It was a meaningful day of discussions about reconciliation and the steps that the Kenora community needs to take to allow everyone to live the good life.

At Kenora’s Super 8 Minis Hall on October 12, community members were invited to the Booshkegiin Kenora – It’s Up to You conference to showcase the Debwewiin: CommUNITY Truth Project, hosted by Kenora Moving Forward and Ogimaawabiitong (Kenora Chiefs Advisory).

The day began with an opening prayer and ceremonies with Elders Tommy Keesic, Sherry Copenace, Robert Greene, and Jeanette Skead, emcee Howard Copenace, and Ogimaawabiitong’s Grandmother Drum, Shawanoong Banaise’seek.

The day aimed to spark discussions about how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people feel about belonging and reconciliation in the Kenora area, with research presented by Reconciliation Kenora, McMaster University, Ogimaawabiitong, the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, Ontario government, and the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The Debwewiin research project, beginning in 2019 with an end date of 2024, aims to better understand what reconciliation means to Kenora-area residents, including barriers to reconciliation, actions needed to advance reconciliation, and ways to engage more people in the process of reconciliation. The results of the study may help inform a strategic action plan with community partners to improve relationships.

The research includes the impact of the community’s support for non-profit grassroot initiatives like Ogimaawabiitong’s Kenora Youth Wellness Hub, Kenora Makwa Patrol, the KCA Youth and Family Wellness Camp, annual events for National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Indigenous Patient Relations Department partnership with the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, as well as the support for the All-Nations Health Partners.

The Debwewin Kenora:CommUNITY Truth Project  was made possible through funding from Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate of the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturism’s Anti-Racism Anti-Hate Program, and a partnership between Kenora Moving Forward and Ogimaawabiitong.

A number of community leaders and partners came out to the day’s presentation, including social service providers, non-profits, volunteer organizations, and police. Group discussions were later held to discuss the project, what reconciliation meant to them, and what steps need to be taken next.

“It was great to collaborate with [our partners], McMaster University and the Reconciliation Kenora project,” said Kenora Moving Forward’s Community Coordinator and Community Space Lead, Elauna Boutwell.

“We’re trying to bridge this understanding…People on the streets feel judged or misunderstood. We wanted to help share some of those voices and start building that bridge,” she adds. “It’s not just social service providers’ responsibility, it’s on all of us as a community. It’s about the relationships.”

Kenora Moving Forward’s BeLonging presentation focused on giving a voice to those vulnerable in the community and helping to raise awareness of their struggles and issues prevalent in Kenora. KMF volunteers were also joined by community members with lived experiences who spoke about their lives and their journeys in the area.

Ogimaawabiitong sends a huge Miigwetch to Reconciliation Kenora, Kenora Moving Forward, Dr. Jeff Denis, the Ontario government, and everyone who came out to advance the efforts of reconciliation and belonging in Kenora.

Another Miigwetch goes out to our elders Tommy Keesic, Sherry Copenace, Robert Greene and Jeanette Skead, and a special Miigwetch also goes out to drummers Gerry Coster, Edmond Jack, and Talon Sutherland.