When it comes to living out the call to reconciliation with First Nations, St. Saviour, Orono is a small parish that thinks big. The parish has carried out a range of activities to deepen its awareness of First Nations issues. It has launched a reading group in which parishioners read books by Indigenous writers or about Indigenous issues. It has also held a town hall meeting and a hosted a Blanket Exercise.
The church advanced its commitment on Sept. 16 by chartering a bus to take parishioners and other local residents to a pow wow at the Curve Lake First Nation community near Peterborough. The trip developed after a group from St. Saviour’s met with a leader from the Curve Lake band council.
Churchwarden Bill Tomlinson, who helped organize trip, sees outreach efforts such as reconciliation with First Nations as essential. “We have to reach out to the community,” he says. “The days are over when people went to church, came home and you had done your duty. The church has a unique ability to deal with social issues, better than any other group.”
As an example of community outreach, the busload to Curve Lake included Syrian refugees that local parishes helped to sponsor. There were also members of two other parishes, United Church members and non-Anglican residents from Orono.
At Curve Lake, “we were treated to song and dance, stories and regalia,” says the Rev. Augusto Nunez, incumbent of St. Saviour’s. “All of us were very happy to have experienced such an event.”
Highlights of the day included a refugee family being welcomed to Canada by a native chief, and a prize given to a 12-year-old member of the delegation who joined in the dancing. Indigenous and political leaders told the gathering of the importance of learning from each other, noting the pow wow’s theme of “Honouring Our Treaties.”
Mr. Nunez says, “It’s about getting out there and being active for the Lord. It’s about building relationships, getting to know the people at Curve Lake. We want to be of assistance and convey to them that you’re not alone.”
Adds Mr. Tomlinson, “We look at First Nations as educating us, and we in turn being supportive of them. There are some real issues that First Nations people would like to resolve.”
A major challenge, he says, is that some local residents seem hostile to First Nations people, a feeling he thinks can be softened when residents return from a pow wow and can speak about it to others as being a positive experience.
Connections with the band will continue after the pow wow, says Mr. Nunez. A town hall meeting in Orono is planned for the winter, following consultations with Curve Lake band members. The parish is also considering how it might support other, more remote First Nations communities.