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U of A law students use social media to spark Truth and Reconciliation dialogue

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WATCH ABOVE: This year's law and social media project at the University of Alberta centres around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As Emily Mertz explains, the goal is to educate Edmontonians – Nov 1, 2017

This year, the topic for the University of Alberta’s Law and Social Media project is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In the hopes of reaching as many people as possible, one student group focused on where many people are: social media.

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“We want to educate the public, generally, on the issues that the TRC encompasses,” student Grace Cleveland said. “Residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, aboriginal child welfare, criminal justice and… gendered elements as well, such as the missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.”

The goal of the project is three-fold, she said: education, facilitating new relationships across the country between all people and creating dialogue.

“We just want to foster a better way forward between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” Cleveland said.

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ReconciliactionYEG exists on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that all link back to a blog.

“Our blog is critical and creative commentary,” Cleveland explained. “We take an issue and we just really flesh it out in all kinds of different ways, whether that’s through academic perspective or interview or art — just various ways in.”

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Breanna Arcand-Kootenay, who is one of the two Indigenous members of the four-person student team, expected they’d receive some negative comments on their posts.

“We were waiting for the calm before the storm… but the storm hasn’t come yet. It’s been really positive.”

Cleveland shared those initial concerns.

“I think we were kind of expecting and bearing down for a little bit more intense reaction. Often these topics are ones that gain sort of problematic responses from a lot of people in many ways so we prepared ourselves for that. But all the community engagement we’ve had so far has been positive and really supportive.”

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In the first half of the year, students will lay out the basic issues and provide historical context. The second part will feature initiatives that are making positive gains. While ReconciliactionYEG will delve into many subjects, Arcand-Kootenay says they’re all interconnected.

“There are just so many puzzle pieces and you need to get all those puzzle pieces out to see the big picture. I would say, to me, all the topics are very important.

“On a personal level, my mom is actually a family lawyer and she practices child welfare and the majority of her clients are Aboriginal. So I’ve seen, [in] the real world, how that actually plays out… I think that overrepresentation in the child welfare system of Indigenous children has probably been closest to my heart.”

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In the end, what does Arcand-Kootenay hope the project will achieve?

“I don’t think I’ve ever looked at this in terms of a macro scale,” she said. “Right now, for me, as long as we’re educating — if it’s one person to thousands of people — that’s awesome to me. Right now, it’s just educating people and starting that dialogue that’s the ultimate goal.

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“We started [with] Edmonton and the school but I’m realizing we’re starting to spread out across Canada, so it’s been kind of cool,” Arcand-Kootenay said. “If we could get into other countries, that would be awesome.”
Members of the U of A law school ReconciliActionYEG team. Facebook: ReconciliActionYEG

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