by Dianne Nikiforuk from Living Spirit United Church (Chair), Drayton Valley, AB.
(This is another story in a series of updates from communities of faith involved in Being Good Relations, shared in the spirit of sparking your creative commitments and lifting your spirits. The Being Good Relations Network covers Northern Spirit and Chinook Winds Regional Councils, and focuses on living out the TRC Calls to Action, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Caretakers’ Calls to the United Church, and other commitments. We focus on accompanying each other, and our faith communities and wider communities, on that wider journey, working alongside each other as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and taking direction from Indigenous communities. New members are welcome! Want to join the email list for occasional updates? Have a story to share Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the spirit of reconciliation, Living Spirit United Church offered three Blanket Exercises in our community of Drayton Valley in 2022.
Our first session was offered in partnership with All Saints Anglican Church. The next two sessions were offered in a more community- based space.
Over 50 participants shared the interactive educational program that teaches the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. We provided nametags, a display of resources, and blankets purchased in the colours of the Stoney Medicine Wheel. Last, but not least, we served pots of Fairtrade coffee!
The sessions were facilitated by locals Wilson Bearhead and his daughter, Seneca Dueck. Wilson Bearhead is a Nakota Elder and Wabamun Lake (Paul) First Nation member in Treaty 6. A recent recipient of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation Indigenous Elder Award, he co-wrote the Siha Tooskin Knows series with his wife, Charlene. Born Salteaux/Assiniboine, Seneca was raised in the ways of the Nakota people of Treaty 6 territory. Seneca’s career is focused in Education, working to support Indigenous youth in their navigation of the public education system in Alberta, and to inspire non- Indigenous youth to confront long held views of Canadian history. Seneca is a co-founder of www.rootsofresilience.info
To begin, we gave tobacco to Elder Bearhead, acknowledged the territory we occupy, followed by a smudging ceremony. After this living history exercise was completed, Wilson and Seneca answered questions and shared aspects of their culture that hold special significance for them. Wilson also offered some thoughts on what reconciliation might look like from the Indigenous people’s perspective.
With each session, the overwhelming response was to note what a moving and powerful experience it had been. Some of the comments shared were:
“Wow! Every teacher and student needs to experience this” (a former social studies teacher) “
“The workshop helped us understand how colonization has impacted Indigenous people and explore the damaged relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada today. Through narration and movement, we were given a sense of how these broken relationships came about and how important it is that we work together to repair them”
“The exercise itself put those of us participating into the shoes and understanding of the Original People and provided a means of getting around the deeply uncomfortable feeling of shame or guilt that is the result of past injustice that we, the descendants of settlers, have inherited, but are also responsible to do the work of putting right. “
“The Blanket Exercise was very emotional, and I found myself shedding tears from the profound experience. It is an exercise that everyone should experience
We are grateful to the UCC Justice and Reconciliation Fund for a grant of $1500 to promote and host these events.
Our partnerships have made a difference in our community! We look forward to new possibilities to partner and live out God’s light and love in our corner of the world.