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Listening and learning promote reconciliation


Isadore Charters (left) receives a “talking stick” as a gift of thanks from Chair Willard Metzger on behalf of MC Canada Witness Council.  In First Nations tradition, the talking stick is passed around in a circle of discussion to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to speak.

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From left to right: Rudy Dirks, Samson Lo and JD Penner listen attentively during the final day of MC Canada Witness Council meetings.

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November 27,2009
-Jennifer Rempel

ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia —  Sometimes the varied and vast work of the church involves more listening and learning than doing.  During fall leadership meetings in Abbotsford Oct. 29-31, 2009, Mennonite Church Canada’s Christian Witness Council took time out on three different occasions to listen to and learn about First Nations people in Canada through a Native Ministry Tour.

The tour was led by Darryl Klassen of Mennonite Central Committee and included Isadore Charters (Elder Sto:lo Nation), Lynn Ned (Spirit Bear Centre), and Larry Plenert (Indian Residential School Adjudicator), each of whom shared various aspects of their life and culture.  The continuing impact of Canadian Residential Schools was introduced at the beginning of the tour with a video, “Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools” and became a recurring theme for the duration.

Charters interspersed reflections on Sto:lo history with stories from his own life, faith, and experience.  Growing up as a Residential School survivor in a family of Residential School survivors affected him deeply.  He shared his struggles with alcohol abuse and the challenge he faced in adequately parenting his daughter.  As a result of his experiences in Residential School, Charters said that it was many years before he was comfortable telling his daughter that he loved her.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings helped Charters turn his life around and begin healing from the pain of his experiences.  Since then, he has made it his mission to educate others and to continue the healing process by breaking down stereotypes that perpetuate misunderstandings and hurt.  He uses his art as a tool in this process, with the goal of having a Residential School Art show.

Lynn Ned introduced the council members to the Spirit Bear Centre, a home for Aboriginal girls recovering from substance abuse, life on the streets, and/or abusive situations.  The 12 month long program helps girls break addictions, improve their education and health, connect with their heritage, and develop healthy life skills.  Currently, Spirit Bear Centre is filled to capacity and there is a lengthy waiting list.

After a traditional meal of Salmon and Bannock prepared by the girls and leaders of the Spirit Bear Centre, Witness Council members attended a drumming and singing performance and listened to stories from Ned and some of the girls.  One young woman who spoke had only been in the Centre for nine days.

Rudy Dirks, Christian Witness Council member, responded to the evening by saying:  “I was encouraged by Lynn's courage and compassion in setting up a home for these young girls who have already experienced such tragedy in their lives.  They clearly were responding to the healing power of a caring community.  I felt personally challenged when we were told that Lynn faced significant opposition from neighbours who did not want these "problems" in their neighbourhood.  I wondered in what ways I myself, or my church, might be trying to insulate ourselves from the problems of others around us in our community.  I want to have the courage to show the compassion of Christ to others even when they are different from my comfortable community.”