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Reflections on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: In conversation with Alanaise Ferguson

September 28, 2022

Dr. Alanaise Ferguson is an Indigenous scientist-practitioner and educator in Counselling Psychology. Her pioneering work on decolonizing mental health practices was recently recognized with the title of Distinguished SFU Professor. In advance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we discussed the role of stories, language and survivance in healing and identity reclamation, as well as the importance of “unlearning” in the journey towards reconciliation.

Q: What are you reflecting upon as we are approaching the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

A:  For many of us these are reflections about new information and knowledge that has been withheld and excluded from the learning programs.  We have been a missing voice in the whole discussion of what it means to be living in Canada today, what it means to be living in the age of human rights and to also be discussing things like children’s rights.

Q: Members of your immediate and extended family have all attended residential schools.  What is the role of stories in the healing process?

A: These experiences are so steeped in trauma, but they are the missing stories. If we mean to increase the understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, we need to be able to tell these stories in a way that is sensitive to the first peoples who are still dealing with the trauma of residential schools.

Q: In your work, you prefer the term “survivance” to “resilience,” why?

A: We have always been resilient – that’s our history, our ancestry, it’s in our DNA. But if we look at the [health] inequities from the perspective of “survivance,” then it puts the responsibility on the kill forces that are in place that reduce our access to health, clean drinking water, the resources in our land, the things that have been promised to us.

Q: You advocate for engaging Indigenous languages in the practice of family and group counselling. Why is this important?

A: For most Indigenous peoples language comes from the land, and it is constructed to help us understand our environment. For those who have been experiencing generations of separation from their land, either through residential schools or forced relocation or other governmental policies, reconnecting to their language ignites the process of reclaiming their identity, land and knowledge which can be incredibly empowering. It is a very powerful way to regulate and discharge their feelings.

Q: In our collective journey towards truth and reconciliation, why is “unlearning” important?

A:  A lot of new information is coming in, and it is equally important to dedicate yourself to “unlearning” because there are so many things that have been communicated about our peoples that are untrue and it is time to release all those things.

Q: How can we facilitate conversations about truth and reconciliation? 

A:  These important conversations need a space to happen. At the Faculty of Education, the Indigenous Education and Reconciliation Council creates such a space. If it wasn’t for the type of work that they do, I do not think people would be paying attention to our voices and our scholarship in the ways that they have been.

A few additional resources suggested by Alanaise Ferguson: