By Heather Morigeau
Heather Morigeau attended the Living into Right Relations Committee’s Boost for the Journey on October 27-28. Heather is an artist of mixed-Metis heritage, who is in recovery from addiction and mental illness. She is a member of Wild Rose United Church, Calgary, and is dedicated to the Celebrate Life Recovery ministry and the Freedom’s Path Recovery Society with her partner, David Lewry.
It’s difficult to quantify the deep sense of divine meaningful purpose which gathered here on the second night of Boost #2 on the Journey of Truth and Reconciliation – Living into Right Relations gathering of Alberta and Northwest Conference. On October 27th 1998, then United Church of Canada Moderator Bill Phipps issued a heartfelt apology to the Indigenous survivors of the residential “schools”, their families, and communities. For the abuses mental, physical and spiritual which the “students” endured while under the care of the government funded and church-operated institutions which were designed and constructed to “kill the Indian in the child”.
On this night – October 27th 2018, which marks 20 years since Bill read the apology, we who have gathered here in Southern Alberta at the Kamp Kiwanis retreat to witness the reading of the apology again.
I feel there is a distinct feeling this event is divine in its timing, in having the presence of the very Rev. Bill Phipps; Rev. Cecile Fausak, witness to the testimonies of the survivors; Elder Marilyn Shingoose and Charlene Burns, the General Council Community Capacity Development Coordinator for Indigenous Ministries.
Being here, I know my own journey of faith, of Reconciliation with my Metis heritage and the efforts I have undertaken with the Right Relations team of Wild Rose United Church.
As we braid the yellow, red, black and white strands of fabric together we remember that the braids of the students were cut, that it was our church which was cutting their hair, trying hard to cut them from their ancient culture and from their family ties. (You’ll find the Braiding Reconcilliation Prayer HERE)
I have been asked to write about what stood out to me from this weekend’s event. I’m choosing three things which I feel represent actionable steps for anyone who wishes to take steps towards reconciliation:
“Step back and let people of racialize voices speak”
We watched clips from the 43th General Council meeting this past summer in Oshawa. There was an important moment when Moderator Jordan Cantwell asked the entire room “If you are Caucasian I would like to you to step back from the microphone, for the last portion of this event. I would like us all to hear from racialized and marginalized members of this committee” (Not exact quote)
Often times we talk about situations in which “white privilege” is either knowingly abused or has unconsciously made life easier for someone. In this situation, we see a right and proper use of “white privilege”. For a moment each person in the room in Oshawa who faces barriers to being seen, heard or expressing their voice is finally given the stage to share what life is like for them within the United Church of Canada.
When our congregations are facing important issues, ethical questions or accessibility discussions, how often do we seek out the voice of the congregation? How often do we allow a moment for those who are Indigenous to speak first? To have the last word? Or to weigh in on a debate in such a manner that we can get a sense of Indigenous ways of knowing?
If your congregation has a lack of youth, Indigenous members, racialized members, people with disabilities – has there been a team dedicated to listening to what they need?
We all need a space to express ourselves, Roberts Rules of Order place the loudest voices in priority sequence, I believe at the detriment of the greater church. I challenge each committee, board and team to consider implementing “Talking Stick” ethics to their meetings and discussions. Listen when you are not speaking, avoid interruptions by taking notes, wait your turn and allow the circle to take as long as it must.
Roberts Rules are not the only way to run operations and govern, and I urge you to research the Dynamic Governance model of Sociocracy as a possible alternative for meetings, operations and decision making in your church. If you are in a demographic of privilege through gender, race, age, ability, language or education, it is your responsibility to enact this challenge for your team.
“You can’t change yourself and not affect the people around you.”
I heard this mentioned during the sharing portion after the Blanket Exercise and when I glanced at the time on my phone it read 11:11. It is perhaps the deep personal hope of many Christians as we seek to improve ourselves, become more tolerant, more giving, of service all in the image of the Jesus whom we have committed to following in our faith walk; we hope our personal changes can cause a ripple. Most certainly they do, however, those changes are not always comfortable, beautiful or the gracious Christian ideal.
