Connecting Truth and Reconciliation with Parks and Recreation

In this blog post Courtney Saboe, former Summer Program Development Assistant with SPRA, considers the intersections between the recreation and parks industry and Truth and Reconciliation.

Truth and Reconciliation is an important topic right now that almost everyone is trying to incorporate within their organizations. It’s in almost every strategic plan, value and mission statement, or acknowledged in some other way within an organization. As a recent post-secondary graduate, Indigenous culture and history was a part of my educational program. As a student, I was introduced to various indigenous organizations through community outreach, Indigenous guest speakers, volunteer experiences, or various research projects.

Across Canada, the recreation and parks industry has been making efforts to keep the momentum going, but are we doing enough? How can we do more – as practitioners and as an industry? How do we shift our practices or educate the communities we are involved with?  The first thing we need to do is to connect with what we know.

What Do We Know about Recreation?

We know that recreation can: enhance mental and physical wellbeing, enhance social wellbeing, help build strong families and communities, and connect people with nature. This comes from the Framework, which also tells us that the Indigenous population in Canada in young, diverse, and growing.

Here is what the Framework says:

“The Aboriginal community in Canada is younger and growing faster than the general population. These populations enrich our recreational experiences with multiple languages, historical context and diverse cultural identities.” (Pathways to Wellbeing: A Framework for Recreation in Canada, 2015)

We also know that diversity and inclusion are important to consider when planning recreation programs. Having a younger Indigenous population involved in planning, strategy, and leading can provide a new perspective and new ideas in the recreation industry.

What Do We Know About Truth and Reconciliation?

Canada has a deep history with Indigenous populations, and efforts need to be done to move forward in a way that can help us heal as a country, remember the past, and learn from it. Since the 94 Calls to Action were released in 2015, communities, leaders, organizations, and individuals are looking at ways to adapt, create new programs and services, and inspire initiatives to support Truth and Reconciliation.

What is the Parks and Recreation Industry Doing?

Currently, the recreation industry has been doing some pretty good things when it comes to addressing the Calls to Action.  Organizations in our field are making Truth and Reconciliation a part of their strategic plans, which can include efforts like providing awareness training to staff, and working with neighboring indigenous communities for providing programs and services. 

SPRA has recognized the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and commissioned a Pathways for Reconciliation and Engagement Recommendations Guide (Common Ground Consulting Ltd. 2021. SPRA has also released an updated version of their First Nation Recreation Development Grant, with a new Métis Recreation Development Grant to follow in early 2022. Additionally, numerous grant and funding opportunities are available for organizations, communities, and youth with a focus on indigenous engagement, initiatives, programming, and leadership.

Non-profit organizations and parks and recreation departments are becoming more involved by providing Indigenous culture and history awareness trainings for staff and board members. The City of Saskatoon is just one example of how an organization can incorporate Indigenous educational resources to staff and community members and other organizations such as Inclusion Saskatchewan provides a link to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website on their own website and encourages their visitors to learn more.

How Else Can We Connect Recreation to Truth and Reconciliation?

Land Acknowledgement is an important thing to consider when thinking about the role recreation plays in Truth and Reconciliation. Land claims are frequently mentioned in the 94 Calls to Action document. Having permanent signage installed in outdoor or indoor spaces acknowledging which treaty land the facility is located on and which Indigenous groups are present in that area can be a good priority. The recreation industry has the benefit of providing spaces and programs where people gather and there is the ability to reach large audiences.

Hosting culturally-based recreational events or educational programs is another opportunity we can provide in our multi-use spaces and facilities to bring Indigenous traditions and ceremonies to your communities. For example, the University of Regina hosts a teepee building contest typically every Fall semester in the outdoor green space at the centre of the university grounds. Students participate in teams and compete against other teams for the quickest, most accurate tee pee set-up. Other examples include inviting Indigenous performers, speakers, elders, or other organizations to share their knowledge and traditions with your community.

We Have the Opportunity.

As recreation leaders, we have the opportunity to increase education in our communities about history and culture by working with Indigenous organizations and Elders in our communities. We have a distinct opportunity to reach various audiences with our programs and services. The most important strategy for us as leaders is to make sure we use all of the resources and education available to us in order to help educate our communities.

Here are some ways you can educate yourself further:

  • Attend local Indigenous events in your community
  • Talk to indigenous members of your community and learn their stories.
  • Read the 94 Calls to Action
  • Visit the TRC website 
  • Research what other organizations are doing in regard to Truth and Reconciliation and use that to inspire change from within your organization or department.
  • Attend local Indigenous events in your community, area or province.

Courtney Saboe
Youth Engagement Lead
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Regina & Area