Building Relationships: The RI at work

June 27, 2016

Building Relationships: The RI at work

Restorative Inquiry at the Black Cultural Centre

The early work of the Restorative Inquiry has focused on three key areas: supporting former residents, learning from communities, and building partnerships with public agencies.

Supporting Former Residents

One of the guiding principles of the Restorative Inquiry is do no further harm. The former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children are central to the process. They must be able to take part in a way that feels safe and supportive.

The RI team has begun to meet with former residents in a relaxed, informal way through a series of “Tea and Talk” events. These sessions allow them to get to know us and provide them with tools and techniques as they prepare to tell their stories. The former residents own their own stories, and they have the freedom to decide how, what and when they will share with the Restorative Inquiry.

One resident told us, “I don’t want to tell my story just to tell my story. I want to make a difference for children in Nova Scotia today, especially in our Black communities.”

Learning from Communities

The Restorative Inquiry has a mandate to examine the history and context of the Home for Colored Children as a lens to address larger systemic issues still affecting the province today, particularly in African Nova Scotian communities.

The RI team has travelled around the province to meet with people and organizations who provide services in African Nova Scotian communities. The team has been to Amherst, Kentville, Lincolnville, New Glasgow, Sydney, Truro and Yarmouth, with further meetings to come in the summer. The RI also hosted a one-day workshop in East Preston, called “Going Together: Conversations on the Way Forward,” for Halifax-area youth and service providers.

While the issues show up differently in each region, many of the concerns and challenges facing African Nova Scotian communities are similar. Issues that communities have identified include:

  • The effects of systemic racism, often highlighted in the education system
  • Child welfare policies and practices related to African Nova Scotian families
  • A lack of clear, consistent data, analysis and research on African Nova Scotian communities
  • Disappearing community resources, such as the closure of Black Employment Resource Centres
  • A lack of a voice at the table: Communities often feel “consulted” as a matter of procedure, but rarely do they feel heard or genuinely included in the decision-making process.

The RI team will continue to meet with communities and bring these issues forward to the Council of Parties and the Reflection and Action Task Group. Many of these issues are not new, and in some areas, work is already underway. One role the Restorative Inquiry can play is to help bring people to the table together for honest conversations toward meaningful solutions.

Partnering with Public Agencies

The Restorative Inquiry is focused on A Different Way Forward. This begins with building better relationships between public agencies and the communities they serve. Traditional inquiries often stoke an adversarial, “us versus them” mentality; the Restorative Inquiry views everyone as equal partners at the table.

As the RI team visits communities, we are also meeting with government departments, health-care providers, police services and other public agencies. We are developing a health support network that will help provide services to former residents during the Restorative Inquiry, but will also look at bigger-picture issues of health-care access for African Nova Scotians. We host monthly Lunch and Learn events for government and community service providers, and we recently co-hosted a workshop with the Department of Community Services on culturally appropriate, community-focused care.

As we build stronger relationships, we are better equipped to wrestle with what we are learning together, and to plan and act together for meaningful change. We know we will honour the former residents’ desire to make a difference if this work continues long after the Restorative Inquiry is over.