A two-day event this weekend will allow people of “all faiths and traditions” to gather with and learn from Indigenous Elders about their experiences in residential schools, and to learn the “hard truths” about what some in the United Church have done in the past that has caused harm to generations of Indigenous people.
“These hard truths need to be learned not only by those of us whose churches ran these schools, but also by newcomers and those of various faith traditions,” Westworth United Church Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd said.
“Residential schools and their legacy are part of our shared history.”
On Saturday and Sunday, Westworth United Church will host more than 20 Elders and members from Fisher River Cree Nation, who will be travelling more than 200 kilometres to Winnipeg to take part in an event dubbed Walking the Paths: From the Truth of Residential Schools to Reconciliation.
The public event will offer two days of “listening and sharing with Elders and Survivors,” and will also be hosted as a way to honour and bring attention to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which happens on Sept. 30 across the country.
The weekend’s activities will also focus on two former residential schools, the Brandon Indian Residential School, and the Assiniboia Indian Residential School.
According to Westworth United Church, starting in 1925, the United Church of Canada took over the operation of Brandon Residential School and 11 other residential schools in Canada and “many students who attended Brandon Residential School were from northern Manitoba communities, such as Fisher River.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has noted that during the 1940s and 1950s, when the United Church of Canada operated the school in Brandon, many children ran away due to harsh discipline and poor food.
The event will also include a meditative walk from the church in Winnipeg’s River Heights neighbourhood, to the site of the former Assiniboia Residential School, also in the same area of Winnipeg.
Although the United Church had no role in running the Assiniboia Residential School, Cree Elder Stan McKay, who will host a church service on Sunday morning, as part of the event, said there is still a connection because of “geography.”
“Both Westworth and the former school are located in the River Heights neighbourhood of Winnipeg,” McKay said.
“Many students from the school had connections to the neighbourhood and the people living nearby. The gathering is a chance to listen and revisit these connections together in facilitated circle conversations.”
McKay said he hopes for “meaningful conversations” this weekend at the event.
“Our stories and our gathering together as peoples are about collaboration and shared life,” McKay said.
“I think we’re moving toward an expanded understanding of reconciliation, which includes environmental considerations and caring for the earth.
“The conversations will be rich from our perspective.”
Call to Action No. 59 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls upon churches to educate communities about their church’s role in colonization and the history and legacy of residential schools.
The Walking the Paths: From the Truth of Residential Schools to Reconciliation event will kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. with Cree Elder Gloria Cook presenting a talk titled “Our Journey as Cree People, and events, which will be open to the public, will run on Saturday and Sunday.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun