Our parish’s Social Justice Committee, which my husband and I co-chair, hosted the Social Justice in Motion Conference of the Archdiocese of Regina this past Saturday. We are so fortunate to belong to an inspiring and dedicated team (nine people in all) with great ideas and the desire to realize them.
My husband and I are very protective of our time in retirement. We are very careful about what we commit to (often it’s hard to « escape » once you’ve signed on). Volunteerism can be a black hole just as deep as teaching ever was. Still, social justice is critical to us, so we got involved two years ago. Our team’s efforts are designed to support people in crisis at home and elsewhere, foster awareness and understanding, encourage dialogue, and effect change on a small scale. We live by the mantra: Think Small. Incremental change is the business we’re in, one event, one speaker, one conversation, one person, one insight at a time. Hosting the archdiocesan social justice conference seemed to fit in to our modus operandi.
The challenge for this particular conference, a sequel to last year’s, as Bert Pitzel, the Archdiocesan Social Justice Coordinator indicated, was to provide participants with an experience of interactive strategies they could use in their own parishes to start a conversation on reconciliation with First Nations and Métis peoples.
Bert came across the video "Native Knowing" by Larry Merculieff, an Aleut indigenous messenger and teacher, underpinned the entire conference. In that TED talk, Merculieff maintains that Western society works in reverse: the mind informs the heart, rather than the heart informing the mind. Aleut children learn by observing their adult mentors and nature, rather than by having their minds filled with other people’s thoughts and conclusions. The message for us as conference planners was clear: few words and lots of action and reflection. Sessions needed to be interactive, so that participants could deepen their understanding not only from the content, but also from their emotional impact and from the ensuing conversation. The conference would work on two levels, the what, and the how. In essence, the conference attempted to mirror First Nations ways of knowing.
The conversations allowed participants to make meaning by considering the connections other participants made to a common experience. Throughout the day, a diverse group shared ideas with a few people and in the large group. Roman Catholics and their Christian brothers and sisters from other denominations, young people and seniors and those in between, First Nations people, as well as people originally from India and Korea, all contributed to a rich dialogue from various perspectives.
The Blanket Exercise got people up and moving. Ruth Robillard and her students from SIIT (Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies) provided an interactive dramatization that connected participants with both mind and heart to the history of First Nations peoples, from a shared experience of the land and peaceful trading to the expropriation of First Nations lands and of their children.
After lunch, Lyndon Linklater took up Treaty as a path to reconciliation, calling it an "undiscovered country." He asked the participants to imagine their responses if visitors from a dying planet indicated that they were coming to reside on Earth to escape calamity at home. They were coming—it was just a question of treaty or no treaty. His simulation helped participants understand the situation the inhabitants of this land faced as Europeans arrived, stayed, and settled. Lyndon provided an original, immediate, and captivating context around which to frame an understanding of Treaty. One participant, who had indicated to me that he would leave after lunch to attend to an afternoon commitment, delayed his departure until the last possible minute, in order to experience as much of Lyndon’s session as possible.
|Archbishop Donald Bolen|
The final segments dealt with the consequences of Canada’s history with First Nations and Métis peoples. First, Presley Thompson shared his experiences as a former gang member who has turned his life around. His courage and sincerity underlined the strength needed to surmount the consequences of a childhood compromised as a result of the lasting effects of residential schools and attempted cultural annihilation.
After the testimonial, table groups wrestled with question, Now what? How could both individuals and parishes nurture relationships with First Nations through experiences and conversations? Even more to the point, how might the conference sessions as well as books, films, and speakers listed in a resource document be a catalyst for dialogue? Archbishop Donald Bolen then connected the day’s experience with the Call to Action growing out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the responsibility of the Church to respond to that call.
That call to action brought the day full circle to a holistic conclusion. It informed the closing prayer (so powerful that it is reprinted below in its entirety), and put the exclamation mark on what planners hoped was a memorable day for participants, and what, for planners, was the satisfaction of supporting another step on the path of reconciliation and justice.
We Can Not Merely Pray
We cannot merely pray to you O God to end war;
For the World is made in such a way
That we must find our own path of peace
Within ourselves and with our neighbors.
We cannot merely pray to you O God to root out Prejudice:
for we already have eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to you O God to end starvation:
For we already have the resources
With which to feed the entire World
If we would only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to you O God to end despair:
For we already have the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to you O God to end disease:
For we already have great minds
With which to search out cures and healings
If we would only use them constructively.
Therefore we pray instead
For strength, determination, and will power,
To do instead of merely to pray
To become instead of merely to wish:
So that our World may be safe,
And so that our lives may be blessed.