Youville Engages in Spirit Work

28 June, 2022 | Youville Centre

The importance of walking the path of reconciliation became clearer for Youville Centre when its Executive Director, Toni Tilston-Jones, took on her leadership role five years ago. This work is of particular importance to the young professional and the Youville community; much effort is devoted to it.

“It has been my intention since I came to Youville to operate in an organization that was equitable, anti-oppressive that would act on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, and more recently the calls for justice. As well as honouring the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, it was truly important for Youville to create a safe space for racialized and systemically marginalized people,” highlights Tilston-Jones.

One part of the work that needed to be done was developing a large critical organizational change framework and implementing it. That is in the making right now. “It addresses all aspects and components of the organization and embeds the principles of Reconciliation, equity and intersectional justice,” explains Tilston-Jones. “It involves critically analysing, deconstructing and interrogating what we do, why we do it, who it benefits, who it harms, etc. It involves head work, heart work and hands work – moving from knowing or acknowledging to doing and sustaining.”

It is clear for Tilston-Jones and her staff at Youville that all this hard work is a long-term approach and one that requires more than good intentions. The framework implementation is guided by advisors from community and staff, and the process touches all aspects of the organization. The people that guide the work are diverse across social locations and identities.

The journey towards reconciliation is made up of a multitude of actions, all of which constitute small but important steps. “We have been active and intentional with bringing spirit to the work we are doing in communities through our organization, to unlearn and relearn together. As staff and employees, and as an employer, we must stay connected to each other, to our hearts and our spirits,” says the Executive Director. “For us as a settler organization in a settler society, a large part of the work we must do to truly understand the truths and journey to reconciliation is decolonizing our hearts. As an organization we believe that a key way to do this is to be in ceremony and to engage in spirit work.”

On May 13th, Mike Pierre and Christine Cyr, two Indigenous advisors,visited both Youville locations in St.Boniface and St.Vital to perform a naming ceremony. Using sacred objects, smudging and singing, spirits revealed the name and the colors associated with each centre to Mike Pierre. “The naming ceremony is not a singular event but part of an important process for us as a settler organization. It connects us to a past that engaged in harms specifically to Indigenous peoples. As a helping organization we have much work to do to continue to understand the truth and to journey on a path to reconciliation,” specifies Tilston-Jones.

Therefore, the Diabetes Centre in St. Boniface was named “Morning Maple” and its colors are green, blue, yellow and red. The St. Vital community Health Centre was gifted the name “Thunderbird Medicine from the Sky World” and its colors are red, white, grey and dark blue. “The naming ceremonies, our colors and the teachings we will have about them is an important connection to our work, the gifts we bring, to the land and all our relations. It will also guide the work and tell us more about what we must learn and how to use our gifts”, conclude Toni Tilston-Jones.