Continuing Education

The last week in August I was in Winnipeg expanding my understanding of our First Nation sisters and brothers. I spent time at a "Living off the Land" retreat, a day at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a morning at the offices of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, a morning at the Treaty Claims Office for Manitoba and then did a walk through a largely Indigenous neighbourhood in the North end of Winnipeg. I was welcomed with great hospitality everywhere I went (including two places where I was not expected). I'll be posting about each of these experiences, starting with Salsa at the retreat.

The Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre is a camp.  With a dining hall and cabins and a firepit.  And a teepee and a sweat-lodge.  It is operated by a board in partnership with the United Church of Canada.  It’s primary purpose is to train pastors for work in Indigenous and Settler communities.  The students come for two weeks four times a year and do practicums and homework in between, during their five year course of study.  They may have other jobs, family responsibilities and roles in their respective community. Studying there is a major commitment.  They learn their history and traditions and how to integrate these into expressions of faith as community leaders. Among other challenges (e.g., pressures to sublimate their traditions once they are practicing in churches) are the stories of trauma they hear and respond to in their communities.  A possible future theme of the Centre is to provide more intensive training for trauma-care.

The Centre also is used for retreats and other gatherings. For example the “camp” this past week when a group of settlers who live nearby and are committed to living off the land gathered with a group of indigenous families from across the country to explore together what it means to live off the land.  They learned bee-keeping, how to make salsa and how to dress a deer. They also shared their stories.  Among the group were young women whose children were “in care”, i.e. not living at home.  These parents spent two weeks supported by others there, and their children came for supervised visits for two of the days. What they learned may lead to a program of supportive care across Manitoba.  It would take 400 such gatherings to assist the mothers to care for their children. 

One of the ways indigenous communities are attempting to address trauma before it escalates also focuses on community.  If (a) parent(s) is/are acting in ways that are harmful to children, the current model is to take the children away from the community and foster them. There are 30000 children in care in the Province.  90% are Indigenous (far out of proportion to the population). The parents may then lose the grant money that allows them to rent a home large enough for their family. The children won’t be able to return.  An alternative being studied in some communities has the parents being removed from the family home and taken out on the land by elders to learn how to parent.  The children remain in their homes cared for by grandparents or cousins or another close relative. The families are reunited once the elders determine that the parents are ready to parent with community accountability.

Although I arrived at the end of the retreat, just in time for the closing conversation about how much the participants appreciated the week and each other, I was made welcome.  Each person was given either a jar of honey or a jar of salsa made from ingredients grown at the Centre.  I was given a jar of salsa as a welcome and appreciation for my being there.  I made sure the salsa made it home to Toronto intact.