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SFU gives prestigious award for community achievement to reconciliation ambassador

Simon Fraser University is expected to announce Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, as their next Jack P. Blaney Award* for Dialogue recipient.

Simon Fraser President Andrew Petter is expected to make the announcement during today's SFU Reconciliation Day, marking the arrival of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings in Vancouver next week. Part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class action suit in Canadian history, the TRC hearings document the experiences of aboriginal survivors of Canada's residential school system.

"The Blaney Award is a pretty prestigious award based on community work and community achievement," William Lindsay, director of Simon Fraser's Office for Aboriginal Peoples, told The Tyee.

Previous recipients of the Jack D. Blaney Award, recognizing international achievement in dialogue, include Mary Robinson, former member of the UN High Commission on Human Rights and president of Ireland, and Maurice Strong, secretary general of the both the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Environmental Summit.

Lindsay says the award recognizes Joseph's role as ambassador for and visionary behind Reconciliation Canada, a charitable organization independent from the TRC that strives to repair and reform relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada. Reconciliation Canada is hoping to start that effort in Vancouver with the All Nations Canoe Gathering on Sept. 17 and the Walk for Reconciliation on Sept. 22.

As a professor, Lindsay says he would end his lectures on residential schools by looking at their lasting legacy, which "wasn't good news."

"Chief Joseph and others are taking it to the next step: reconciliation. How can we come to grips with this? How can we reconcile who we are today as a people with what happened in the past? How can we involve the rest of non-aboriginal society in this process?" he said.

"Residential schools will never be forgotten, but I think there comes a point where you come to grips with it: you realize what happened, you realize what it did, but you move on. And I think a lot of aboriginal people are doing that now in Canada. But it's through the efforts of people like Chief Joseph and others that this is taking place."

The Blaney Award won't be bestowed on Chief Joseph, a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation and a residential school survivor, until early next year. Lindsay told The Tyee it's part of the university's mission to carry the message of truth and reconciliation into the future.

"We're looking to the new year to have further discussions about this when we give this award to Chief Joseph, and then thereafter continue to pursue this and make sure that SFU is at the forefront of institutions that are going to promote this as an initiative for the coming years," he said.

SFU's Reconciliation Day events happening today on the university's Burnaby campus also include a keynote speech from Karen Joseph, executive director of Reconciliation Canada and daughter of Chief Joseph, a panel discussion with residential school survivors, and a screening of the documentary film We Were Children, which recounts the abuses suffered by aboriginal children under Canada’s residential school system.

* Corrected Friday, September 13, 10:43 a.m.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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