path in honouring the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. The sessions were co-designed with the individual hosts and the environment setup had purpose. The children’s activities carried the same theme or modelled the topic of the session. This was meant to boost children’s self-esteem with the purpose of placing them at great value reflecting traditional Indigenous culture. Seeing their confidence grow as they learned new skills and feeling comfortable enough to share their own cultural practices was amazing. The sound of the children at play with giggles and laughter echoed in the Friendship Centre programming room.
Another example comes to mind is a non-Indigenous participant inquiring about Mi’kmaq language class because he held value in learning the language of the land he resides. There were many times we sat around the table with community members that we were meeting for the first time. Allowing time and space to create the relationships that allowed cross culture exchange and understanding. This inclusive sense of comradery bridged gaps in understanding people in your neighbourhood. In the greater picture it may seem micro level but this is all in contribution to a healthier country we call Canada.
Cynthia Maclean — Neighbourhood Hub Coordinator
One of the things that makes Every One Every Day Halifax so special is that the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre has taken the lead on this important community building work and has really centered Reconciliation as the lens which everything is being built on. The centre has extended a warm welcome out into the broader community with an official invitation to “Come with us”; “Wije’winen”, this invitation is so significant and indicates the importance and the need for this work.
When I first learned about the Every One Every Day initiative, I was immediately excited about the possibilities for the community and what connections could be either built or strengthened.
Many years ago, as a young mother I was welcomed into the North End Community through the Mi’kmaq Child Development Centre & Friendship Centre. I moved to Halifax from Rural NS without really having an urban community or connections of my own. Coming from a settler background I had no idea what I did not know about Indigenous Culture and history. I had little idea about the depth of the work that was needed to be done on all levels, especially personally, but I knew I needed to understand more in order to fully parent my sons and to bring them up with knowledge and understanding of their Indigenous roots. We were welcomed into a community so filled with love, humour, strength, and raw honesty, a community that showed me what community can be.
I learned it is our responsibility to understand history and the current injustices today, it is our responsibility to have the tough and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that real movement stems from and it is our responsibility to take part in these movements towards equity and justice. We now live in a time where the information we need to move forward is everywhere, but it is making the human connection, the friendships and the co-learnings that can take that information and create deeper change.
I believe this invitation to join is what will foster learning from each other and to help us to continue to find ways to connect and be community together.
Tammy Mudge — Evaluation Lead
Establishing and nurturing relationships that are rooted in mutual understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members is crucial to moving forward on a path to reconciliation, in a good way. The MNFC was an ideal location to support the EOED March program as it created a welcoming space for these connections to happen organically. The Centre is an integral part of the North End community in Halifax and has been for several years. Many of its staff have long standing, trusting relationships with not only the North End urban Indigenous population, but with the community. This made the process of co-design and delivery of the March program smoother because these relationships were already well established; Relationships that can sometimes take years to cultivate. This, to me, is one of the most important lessons learned. For the EOED initiative to be fully accepted and integrated into the community, time is needed to allow for these trusting relationships to form — and cannot be rushed.
During the March program, I observed many new connections being made at the neighbourhood level. Local businesses extended their community reach, newcomers to the community had a chance to explore and discover, cultures and traditions were shared among neighbours, intergenerational exchanges occurred on multiple occasions, and non-Indigenous community members stepped foot inside the MNFC for the first time. I also observed neighbours re-uniting and learning something new about each other. I believe that these connections were a direct result of the integration of the EOED initiative into the community. We were able to encourage and support the interactions that made inclusive participation possible.
To fully and truthfully centre reconciliation in the EOED initiative, much work needs to be done to better understand the ways in which this can be made possible, on the ground, and at the governance and systems level. With the EOED pilot here in Kjipuktuk, the March program offered many Indigenous-led sessions, and the Indigenous content was well received and among the most popular with participants. I have attended many workshops and events that facilitated talks on Indigenous issues or shared Indigenous culture and practices, but the sessions held during the March program felt different. There was a sincere interest from participants in learning more about Indigenous culture and worldviews and Indigenous community members felt comfortable sharing. Participants inquired as to how they too could work towards reconciliation in their everyday lives. Connections were made and in the days following the March program, these connections grew into relationships within the community that will be foundational to moving forward on reconciliation.
At the governance level of EOED, there were some efforts made to incorporate Indigenous values and knowledge systems, such as the development of guiding principles that were created with both Indigenous teachings and Euro-Canadian practice. Moving forward to the next phases of the initiative, there is hope that one day EOED Kjipuktuk, with the support from its partners and stakeholders, can truly centre reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples. Our team and the EOED initiative have strengthened the North End community’s desire and ability to work towards reconciliation, together, in a good way.
Moving Forward From here
So where to from here? While I can’t say I have the answers, my mind is rich with questions that continue to rest at the heart of this work — which admittedly feel less about solutions and action plans, and more about practices and mindsets that can be helpful in stewarding complex transitions. And while the gap between where we are and where we need to go can feel enormous on the best of days, there are certain truths that reveal themselves and offer glimmers of light — such as the nature of trust and that despite what we may think, it can be built in the smallest of moments — when we choose to connect with one another and care for the things are valuable to each of us.
In the short time that EOED was brought to life in Halifax, we initiated a journey, to understand how reconciliation could manifest through many different relationships, connecting around the co-creation of a platform for inclusive participation. And in this we sparked excitement and curiosity around what life could be like if everyday, there were inviting spaces for neighbours to easily connect, share, learn, and create in new ways. I hope it goes without saying that we are at the base of a mountain with a steep climb ahead — one that will surely require dismantling and rebuilding, learning and unlearning, and nurturing new seeds that help all communities to thrive, not just a few. As we move forward I hope to continue this reflection to share insights around other organizational and systemic shifts that will be necessary to continue on our path. But for now, the question I leave you with is this: How may we all take part in creating a future society that centres connectedness, healing, and regeneration, and where the creative potential of everyone, can be realized?