Reconciliation in Algoma: Moving to the next level

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The Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services (OIRSSS) team. OIRSSS has Resolution Health Support and Cultural Support Workers in branches in central Ontario, northwest Ontario, southwest Ontario, as well as the far North, with the main branch located in Batchewana, Ont. Photo: OIRSSS
The Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services (OIRSSS) team. OIRSSS has Resolution Health Support and Cultural Support Workers in branches in central Ontario, northwest Ontario, southwest Ontario, as well as the far North, with the main branch located in Batchewana, Ont. Photo: OIRSSS

Much has been reported about the abuses experienced by some students in Indian residential schools, but a new project launched with the help of the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation aims to help survivors and their families move on in their healing journey.

“Reconciliation Begins With Me” is the theme of the first phase of the project being undertaken by Ontario Indian Residential School Support Services (OIRSSS) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in the diocese of Algoma, with the aid of a $15,000 grant from the Anglican Healing Fund.

“We’ve heard a lot about the harms that happened [in residential schools] in varying degrees, and we don’t really need to concentrate on the negative stuff,” said OIRSSS special projects worker Claudette Chevrier-Cachagee in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal June 6.

“We want to kind of turn that around and ask the community members what they feel is the best way to address the needs that come about in their healing journey.”

In its application, OIRSSS stated the project would consist of educational, cultural and healing workshops, presentations and sharing circles: “Visions and ideas generated during workshops will be compiled and used in a ‘Reconciliation Begins With Me’ Community Action Toolkit; a resource on how to start the reconciliation conversation within your circles and community will be developed with the material compiled in each community dialogue and used in Phase Two of the project as we further host dialogues in other communities.”

The first phase will bring together residential school survivors, elders and intergenerational survivors and their families in coastal communities around James Bay, in the southern end of Hudson’s Bay. They include Moosonee (June 13), Moose Factory (June 14), Peawanuck (June 20), Attawapiskat (June 27), Kashechewan (June 28) and Fort Albany (June 29).

People in the remote Ontario communities may receive little information or not understand fully what they hear on radios or read in newspapers, said Chevrier-Cachagee. “So what we want to do is provide a culturally-safe environment that they can share and ask, express and heal…mostly.”

Leading the dialogues in the communities will be Resolution Health Support Worker Andrew Reuben, who attended the residential school in Moose Factory for more than two years. OIRSSS team member June Black will also participate.

In a phone interview with the Journal June 6, Reuben said his job is to make contact with survivors in the communities.

It is important to know about the past, he said, but “now it’s more important to think about the future.”

Reuben considers himself “a very lucky guy” for having had “a very traditional upbringing.” Noting that he didn’t learn English until about age 9 or 10, Reuben, who speaks Cree, said the result is that he can share the importance of keeping one’s tradition and language.

“Our language is the foundation of our identity, our culture, our ceremonies,” he said. “You cannotlearn the culture without the language,” Rueben added. “That’s one of the things I want to share withpeople in the communities.”

Bishop Anne Germond, of the diocese of Algoma, said that the “Reconciliation Begins With Me” projects, and similar projects in her diocese, “are the seeds of new hope for reconciliation and a deeper understanding of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.”

Germond said she is praying that these seeds will grow strong and bear much fruit in communitiesacross Algoma.

“We are all on a common journey called ‘life’ and the closer we can walk together on that path towards a new and more hopeful future, the better for everyone,” she said in an email to the Journal June 7. “As a church, there is so much we got wrong in the past. These newly planted seeds are a sign that we are getting something right.”

Germond also encouraged other congregations and dioceses to “respond to the call to reconciliation.”

Donna Woldanski is the communications specialist who helped OIRSSS prepare the grant application to the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation. She said in a Journal interview by phone June 6 that the organization might request another grant from the healing fund for the next phase of the project.

“We put the application in as phase one,” she said. “Once the dialogues are completed and we have a debriefing, we’re going to take what we learned and, hopefully, the plan is to move forward.”

As the Journal reported earlier,  the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation was given a new lease on life following a decision by Council of General Synod (CoGS) to dedicate the undesignated proceeds of General Synod’s annual fundraising campaign to replenish it.

The Healing Fund first began disbursing money in 1992, having grown out of the residential schools working group established by then-Primate Michael Peers.

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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