For more than 35-years WJS has delivered social services across Canada. Our work to support marginalized youth, struggling families and people with developmental disabilities has led us to serve people who identify as Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
WJS has heard the call for Truth and Reconciliation, and with strong connections to communities across Canada, begun a journey of Truth & Reconciliation with an open mind. We have a goal to deepen our understanding of cultural differences and to bring our staff closer together with the vast communities they work so that we may serve our clients more effectively.
“If we want our journey to be successful and rewarding, we must acknowledge the role of indigenous people in Canada and incorporate indigenous traditions into our journey,” explains Caroline Bonesky, CEO, WJS Canada.
We’ve been especially fortunate to already see our start to this journey enriched with the support of the indigenous community during a spiritual gathering in Edmonton. With members of the Enoch Cree band council and chiefs of the Treaty 8 nations, WJS staff were led through a traditional Pipe Ceremony to help guide our Truth and Reconciliation journey. During the ceremony, an Elder calls upon the Creator to lend blessing and guidance for our journey together.
“By embracing indigenous ceremonies, we are deepening our common understanding and shared knowledge which is critical to our path of Truth & Reconciliation”
Leading the ceremony as Elder was WJS Canada’s Indigenous Cultural Advisor Russell Auger, who was instrumental to bringing the community together for this learning experience and a moment of spiritual connection. Russell was thrilled to see such vibrant support given to WJS staff in their work ahead.
“Everyone in Edmonton was so supportive to get us more connected with the community,” Russell recalls.
“I wanted us as indigenous people to support WJS during their Truth and Reconciliation through an indigenous approach and by working on a spiritual level together. Building relationships is key to our work everywhere we travel, we want to be recognized and be a part of something beautiful,” he added.
For some who attended the Pipe Ceremony, this really did provide a beautiful experience to help raise their spirits through a traditional connection to the community. WJS staff and clients from High Level, after recently facing wildfires, travelled over 700km south to Edmonton just to make sure they could share the experience and offer support, it was a special moment that both Russell and Caroline took as inspiration for the road ahead.
“The group from High Level were so grateful, they drove all the way to be a part of something beautiful,” Russell affirmed. “WJS is working in a good way to create connections to the heart and amongst each other [with these ceremonies]”.
Caroline added: “Seeing the team from High Level drive down in one day and make the 9-hour return trip right after the ceremony is a testament to their support of this initiative.”
While the start has been overwhelmingly positive, the journey to Truth and Reconciliation for WJS Canada will need more work and support every step of the way. Among the most difficult obstacles remains the reality of lingering racism toward indigenous people across the nation. There is an increasing need to raise awareness to the help that our agency can provide when working towards establishing more inclusive communities.
“A little extra hands-on work is needed to be more inclusive,” explained Russell.
“We need to make it possible that the feelings are changed, people need to know that we as a department can stand by our people so they can feel comfortable in their communities.”
With such a large attendance seen during Edmonton’s pipe ceremony as any indication, WJS is even more enlightened for the next unique steps of Truth and Reconciliation thanks to the support given thus far.
Together with indigenous communities across Canada, we strive to find more opportunities like this ceremony where our staff can learn and connect with their clients through a cultural experience that is not only beautiful, but can also inspire a more positive change in the work ahead.