The raising of the new Henderson totem pole at the Muesum at Campbell River last year is one example of how arts collaborations and partnerships can help further the discussion around reconciliation, according to arts council executive director Ken Blackburn, and this weekend’s Paddling Together In Reconciliation event at that same museum is another.

Reconciliation event an important conversation

Workshop and community circle is a chance to hear stories and appreciate each other

If we’re going to heal from past wounds, we all need to be open to opinions about how we can do it.

Which is why tomorrow’s event (March 22) at the Museum at Campbell River, entitled Paddling Together In Reconcilation, won’t be scripted, won’t have any prescribed outcomes and won’t have its success based on how many people attended or what goals for moving forward are set at the end.

It’s about a conversation. And that’s all it needs to be.

According to Ken Blackburn, who serves both as programming coordinator at the museum and executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council – the co-hosts of the event – the day is simply a chance for members of the community – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike – to share their thoughts on Canada’s past and how we can move together into a harmonious future.

Tomorrow’s event begins with a shortened version of Kathi Camilleri’s powerful workshop, Building Bridges Through Understanding the Village®, before moving on to a Community Circle.

“One of the important formats to be able to have a real discussion about something important is the idea of a Community Circle,” Blackburn says. “You bring the circle together, usually with elders from the community involved in it, and they share their stories and experiences as a way to learn about the past. It’s important, I think, for a diverse community like ours to hear each others’ stories. That’s how we learn about each other.”

What’s unique about a Community Circle, Blackburn says, is that it doesn’t have set outcomes.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen in a circle, because you don’t know what stories are going to come up and you don’t know how people are going to react to the ones that do,” he says. “Circles are opportunities to learn alongside each other. Where they go may give you an insight on where you go next, but they are not guided by that being the end goal.”

Those learning opportunities, he says, are more important to foster than ever.

“Let’s face it,” Blackburn says. “It’s a charged atmosphere right now. Even the word reconciliation itself is starting to get battered a bit. But maybe that’s perfect. Maybe that’s what makes it more important than ever to have these discussions, because it’s dangerous to ignore it. We have to look at the dark side of ourselves and our history, even when – and possibly especially when – it makes us uncomfortable.”

And we need to bring the discussion down to a local level, he says, because communities work in much the same way as a clock.

“There are big gears that turn slowly and small gears that spin much faster, and together they make the whole thing work and function,” Blackburn says. “Reconciliation has political aspects and economic aspects and legal aspects and it’s made up of big discussions happening at very high levels, and those are the big gears that move slowly. But at a community level, what we have to ask ourselves, is ‘what can I do?’ We can’t control what the legal system does, and we can’t control what the economy of it is. We can have opinions on those things, but it’s not our working reality. Our working reality is the small gears that can move quickly.”

Blackburn’s “working reality,” at least in his capacity as executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council, “is in dealing with the arts and with artists. So what I’m hoping to see is a way for the arts sector to be part of the positive movement within the community. What can the arts do to facilitate positive dialogue and greater community understanding?”

Blackburn feels the arts can be one of the most impactful in this whole discussion, if they could figure out how to best go about it.

“Art brings with it some significant resources,” he says. “We can program public spaces and use performance, theatre, visual arts to create structures that would assist with a greater cross cultural understanding within the community, but we don’t know what that looks like. We by no means have all the answers, but it’s important that we contribute to the discussion.”

Whether or not that part of the discussion even gets touched on Saturday isn’t up to him, though.

“As a personal voice, I may have the opportunity to say something, but because of how circles work, it may not go in that direction at all, and I’m certainly not going to impose it into the discussion,” he says. “But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that we start fostering the building of trust and understanding. If that’s all we accomplish in a day, that’s enough.”

The free event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and lunch will be provided. Participants are asked to pre-register by emailing or by calling 250-287-3103.

“I know there are big issues out there nationally and it’s getting a lot of media coverage,” Blackburn says, “but at some point we have to pull the conversation back to where we are rooted. We are rooted here. I’m hoping Campbell River can just come and explore a conversation about these things.”

That’s what the event tomorrow is all about.