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Indigenous learning program brings reconciliation to a local level

Victoria Native Friendship Centre offers dialogue, learning sessions to the public

By Michael John Lo
December 2, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Indigenous learning program brings reconciliation to a local level

Victoria Native Friendship Centre offers dialogue, learning sessions to the public

Tanya Clarmont, Director of Community Action and Learning and Community Learning Program lead, speaks at this week's celebration at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. Photo: Provided / Greg Forsberg
Tanya Clarmont, Director of Community Action and Learning and Community Learning Program lead, speaks at this week's celebration at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. Photo: Provided / Greg Forsberg
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Indigenous learning program brings reconciliation to a local level

Victoria Native Friendship Centre offers dialogue, learning sessions to the public

By Michael John Lo
December 2, 2022
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Indigenous learning program brings reconciliation to a local level
Tanya Clarmont, Director of Community Action and Learning and Community Learning Program lead, speaks at this week's celebration at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. Photo: Provided / Greg Forsberg

A new learning program from the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) is providing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people the opportunity to learn about reconciliation by breaking down historically significant documents like the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) within a local framework.

The friendship centre had a full house of supporters at its Friday launch party celebrating the program, which was conceived initially as a volunteer training course but developed into something that could be available to the public.

Tanya Clarmont, VNFC’s community learning director and program facilitator, said it’s been exciting to see so many Indigenous people benefit from the program.  

“A lot of our Indigenous team members are disconnected from [their] culture, are disconnected from their community,” said Clarmont. “It’s challenging to find spaces that feel safe to learn,” she added.

A key part of the program is about creating a safe space for the often emotionally heavy process of learning, Clarmont said. “So we do a lot of work to explore what it means to be an emotional, whole human in a space […] to be able to move through mistakes as a learning experience and to continue their journey of learning.”

Clarmont said that she’s seen people open up about their Indigenous ancestry during the program because they feel safe to do so.

“If you look Indigenous on the outside, people expect you to have a certain level of knowledge or assumptions about what you know,” Clarmont said. “And the truth is, a lot of our community members are learning right by everybody else about the history of Canada and colonization and how it actually impacts their lives today.”

VNFC’s learning program begins with an examination of key reconciliation documents such as UNDRIP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, and the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Clarmont works with participants to draw connections from those documents into real-life situations that Indigenous communities face today.

More than 17,000 urban Indigenous people from diverse cultural backgrounds across Canada live within Greater Victoria, according to a 2020 report by the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogue.

The program, which launched in April, spans three weeks and includes a half day of online learning and three eight-hour sessions of in-person discussion. It runs in cohorts of 15 to 20 people, with a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants.

“One of the things that I was worried about was the three full days [of learning] and what people would commit. But it has not been an issue,” Clarmont said. “Every group is different, because it's really learner driven. The curriculum is created to make the participants do all the work.”

The program isn’t officially recognized as qualified professional development training, but there’s already a full waitlist, with keen interest from government workers.

Clarmont believes that the framework, created by the VNFC—with the community input from local knowledge keepers, Elders and professional curriculum writers—will be usable for at least the next decade and can be replicated in other regions.

“We don’t call it cultural safety training. But it does check that box,” Clarmont said, adding that the VNFC is looking into the process of getting some official certifications and growing the program to improve accessibility.

“We had a provincial funder, a federal funder, and a foundation all come forward and say: ‘This is valid work, and so we’re going to put money behind it,’” she said. “And that’s pretty amazing.”

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