The phrase “amazing grace” simmers in my mind as I ponder all I learned and the people I met on The Presbyterian Church in Canada Healing and Reconciliation Tour to Winnipeg, Kenora, Saskatoon and Mistawasis. Last month I had the privilege of being part of this amazing program.
At the Winnipeg Inner City Mission we were welcomed by Rev Dr Margaret Mullin, the centre’s wonderful staff, and volunteers. We walked with, listened to, and worked beside some of the volunteers and visitors during the day we spent there.
We continued on to Kenora were I was touched by the teachings of Elder Nancy Morrison, 88 years old. Elder Nancy was so delighted that so many people (33 of us) had come to listen, and to learn, and to apologize for the Residential Schools legacy. Following her Anishinaabe heritage, an oral tradition, Nancy told us many stories. She spoke of our responsibility to look after Mother Earth, about her concerns for the youth, and shared stories from her youth. She reminded us that “action makes change. Sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slower, but doing something is better than doing nothing.” 1
Elder Nancy’s story is only one of many and each deserves to be told, each deserves to be understood, and to be respected. She reminded us that with the telling of stories and shedding of tears, healing will begin. She feels that together, with the Creator’s help, we will move forward. Following her teaching in the park that evening we were blessed with both a beautiful rainbow across the sky and the presence of an eagle.
We visited with people at the Anamiewigummig Fellowship Centre (Kenora) and their director Yvonne Bearbull, who in her quiet manner, kept a loving eye on all the individuals and volunteers.
I was saddened to learn that within 40 minutes of the Trans Canada highway the First Nations people of Shoal Lake #40 have been under a boil water advisory for 20 years. While in the area we visited the sites of both the original Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School at Shoal Lake and the second site in Kenora. Standing on the sites were emotional experiences for many of us.
Our welcome at the Birdtail Sioux First Nation near Birtle Manitoba was a delight. Melody Bearbull (Yvonne’s niece) greeted us enthusiastically! This young woman is filled with energy and plans to help the youth in her community. The community not only welcomed but embraced us, celebrated a Round Dance with us, sang an Honour Song, and greeted each of us with a handshake of fellowship.
Hospitality was offered again and again. Mistawasis was no different. We were greeted with a meal and joined a worship service lead by the entire community.
The Rev Dr John Vissers reminded us at meditation on Sunday that Jesus was always the Guest, not the Host. On our journey with indigenous sisters and brothers, we must remember to be the guest. Rather than forcing our will upon others, we need to listen to their stories. Even when I traveled to Guatemala, the people we met wanted us to listen to their stories – not to come with an agenda about how we thought we could “help.”
Photo: Cecilia Jeffrey Site
I hope that you will have the opportunity to hear more details from our Healing and Reconciliation Tour from someone in your area. This summer, I invite you to consider thinking of yourself as a guest in this beautiful country. Be grateful for all you have received from God, the Creator, and replicate as much as possible the beautiful, amazing grace and hospitality that was offered to us on our journey.
1 Approaching Dawn by Nancy Morrison, page 58