Being outspoken about racism, Indigenous rights, Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, abolishing the Indian Act doesn’t win me as many friends as it has lost, thus far. The truth is that those who have left my life have blessed me with the opportunity to find and connect with those who align more closely to my own hopes for the future.
I aspire to challenge people around me and how they perceive the world to be, I hope they question their place and contribution in the world. I continue to ask myself those very same questions, for if my personal changes are not an effect on the people around me I am certainly not living up to my full potential.
When members of your congregation and social circle say “We have talked about this reconciliation thing enough!”
I ask you to be the brave voice who reminds them “We honour the veterans who died in our world wars every November 11th and it’s been 100 years since WWI ended. We still have memorials for the victims of the holocaust of WWII, for those who died in 911 and remember Jesus who died over 2000 years ago. So why would we not keep talking about the death and abuse which happened on these very lands to families we have met, with which our church was directly involved?”
The Film “Reserve 107”
The discussions around land ownership prompted by viewing the documentary “’Reserve 107” were difficult for me to hear. I have come to learn there is no citizen in Canada who owns their land title outright. The government of Canada, the Queen of Canada and the Catholic Church are the only “land owners” in this country. If you are under the impression that you own a land title, it is only because the government has given you a lease on that title. Which they are free to take back from you whenever industry or progress sees fit to move you off that property. Banks are the middle men between you and the landlords in power. When I hear people talk about their fears of Indigenous people coming to take their lands, which have been hard earned in their family for generations, its often in ignorance to the fact that only the government and Queen currently have the power over land titles to remove or revoke. If you have any fears of “your land” being taken from you, it is only because the government could do to you exactly what they did to the First Nations people during colonization.
I would personally like to write to the Queen of England and ask if she will relinquish her ownership of land to the First Nations people. I expect her answer would be the same as the majority of people who “own” houses, farms or properties in Canada. They would never dream of giving it away to anyone but their own blood offspring.
In truth most family-owned farms are already at risk of being “taken” by banks laying claim on your debt, selling them off to big industry farm corporations which will use and abuse the land until the dust bowl of the depression looks like a picnic in the park. You will lose your land, either by debt, by age or death, the land never belonged to anyone in the first place. Elizabeth Taylor spoke once of her diamonds: “I am not the owner of them, only their caretakers while I am alive.”
For many people, the concept to bequeath their land title to the First Nation which would have originally occupied those lands is not an option they are ready to consider. I imagine that for the same level of extreme damage industry would do to your land if they got their hands on it, a First Nations could bring Reconciliation to the earth. The soil, trees, wildflowers, song birds and wildlife which once called your plot of land home, would return in a flurry of light and colour and song and that could be the legacy of your will.
I am the founder of a social enterprise called FoodScape Calgary who is dedicated to restoring native plant species in place of high maintenance grass lawns. As such, I would ask you to reframe your thinking about the Earth and your interaction with her. Instead of dominion over Earth, could the ethics of stewardship, guardians and protectors become your role?
I would like to close by sharing my hope for the next phase of Reconciliation efforts between the United Church of Canada and the Indigenous peoples of these lands. In Calgary there are over 500 different places of worship, none of them is dedicated to Indigenous spirituality. With the support of Elder Marilyn Shingoose, I designed “The Sacred Medicine Garden”, a living sculpture as a place-making reconciliation. It encourages open access to the 4 sacred medicines which are used in Indigenous spirituality and relationship building through medicine offerings. My personal prayer is these gardens becoming memorials at the former sites of residential schools, on the grassy front yards of United Churches and anywhere they will bring meaningful community building. I hope you will pray with me. https://www.foodscaped.com/sacred-medicine-garden/
Photos by Cecile Fausak, YoonOk Shin, Tilley Meyer