Members of Shoal Lake 40 with Churches for Freedom Road and City of Winnipeg Councillors
“Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem – it involves all of us.”—Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chief Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Last winter, we as a congregation spent 13 adult Sunday school sessions exploring the relationship of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our country. Through an experiential activity called the Blanket Exercise, through several videos, and through guest speakers and storytellers, we learned something of the broken relationship between our peoples.
Vince Solomon, then Indigenous Neighbours coordinator for MCC Manitoba, shared his own story and the racism he has experienced as a Cree person. Adrian Jacobs, Keeper of the Circle at the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, spoke about the church’s role as colonizer. Melody McKellar, an Indigenous elder at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, helped us to understand aspects of Indigenous spirituality. Steve and Abby Heinrichs, white Mennonite father and Indigenous daughter, told us about being family when one person represents the colonizer and the other the colonized.
Our SS series was prompted largely by the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its exploration of the history of residential schools and the incredible harm that the schools have caused – and continue to cause -- generations of Indigenous people.
The TRC final report issued 94 Calls to Action to address the harms of residential schools and other forms of colonization and help to make things right. A full 14 of these calls were issued to the churches, since it was churches that ran the residential schools.
Senator Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the TRC, said that it is not enough simply that the injustices of the residential schools be acknowledged. Rather, Canada and all Canadians – including Christians -- must commit themselves to making things right through a process of reconciliation. He says the journey will likely be long and hard, but it is absolutely essential.
It is important that Home Street Mennonite Church participate in this journey because 1) of our commitment to seek to be a neighbourhood church, 2) the significant population of Indigenous people who live in our neighbourhood, 3) the relationships we have developed through our Third Usher initiative, and 4) the words of Senator Sinclair who has insisted, “Reconciliation involves all of us.”
Our SS class last winter was a way of dipping our toes into the mighty river of reconciliation. It was a very small step toward understanding some of the harms that have been committed and some of the ways those harms can be undone. Leadership Council is encouraging us at Home Street Mennonite Church to step further into the river and get wetter. They have called for the formation of a “working group” that will guide us as a congregation further and deeper on the reconciliation journey.
There are many directions this new “working group” might direct its energies. The group might wish to build relationships with local Indigenous groups, “show up” at Indigenous events, participate in advocacy on Indigenous issues, or do further study. The particular focus will emerge from the group. Our hope is that the group will lead the congregation in listening, learning and action that supports reconciliation.
We are looking for people who are eager to participate in this working group. If you feel the Spirit calling you to get your feet wet, please contact me by September 18. An initial meeting will be held in late September.
Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mission Coordinator