In honour of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we hear from Starbucks partners and reflect on the tragic legacy of residential schools and commit to truth and reconciliation through education, awareness and action.
Giving Space, Sharing Stories
How the Starbucks Indigenous Partner Network is turning acknowledgement into action.
Starbucks partners, Sara Hunter and Jessica Novak, had a vision: to foster a safe, supportive space where Indigenous partners (employees) and their allies could share their truth and educate one another about Indigenous experiences in Canada. In the Fall of 2020, the first ever Indigenous Partner Network (IPN) was born at Starbucks Canada, and today the network has grown to more than 500 members.
Sara Hunter is Ojibway and a member of the Sheguiandah First Nation on Manatoulin Island in Ontario. Her family are survivors of residential schools, and she felt first-hand the damage that experience has inflicted on their community.
“I grew up not really immersed in Indigenous culture. I don’t speak the language. I only heard my grandmother speak a few words,” Sara shares. “It wasn’t until my teen years when I remember attending my first traditional powwow.”
Recognizing this gap inspired her to not only deepen her own connection with her culture, but help other Indigenous partners connect with — and learn from — one another through the IPN.
“It wasn’t until IPN came to be that they realized people were seeing them – that they were in a space where they could share their true self”, says Sara.
As an ancestor of settlers, Jessica Novak believes that the IPN represents just one platform for allyship with Indigenous peoples. For Jessica, participating in the IPN is a clear response to the 92nd Call to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It calls on businesses to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples, providing equal access while educating all staff on their history.
“As a corporation, as leaders in a lot of spaces, how do the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission show up here?” Jessica asks, “Where does it live? How do we build relationships with Indigenous communities?”
With the most recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools in communities across Canada and the urgent calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the IPN’s mission has become even more critical and creating opportunities for acknowledgement has been the focus of Sara and Jessica’s efforts since founding the network.
This summer, the network hosted sharing circles, giving space for partners to speak and listen to one another, and also participated in meaningful discussions to help partners learn and deepen their understanding of Indigenous history, some of the key issues impacting Indigenous peoples today and Truth and Reconciliation. The network also proudly celebrated Indigenous culture throughout National Indigenous History Month and International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The two women are committed to using the work of the past year as a foundation as they look ahead to the future.
“We’re now moving into that space of building relationships,” says Sara. “So how can we use what we learned in this last year and really put it into action through volunteering, through listening, through growing into new communities?”
It’s one of the reasons why the IPN selected the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society (IRSSS) as the recipient of a $20,000 donation from Starbucks Canada in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Our first year of existence was really all about education,” Sara reflects. “How can we talk about history, but also celebrate the great things happening in the culture itself: the teachings, protecting our environment and water, and at the same time giving acknowledgement to the truth of what has happened”
The IRSSS provides essential services to Residential School Survivors, their families, and those dealing with Intergenerational traumas. Their focus is on delivering care, not only physically but mentally and spiritually, to affected communities.
“It was a simple choice for us,” Jessica explains, “It’s the most direct way for any donation to have an impact on the people traumatized by residential schools.”
As she looks ahead to building new relationships and putting what they learned from one another into action, Sara hasn’t lost sight of her original vision: “We have created a space where people can feel safe to share their truth. But there are still a lot of partners out there who may not know about us yet or haven’t had a chance to share their story. So we’re going to continue open up doors for people to do that.”
For the Next Seven Generations
How mentorship can move us forward to Truth and Reconciliation
Stephanie Yoshida denies that she is an educator, but when she shares her journey, one cannot help but learn.
Stephanie is the child of an Indian Day School survivor and the grandchild of residential school survivors. The revelations this year of unmarked graves at a school in her home province of British Columbia compelled her to give voice to this generational pain through poetry. Her poem “The Tears that I Shed, are Their Cries for Justice”, published at the end of this article, was shared with Starbucks partners in the summer, inspiring many across the country to share their own experiences and allyship. But she sees her poetry as simply a step along a personal process of understanding, one among countless others on the path toward Truth and Reconciliation.
“I ask myself, ‘How can we take the necessary steps forward to reconcile the past and work together as a nation to build a brighter future for the next generations?’ In that lies the answer: the next generations.”
– Stephanie Mika Yoshida, Starbucks partner (employee) and member of the Nisga’a First Nation.
Photo Credit – Soloman Chiniquay
“Truth and Reconciliation is a process,” Stephanie explains when reflecting on the legacy of the schools and the path ahead. ”First finding and acknowledging the truth of the history of Indigenous peoples, the reality of residential schools, and truly hearing the survivors and the impacts that this has had in their lives. For seven generations, they were taught that their way of life as Indigenous people was inferior, at the same time non-Indigenous children in schools were taught the same thing about Indigenous peoples.”
“Limited access to opportunities, networks and mentors is an overwhelming barrier faced by Indigenous youth today, which only widens the gaps created by residential schools,” says Tanya Tourangeau, Indigenous Engagement Lead at MENTOR Canada, an organization committed to expanding access to mentoring for youth in Canada. She knows that mentorship not only has the potential to help move our country towards Truth and Reconciliation but can be a transformative opportunity for the economy.
“Indigenous youth are the largest, youngest, fastest growing population in Canada,” she shares. “If our Indigenous youth were graduating, were entering the workforce, completing post-secondary education, becoming business owners, becoming landowners at the same rate as non-Indigenous people, we could raise the GDP of Canada today by 100 billion dollars.”
Tanya is also the child of a survivor, and her path has been shaped by that experience.
“Early on in life, it was apparent to me that our people needed help. They needed assistance, they needed capacity-building. That brought me to MENTOR Canada. Mentorship has always been informally a part of being an Indigenous Person. It’s part of that belief in taking care of the next seven generations,” she says.
On September 28th, Stephanie will join Tanya and Indigenous youth and allies across Canada to share experiences and mentorship. The Power of Mentoring event, facilitated by MENTOR Canada in collaboration with Starbucks Canada and Deloitte, is focused on expanding networks, enhancing skills and increasing access to employment. These events are part of an urgent movement that spans all facets of Canadian society. For organizations like Starbucks Canada, they represent just one response to the 94 Calls to Action provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
September 30th is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day in honour of residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad who was one of tens of thousands of Indigenous children stolen from their families and placed into a system designed to destroy what made them who they are.
For Stephanie and so many other children of survivors, there is still much work to be done to heal.
“I ask myself, ‘How can we take the necessary steps forward to reconcile the past and work together as a nation to build a brighter future for the next generations?’ In that lies the answer: the next generations,” she says. “It will take generations for us to truly work together to build a path forward, and it is through education that our healing will begin.”