Rising to the Occasion
By sharing her culture and life experiences, Miranda Jimmy hopes to heal the wounds left by Residential Schools
Monday, Sep 07, 2015 06:00 am
In March 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) held one of seven national events in Edmonton to raise awareness about residential schools. Survivors and their families presented testimony to the commission: it was hoped their statements would begin the healing and reconciliation process. Miranda Jimmy, an intergenerational survivor who works in the Aboriginal Relations Office with the City of Edmonton, was there.
Jimmy began learning about residential schools about 10 years ago. She heard stories from her family about her father’s time at residential school and says that lightbulbs began going off about experiences she had as child “and the way he acted, reacted and coped.” Jimmy took a job with Native Counselling Services of Alberta. As she began to hear first-hand stories from survivors, “things started to make sense for me, and I started to let go of some of the anger I had towards my dad.” When the TRC came to Edmonton Jimmy chose to share her story as the daughter of a survivor, and the impact on her life. “I had to make a conscious effort to do things differently if I didn’t want to make the same mistakes.” After Jimmy testified, she realised she needed to sharing her story with people who didn’t know about residential schools. “I began to recognize how people were impacted by the TRC events,” she says. “People were in shock that they didn’t know about these events and didn’t know what they could do.” She thought she could help build a bridge between people. In May 2015, Jimmy arranged the first meeting of RISE: Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton.
Jimmy doesn’t want to push reconciliation on people; she wants to be a leader, advocate and an educator for those who are ready to learn. RISE’s first project was a garden festooned with hearts bearing messages of hope and healing. With the help of a Make Something Edmonton micro-grant, about 200 Edmontonians created over 1,200 hearts. “I thought the heart garden was a simple and impactful way that anybody could relate to,” says Jimmy. “It could be an outlet.” As a RISE member I helped out at one of the work bees. I was deeply moved by the honesty and openness that people put into the messages.
The hearts were installed on City Hall’s west lawn as part of the DIY City project on June 21, National Aboriginal Day. City councillors, MLAs, and RISE members helped plant the hearts. Later in the day Jimmy watched a survivor drop everything she was carrying to carefully and intently walk through the installation. “Tears were pouring down her face.” A mother and two girls stopped and read the messages. The girls wanted to know what the garden meant. Their mom explained how children were taken from their parents, forbidden to speak their languages, and forced to live in residential schools and other institutions. These discussions are what drives RISE: they believe these painful and difficult discussions will bring Canada closer to reconciliation.
Jimmy’s successes are proof that reconciliation is about making connections. Artist in Residence for the Office of the City Clerk Jennie Vegt was so moved by Jimmy’s story that began working with RISE on an art project which presents reconciliation as a process that’s been going on for over 100 years. “She is hell-bent on stopping the cycle of abuse,” Vegt says, “and she has unlimited patience with those of us who are just starting to understand the truth of what went on in those schools.” Former poet Laureate for the City, Anna Marie Sewell and Edmonton’s Historian Laureate Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail will also collaborate on the project. The finished works will be displayed in City Hall this fall and people will be invited to interact with them and watch a round dance. “We want to engage people who are afraid to ask questions,” Jimmy says, “so we’re inviting them into a cultural activity that will give them the opportunity to learn.”