The Annual WrapAroud Association of Ontario Networking Day had an unexpected and life-changing impact on Shalem’s staff. Mary Charles shared her experiences:
Have you ever had circumstances that rock your world and cause a complete change in you? What I am about to share are a series of circumstances that have caused me to take a good hard look at the core of my make-up as a person.
I am, at present, the Chair of the WrapAround Association of Ontario and as such it has been my responsibility to oversee the planning of the annual Networking Day that brings WrapAround practitioners from all across Ontario for learning and connecting with each other. This year Shalem’s Executive Director, Mark Vander Vennen, was able to arrange a keynote speaker and his sales pitch had me in no doubt that we were in for a truly inspirational and captivating morning.
I knew that one of my duties would be to honour the land and I was impressed and slightly intimidated by Héctor Acero Ferrer, Chair of Shalem’s Board of Director’s beautiful and articulate ‘Honouring of the Land’ speech at Shalem’s recent Strategic Planning Day. I was left wondering how I would be able to follow his example and I knew that some serious work was ahead of me.
So, I did my research and discovered that Aboriginal people were saying that this ritual was becoming just that, a ritual without a lot of meaning and just one more thing to cross off a to-do list. They also stressed that in fact, mispronouncing the Aboriginal names was considered a dishonour and insult to them. In my research, I was able to discover the people groups I needed to honour but was unsuccessful, even on the day of the event, to learn how to pronounce them.
During this time, I attended the Social Service Worker Advisory Committee where a new course was highlighted: “Colonization and Decolonization and the Effect of Practice.” This course speaks about reconciliation and the long-term effects of generational trauma. I listened attentively and felt I needed that course for my own professional development. I was uncomfortable at my own ambivalence about the subject and was increasingly aware that there needed to be a change in my own attitude towards this subject.
Then came the Networking Day. The moment came to honour the land, and in my nervousness, I fumbled through it and then laid aside my speech. I took a risk and spoke from my heart. It was a gamble, but I knew that by doing that, the actual ritual would become real and authentic. I did not consciously engage my mind on the risk I was taking by being vulnerable and truthful about my inability to pronounce the names and my ambivalence about the whole topic of Colonialization and Decolonialization. I spoke on the need to be informed so as to be more effective in our WrapAround practice when dealing with Aboriginal people and their complex needs.
What happened next was something that I will never, ever forget. Ivy Chaske was introduced as an elder of Dakota people and she stated she was a “Keeper of Knowledge” a direct descendent of Sitting Bull. She then acknowledged my speech as a “gift” and told us that as such her people would return a gift to the giver. To my surprise she asked for her own pashmina scarf and wrapped it around my shoulders and gave me a big hug, explaining that what I did was brave and very meaningful.
Reconciliation happened in a small way that day, in that room. Since then I have done a lot of deep reflecting on my own generational racist roots and the bigotry that ran openly in my family and how that affected me at a subconscious level. It was time for some true change which was not only necessary but expedient as a result of these events.
One beautiful elder named Ivy, her heart-breaking story, and an awakening to the true cost of colonialization has forever changed this lady!
Mary Charles, RSSW, is Shalem’s WrapAround Administrative Support and coordinator of Seniors Wrap