The following is part of a series exploring the impact of projects across the Anglican Church of Canada supported by grants from the Anglican Foundation, visionary sponsor for General Synod 2019.
The lives of Indigenous children who died in residential schools are now woven into the very fabric of ministry at St. Hildegard’s Sanctuary.
Five liturgical stoles to be worn by gathering priest Melanie Calabrigo, along with a banner, were unveiled at the sanctuary on June 23, the culmination of the Feather Dance liturgical textile arts project. Led by Indigenous art designer and project lead Rikki Kooy, members of the community at St. Hildegard’s joined together to listen to stories embodied in the stoles and to hand-stitch relevant symbols onto them, which included many small crosses.
“As we stitched, we remembered and we prayed,” Calabrigo recalls. “Those tiny crosses represent the children who never returned, or whose whereabouts remain unknown.
“Part of the project was to remember—I always get choked up when we talk about this—and just to acknowledge that.”
The Feather Dance project was made possible in large part through the support of the Anglican Foundation of Canada. In May 2018, the foundation provided a grant of $7,000 to the Parish of St. Faith’s to help fund the project at St. Hildegard’s in Vancouver, matching an equal amount of money raised by the community.
Befitting a project that seeks, in Calabrigo’s words, to be “a witness to reconciliation and fellowship” through art and the community’s shared journey, Feather Dance was itself born out of friendship.
For more than 20 years, Calabrigo and Kooy have been friends. In January 2018, having not seen each other for about a year, they found themselves reunited while celebrating the ordination of Vivian Seegers, the first Indigenous woman to be ordained in the Anglican diocese of New Westminster.
“We have always been forward-thinking about how we can understand each other better,” Kooy says of her friendship with Calabrigo. A veteran textile artist, Kooy’s work is greatly influenced by cultural understandings rooted in family. In her own case, that understanding is based on her identity as an Indigenous woman—her family background is Secwepemc-St’atl’imc—and as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, elder and member of her communities.
Through ongoing conversation, the pair began to discuss the possibility of a project that would combine the Anglican Church of Canada’s focus on reconciliation with Kooy’s artwork, a project that would ultimately become Feather Dance.
The name of the project reflects the symbol of the feather in many Indigenous cultures as a sign of peace and friendship; the sacred dance of welcome practiced among west coast First Nations; and a favourite quote of the sanctuary’s namesake St. Hildegard of Bingen, who described herself as “a feather on the breath of God.”
“When I was aware of [the Anglican Church of Canada’s] desire to support something like [Feather Dance], it really was like a door opening for me,” says Kooy, a fourth-generation survivor of the residential school system.
“I’m hoping with the beauty of the symbology of the liturgical stoles that we would be able to express clearly what we are trying to impart—and that’s an understanding, that’s for empathetic hearing, and that’s for the intergenerational trauma.”
After applying for and receiving a grant from the Anglican Foundation through its Sacred Arts Trust program, St. Hildegard’s launched Feather Dance in July 2018 as an “Indigenous-led, Indigenous-settler collaboration” rooted in “storytelling, wisdom sharing, relationship building, and community handiwork, inspired by Indigenous spirituality and the spirituality of St. Hildegard of Bingen.”
The grant from the Anglican Foundation played a major role in supporting Feather Dance, helping pay for the cost of materials, documentation by photographer Sandra Vander Schaaf and Kooy’s own design time.
“Without the support of the foundation, we couldn’t have done the project,” Calabrigo says.
“We’re so hugely grateful to the Anglican Foundation.”
During multiple sessions over the course of the year, members of the St. Hildegard’s community gathered to work under Kooy’s guidance, listening to stories and understanding the symbols that they would stitch onto the stoles. Gathering in a circle, they would hear readings from texts such as Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese, before working together on art for the day.
Each stole the participants worked on has three signature feathers, which represent what Kooy describes as “the action words of reconciliation”: love, purpose and reconcile.
“Love has a purpose,” Kooy explains. “The purpose very often is that we reconcile—with ourselves first, and then with whoever we believe, maybe it’s a higher power—and the ones that are closest to us and the ones that we want to reach out to.”
The five stoles reflect colours in the Anglican liturgical calendar: blue, white, green, red and purple.
The white stole, called Journey, carries symbols that reflect all who endured the pain of the residential schools: the children taken, the families left behind, their descendants who continue to suffer pain. The red stole, called Transformation Healing, features a hummingbird with its tongue extended, which in Kooy’s culture symbolizes the transferring of love, power and healing.
The blue stole, Love Reflected, shows hands extended in peace and friendship. The green stole, Transition, depicts multiple designs showing a frog, sign of the Frog Clan to which Kooy belongs, and of Spirit Helper. The purple stole, Reverence, includes an eagle on one side and a hummingbird on the other, with the latter symbolizing the one who brings healing.
At the unveiling of the stoles and banner on June 23, St. Hildegard’s announced that Feather Dance would continue in some form—the precise nature of which would be determined after the summer break—and that Kooy will stay on as Indigenous mentoring elder to the community.
“We have had already requests from people asking us if we would bring the stoles and tell the stories…. That’s another way that we hope that reconciliation will be furthered through the project,” Calabrigo says.
“We do have a plan for the project to continue, so that means that more people can have that hands-on experience and the experience of hearing a story and just becoming more understanding and aware.”