Saturday January 13 was bitterly cold. But that did not deter a group of 33 people who gathered at Almonte United Church to learn more about our indigenous neighbours.
Mississippi Mills All My Relations group had invited Irene Barbeau and Margaret LeMaire, Cree women originally from eastern James Bay, to offer their insights as residential schools survivors and share their thoughts, providing an opportunity for discussion and questions. The two women, now living in Ottawa, have devoted themselves to healing and reconciliation-related activities, beginning many years before the formal government-led process began.
We began with participants introducing themselves and talking about why they were there. There were a few recurring themes: from desires to learn more and build bridges, to benefit from indigenous knowledge about care for the earth, and to de-program, that is, to unlearn the erroneous lessons we had consciously/unconsciously absorbed about indigenous people (e.g., “discovery” vs. “first contact”).
Margaret and Irene then shared their stories of growing up, attending residential schools and their lives since. We had a short break, sharing a tasty (and mainly healthy) snack as we talked and laughed together. Every step on the path to renewing friendships is laced with such goodwill and laughter, signs of healing.
We then divided into two smaller groups for questions, answers and reflections, each led by one of our speakers. We were reminded that this indigenous Talking Circle practice assumes that we are all equal in the circle and that the person holding the feather may talk uninterrupted (and therefore be heard) until they are finished. A respectful yet intimate time of sharing followed.
We came away from the morning with a better understanding of the national tragedy of the residential schools and an increased awareness of our connectedness with each other and our stories. The positive energy that was generated increases our hope of a better future, living and working together with understanding and respect.
Gin skoom-din (Thank you in Cree) to our hosts, Almonte United Church, to our speakers, Irene Barbeau and Margaret LeMaire and to the organisers, the Mississippi Mills All My Relations group!