Exploring what it means to live in peace and friendship

This week’s blog posting is written by Christina Farnsworth, MCC regional representative for the Maritime provinces. With family in Ontario, several years of study in Colorado, a sojourn in France, and travels to many other places, Christina finds it hard to say where she is “from.” But she is enjoying the beauty, warmth and uniqueness of eastern Canada.

The first time I attended a Peace and Friendship Gathering at the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia in 2010, I was apprehensive. I had just moved to the Maritimes after spending a number of years outside Canada, and two months after that move, the then MCC Maritimes Regional Representatives had offered me the chance to attend this four-day cross-cultural gathering where I could expect to experience Indigenous-led program and learn about current issues. I didn’t know what the program would look like and was certainly unaware of local issues. I was afraid that I might give offense through my ignorance and given that I didn’t know anyone there, knew that I was going to be out of my depth.

Christina Farnsworth, MCC Maritimes Regional Representative, and Ishbel Munro, Program Director at the Tatamagouche Centre, are snapped here just after the Closing Ceremony for the 2013 Peace and Friendship Gathering. The Gathering brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to connect, experience Indigenous-led Ceremonies, learn about current issues and explore how we can live out the Peace and Friendship Treaties together. MCC has supported this work since 2001.

Christina Farnsworth, MCC Maritimes Regional Representative, and Ishbel Munro, Program Director at the Tatamagouche Centre, are snapped here just after the Closing Ceremony for the 2013 Peace and Friendship Gathering. The Gathering brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to connect, experience Indigenous-led Ceremonies, learn about current issues and explore how we can live out the Peace and Friendship Treaties together. MCC has supported this work since 2001.

My first Gathering was uncomfortable, eye-opening, horizons-broadening and beautiful; participating in Circle and sitting around the Sacred Fire brought me into unexpected, deep connection with individuals whom I had never met before. I received Teachings from Elders about Indigenous spirituality and care for Creation, and spent time in solitude in the mornings confronting my own understanding of what it means to be Canadian, and how the history that I learned in school had left out Indigenous stories.

Fast forward a few years, and this past August I had the opportunity to return to the Peace and Friendship Gathering, this time as the MCC Maritimes Regional Representative. This year we heard from individuals who had participated in the Idle No More movement and in anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick. We listened as residential school Survivors and the children of Survivors shared their deep pain and the dark history of what Canada had tried to do to Indigenous culture.

During the 2013 Peace and Friendship Gathering, participants were invited to partake in a Sweat. The Sweat Lodge can be seen in the left corner of this picture. The gathering brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to connect, experience Indigenous-led Ceremonies, learn about current issues and explore how we can live out the Peace and Friendship Treaties together. MCC has supported this work since 2001.  Gathering Leader and participant, Mi'kmaq Elder Cathy Gerrior, describes it this way; "The annual Peace and Friendship Gathering at the Tatamagouche Centre is an important gathering bringing native and non native people together in a good way.  Because this gathering is based in Ceremony and the Sacred, many important topics can be discussed in a meaningful way and the Sacred Fire, Sweat Ceremonies and Elders are available to help give guidance, support, and healing for those who have need. i personally love seeing people come to the gatherings for the first time.  They often seem to have a level of excitement and a bit of fearfulness about them.  i love seeing them emerge from the Sweat Lodge, that they often helped to build, beaming and feeling very alive.  They are all smiling broadly and eager for their Feast.  Their fears seem to have vanished and the conversations afterwards seem to have a different layer of understanding and depth. My family and i look forward to these gatherings every year."

During the 2013 Peace and Friendship Gathering, participants were invited to partake in a Sweat. The Sweat Lodge can be seen in the left corner of this picture. The gathering brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to connect, experience Indigenous-led Ceremonies, learn about current issues and explore how we can live out the Peace and Friendship Treaties together. MCC has supported this work since 2001.  Gathering Leader and participant, Mi’kmaq Elder Cathy Gerrior, describes it this way; “The annual Peace and Friendship Gathering at the Tatamagouche Centre is an important gathering bringing native and non native people together in a good way.  Because this gathering is based in Ceremony and the Sacred, many important topics can be discussed in a meaningful way and the Sacred Fire, Sweat Ceremonies and Elders are available to help give guidance, support, and healing for those who have need. i personally love seeing people come to the gatherings for the first time.  They often seem to have a level of excitement and a bit of fearfulness about them.  i love seeing them emerge from the Sweat Lodge, that they often helped to build, beaming and feeling very alive.  They are all smiling broadly and eager for their Feast.  Their fears seem to have vanished and the conversations afterwards seem to have a different layer of understanding and depth. My family and i look forward to these gatherings every year.”

I listened to these stories, and felt very blessed to have been invited to participate in Indigenous Ceremonies after people who also profess to be Christians had tried so hard to eradicate these same Ceremonies. I remain grateful and humbled by the love and hospitality shown to me by the Elders even after they have endured continuing prejudice from non-Aboriginal Canadians.

In leaving this year’s Gathering, I choose to commit myself to continuing the relationships that have begun around the Sacred Fire, and to educating myself about the Peace and Friendship Treaties. These are legal documents, sacred to the First Nations who entered into them, and place obligations on me, as a non-Aboriginal person living on Mi’kmaw land that was never ceded to the British Crown or Canada. Attending these Gatherings has given me a safe space to explore what it means to live in peace and friendship with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

We need more opportunities for these kinds of connections and conversations. Isaiah 1:16-17 calls us to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean. To put away the evil of our doings from before the Lord’s eyes. To cease to do evil, to learn to do good, to seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless and plead for the widow. How else can we do that except through acknowledging the wrongs that have been done, often in the name of Christ, and asking for forgiveness? I hear many say that we didn’t do those things, that it wasn’t our fault. I don’t believe that I need to bear guilt for what was done, but I know that I live in a culture that has flourished on the back of historical injustice and that if I do not take responsibility for this and seek reconciliation with those who have been harmed, I perpetuate that injustice. I am so grateful that in the Peace and Friendship Gatherings, I have been given an opportunity to participate in reconciliation and to learn to recognize my Lord and Creator in the gifts and traditions of another People.

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