By Gerry Dyck, Coaldale, AB; Living into Right Relations Committee Member
I think you would have enjoyed a weekend of discovery at Camp Kiwanis near Bragg Creek, as I did on October 26-28. Forty-five dedicated and informed volunteer congregational witnesses and guests from around the province focused on mutual issues on the journey of reconciliation and seeking justice for Indigenous peoples. I belong to the “Living into Right Relations” committee of Alberta and Northwest Conference that helped arrange this event. We are grateful for the opportunity to make personal connections and share ideas, worship and resources. Here are a few of my favourite highlights.
The weekend began with the viewing of a 32-minute movie called “Reserve 107”. It charts a settler community in Saskatchewan recognizing a land claim by a dispossessed group of Cree. The movie is available at https://www.reserve107thefilm.com and comes with a study guide. An updated six-page comprehensive list of other resources will be sent to participants by email.
Saturday morning we joined in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. I have participated in this exercise a number of times, with new results and new awareness each time. This is one of the best ways to understand the deprivation suffered by Indigenous peoples. Many of us brought along a blanket to stand on and were part of a lengthy debriefing afterwards. This sharing session afterwards can be a stressful, but necessary and rewarding part of the event. This exercise works best with Aboriginal participants and we were honoured to have leadership from Elder Marilyn Shingoose of Calgary. A leader qualified by KAIROS can arrange to hold a Blanket Exercise in your facility.
We heard highlights from General Council 43 held in Oshawa this past summer from commissioners who attended.
We learned of new self-determination structures by Indigenous peoples within the United Church of Canada. With the United Church adoption of the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”, a National Indigenous Elders Council is to be formed and they will take charge of their own affairs and their own ministry training. Aboriginal leaders presented the General Council meeting with a document called “Caretakers of our Indigenous Circle: Calls to the Church”. The Indigenous church called for a change in our relationship, to one based on mutual respect and was accepted almost unanimously by the court. In table groups, we spent some time discussing this groundbreaking document of nine issues.
In the evening we celebrated with drums and a dancing circle and learned several co-ordinated songs. We were led by Metis member Don Fraser who wore his traditional sash and makes his own drums. His display table was one of several that were set up around the venue.
On this, the 20th anniversary of the United Church Apology to the former students of the church-run Residential Schools and to their families and communities, committee member Rev Bill Phipps read the document he presented to them in 1998. He was Moderator of our church at the time.
There were a number of opportunities over our time together, when discussions led to important learning and understanding of the issues. We were grateful for this time to allow process and ideas to percolate. We thank our supporters in our homes and communities as we all deal with the changes coming to our beloved church.
We hope witnesses will return to their own communities with renewed energy for the journey together with local Aboriginal groups.
Photos by YoonOk Shin, Alwin Maben, Tilley Meyer.