RECONCILIATION & US – EVENT REFLECTIONS
Pastor Steve Johnston (New to Canada 1990)
The story of the ‘discovery’ of North America is one that I learned about when I went to school in the UK. Guess whose side of the story I learned? But I think I learned more about the ‘them rebel republicans’ that were responsible for the Boston Tea Party in 1773 than I did about people that were already living in North America – or Turtle Island as the aboriginal people call it.
The day began with Rev. Matthew Stevens leading a ceremonial smudging as we lifted the smoke from the sage and other sacred herbs to cleanse our ears, mouth, eyes and brain/mind in preparation for openness. Matthew is a retired United Church Minister (near Sarnia) of Mohawk and Irish Métis heritage and is a recognized Elder within the Anishinaabek (Ojibwe) people.
Then the blanket exercise started. This is a powerful re-enactment of Turtle Island, its aboriginal tribes, and the arrival of the Europeans. About 12 of us were invited to participate. We were asked to remove our shoes and to move around on the blankets that covered much of the floor in the church hall. We were encouraged to meet and greet each other, to ‘trade’ goods with each other and to move around freely on the blankets.
Matthew, with two other women elders, continued telling the story of how the Europeans arrived, how they were welcomed and then how they started to take over the continent. As the story progressed blankets, which represented the land, were appropriated by the Europeans leaving the 12 of us with less and less space – it got uncomfortable – and a few started to complain as we entered the story and taking on the characters of the displaced aboriginals. What was fascinating was Matthew’s response to the ‘loud ones’ who tried to step off the blankets. He used words and arguments that the Europeans/Canadians used towards the aboriginal people – ‘shut up and get back on your land’. The role reversal was not lost upon us all.
The aboriginal history was told right up to today. During the conversations that followed the exercise, several people commented on that fact that this is not ancient history – much of this story happened during our own life times – the last residential school closed in 1996. The big ask that Rev. Matthew had for us was to keep educating.
A special thank you to George Cooper for helping me lead the music in the afternoon worship service. Between the offering at worship service and some extra funds we had from the Eastern Synod to run event, we raised $500 for the “2012-16 National Youth Project – Right to Water” which is focused on water issues in Canadian Indigenous communities. I was very pleased to have some Trinity people attend this Thames Ministry Area event and I asked them to share some reflections on their experience of the day.
Linda Reynolds (Born in Canada)
I went into the morning with a lot of apprehension as I felt that even though I knew something about the First Nation situation it didn’t seem to be enough. I was afraid that I would not know what to say in order to participate.
As the blanket exercise progressed it gave you enough information to remember what you already knew and fill in the details. It was presented in a factual manner, and as you realize what is happening, the comments that you make encourage discussion, revealing more details. Rev. Matthew gave great respect for both sides of the story.
During the exercise I was asked to represent the Inuit as they were relocated northward all by themselves and basically left to fend for themselves. Half that population died or starved and I felt isolation as I stood on my blanket alone.
When the exercise was over we came together at the end for discussion and reflection. The conversation was quite active. In the process I came to realize that whole First Nation communities were moved without consent or consultation. It was a time of endless questions as we shared lunch together. It was clear the sense of loss that the aboriginals felt, of their land, their family structure, their identity and their livelihoods. The discussion mushroomed to include experiences at residential schools, the experiences of one family who moved to Toronto from Hudson Bay area to blend in and never disclose to anyone that they were First Nations.
There were no set expectation for the participants in the blanket exercise and following discussions. Each person’s experience was unique. It made me feel that it was my responsibility to learn more, to find out the truth for myself and to ensure that the history of Canada is updated in the minds of the generations to come.
George Hinnah (New to Canada 2005)
I believed that Canadians have in the Constitution, the charter of rights and freedom. If it is so, first nations people should be given the rights and freedom to practice their cultures and traditions to enable them instill it in their generations. Give back to them what is theirs. We all are created equal by God so as such, we should be treated equally.
Vivian Parker (Born in Canada)
The phrase, “Walk a mile in another man’s shoes” comes to mind when I think of the event. The blanket exercise was a very great way to demonstrate our history from a very different point of view and NOT the one we have been fed most of our lives. It was once again a demonstration of how the “winners” wrote (or should I say re-wrote) the history of our country.
The First Nations People are now showing a side very few of us should be proud of. The history is a case of a slow annihilation of another race via laws and expropriation of lands and also very clear cut attempts to destroy their culture. Residential schools were a form of segregation and abuse that many people still suffer as a result of. We, as Canadians, still look at other countries with human rights abuses with disgust and contempt. We should however, look in the mirror because we are NO better. We just quietly ignore the “elephant in the room”. I guess the sadness I felt was simply this — since the beginning of time — how little we have changed. If you ever get a chance to attend one of these events please do so — it will change you forever!!!
Reinhard Helbing (New to Canada 1972)
I had come mainly out of curiosity, not knowing what to expect. As a relatively late newcomer to Canada I had learned of some of the other shameful treatment of the indigenous people. Lately, residential schools and the missing or murdered women of these people had been in the foreground. The treaty issue had only been a partially known/understood item so far, especially the early and original history thereof.
hen I entered into the church hall at Redeemer and saw all the blankets on the floor, I still was not sure what to expect. When the leader progressed into and through the smudging ritual as an introduction to a meeting I was impressed by its sincerity and effectiveness. The room became noticeably still and peaceful.
Then the historical re-enactment began and turned out to be very powerful in its message. As it progressed and developed, I became more and more aware and ashamed of the changeover from dealing with the indigenous people at eye level (as equals) to a stance of finding “clever” ways to subjugate, exploit, displace, mistreat and abuse them, and to annihilate other cultures and even people. Even genocide comes to mind. Is this how we, as the Canadians we claim to be, should behave? As the followers of Christ who embraces and welcomes ALL?
I would urge everyone go through a blanket exercise. It will change your outlook once and for all!