Agency retreat focuses on reconciliation

Each year, United Way Halifax tries to bring our funded agency partners together. In the past, we would gather for a day of networking and learning over topics of shared interest. It’s always been a great opportunity to connect and share. Many of the staff from these organizations do similar program work and face the same kinds of issues. However, they often don’t have time to talk to one another about it.

Sector under pressure

Over the last couple of years, we’ve missed out on this in-person opportunity. At the same time, we know our funded agencies have been under more stress than ever. The pandemic has impacted both staff and clients. The sector is under pressure to modernize with more services moving online. International events like the death of George Floyd and the discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools have put pressure on organizations to address equity, diversity and inclusion. It’s a lot.

To support organizations in a different way, our usual agency gathering became an agency retreat this year. We wanted to offer participants the chance to get away from work, connect with each other, and convene over one very important topic – reconciliation.

Welcomed in Millbrook

The two-day event was held in the Mik’maw community of Millbrook, north of Halifax. It started with tours of the Millbrook Culture and Heritage Centre, an intimate dinner, and a performance by drummer Trevor Gould of Eastern Eagle. The highlight was singer-songwriter and motivational speaker Susan Aglukark, who delivered the keynote address. She effortlessly weaved together stories and songs, humour and humility, history and hope for the future and the direction of reconciliation. It was filled with powerful moments and raw emotion. Her address was especially impactful for Mi’kmaw community members from Millbrook and the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. For many in attendance, Susan was a hero and role model, a familiar face on MuchMusic in the 1990s.

Susan’s keynote ended in a round dance where everyone was able to participate.

Day 2: more learning from Wabanaki Women Wapna’kikewi’skwaq – Women of First Light

After an engaging afternoon and evening, attendees were able to take time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate overnight. The second day brought together an intimate group of participants focused on how to move their reconciliation efforts forward. Facilitators Ishbel Munroe and Cathy Martin led the day’s learnings. Participants ranged from program staff to executive directors and board members. Each took something different from the day to bring back to their organizations.

This was a unique event for United Way Halifax. We were really pleased to offer our networks and resources to further the reconciliation journeys for a number of agencies. Thank you to Heather Stevens and the staff of the Millbrook Cultural Centre for offering the ideal space to hold this event. Thank you to Susan Aglukark, and the Women of First Light for making this such a memorable and impactful event.

I found this to be inspiring, educational informative and an amazing learning experience. It also provided opportunity for networking and it was nice to be introduced to and participate in the cultural activities and rituals: Dancing, singing, smudging etc. I also appreciated the time away from the office and disengaging from social media, phone calls etc. – Agency Retreat Participant