Walking the Talk – Truth and Reconciliation

Elizabeth A. Sharpe

When I was asked to write about the experience of the Canadian Association for Play Therapy (CAPT) with Truth and Reconciliation my mind started to race. I could write a book about our journey and to capture the true essence in a short article might be a challenge. Our members are passionate about knowing and engaging with a broad spectrum of our population. Play Therapy involves people from all walks of life and all ages in a formal clinical setting. Play Therapy is efficacy-based and gently exposes human pain. It works to help heal generational trauma and its symptoms of abuse. It was essential for our association to find ways to engage with Indigenous colleagues in culturally sensitive and respectful ways and it was important that CAPT adjusted the association lens of accommodation and what that looks like. This is a major change management exercise.

Acknowledge and Understand

It was a priority for our association to acknowledge the journey, and not expect this to be yet another “End” on a strategic plan. What this meant was committing to massive change and openly recognizing shortfalls in our membership process and programming. That year and for years to come, the focus was and is on gaining knowledge of Indigenous ways, honouring their membership in CAPT in meaningful ways. Every event and every meeting begins with the Land Acknowledgement of the territory we are in. But we also openly acknowledge our responsibility in that. We work to show this in tangible, respectful ways.

Examine Our Strengths

When the 94 Recommendations were released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, the Board of Directors struck a committee to thoroughly examine how we could accommodate the need. We pulled out areas in the report where we could reach out and support, in our own tangible way, the Indigenous families in regions across Canada. We then took 7 of them that were most achievable and within our means and began to reconstruct our programming to meet these needs. We seek advice from our Indigenous colleagues throughout our journey. We published these 7 recommendations in our Playground Magazine and committed our membership to work toward this goal.

The following is an outline of some of the activities we started in 2015 and continue today:

  1. As Chief Staff Officer, I try to read as much as I can about Indigenous history and culture. I continue to learn in this way and encourage our committee members to do the same.
  2. CAPTs entire magazine for Spring/Summer 2017 was dedicated to work being done in Indigenous communities. It was published and shared with members throughout the country and in Indigenous friendship centers, agencies, and community centers.
  3. Engaging with Indigenous Elders and counsellors and asking how we can help accommodate the need in their community. No matter what the specialty, every non-profit association can do this in some way. The emphasis was on our learning, us entering their world, not them entering ours. That came later as we welcomed many Indigenous students into programs that met their needs. At each training we asked for their engagement and advice.
  4. Registering as an association at Indigenous conferences was enormously beneficial in getting to know Indigenous community members and elders. By engaging in honest conversation about their lives, we were able to learn more about how we needed to change, and then make change. We started with two events: The Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Conference at the University of Guelph and World Indigenous Expressive Arts Conference in Winnipeg. By spending days at these events, we came away with relationships that were rich and by acknowledging with humility our need to learn from them, we came away feeling encouraged.
  5. Some of our CAPT Board members and management team registered in an on-line course through the University of British Columbia on Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education. One of the most important learning experiences on our T & R journey. This course helped us envision how Indigenous histories, perspectives, worldviews, and approaches can make part of the work we do in our association meaningful, in ways that are thoughtful and respectful.
  6. I would recommend as a first step that Board and Committees commit to anti-oppression training with bias recognition so open conversations can be achieved. Otherwise, you’ll go around in circles.
  7. When tragedy strikes a region, like we have witnessed recently, we begin an internal campaign to connect personally with our members who live and serve in affected communities. We reach out and ask how we can help. We don’t send a text. We connect at a personal level. This has been extremely well received. It requires volunteer commitment.

I know that some of you will be thinking that my suggestions might not work in your association, or they seem simplistic or that your products and services might not be a fit. I have managed, through my association management company, over 50 associations across North America offering diverse services and products. There are ways in which you can reach out to learn in small ways on an ongoing basis. This kind of contact goes a long way to reconciling differences and learning the true stories. I believe it’s the only way. It will take time and change comes from that.

What I am writing is a very small example of how you could begin and continue your journey to Truth and Reconciliation. We’re still ongoing with a formal Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, a whole series of trainings in the fall dealing with spaces that are culturally sensitive and how we retain our association governance and standards in a world with diverse expectations.

If you are interested in reading the articles that have been written on addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations or would like to talk more about ways to engage, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be pleased to talk one-on-one with you.

Elizabeth A. Sharpe CAE is Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Play Therapy (CAPT) and CEO of The Association Management Company (theAMC) in Guelph ON. She has been a member of CSAE for nearly 30 years and with gratitude attributes her years of career success to the excellent products and services of CSAE. She can be reached at: [email protected]