SASKATOON — “Solidarity at the Heart of Action” was the theme of an annual regional assembly of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace held April 28 - 30 in Saskatoon.
Reconciliation and solidarity with indigenous peoples were highlighted in presentations at the annual gathering, as was the 50th anniversary of Development and Peace, the Canadian Catholic Church’s international development organization.
Development and Peace was established in 1967 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is now also known as Caritas Canada, as a member organization of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief and development organizations working on behalf of the poor and oppressed around the world.
Local responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action were highlighted during a public lecture April 28 at Queen’s House.
D&P member Christine Zyla of the diocesan Office of Migration, who also works in the area of reconciliation, described the work of a Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR) which was established in the Diocese of Saskatoon in response to the national TRC process.
“We are guided by elders who are part of the consultation, because of their input and deep engagement. I feel we have moved forward in a very real way,” she said.
Through the work of the DCTR, understanding is growing, and initiatives are underway in the diocese, she said. For instance, space has been provided for elders and children to meet regularly and speak the Cree language, and treaty plaques have been installed at the cathedral and in other locations in the diocese “in ceremonies that call together indigenous and non-indigenous people who really hear what it is to be treaty people — because we are all treaty people,” she said. Treaty elders have also been invited into parishes to share their insights and wisdom.
Zyla also spoke briefly about Reconciliation Saskatoon, an effort in the wider community to engage in what it means to be on this journey of reconciliation.
“What a gift we have been handed as settler people in this land by the indigenous peoples who have been terribly wronged by so many actions and attitudes,” she said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and its 94 calls to action are a gift to this country, said Zyla. “Every one of the calls to action is a hand reached out to us, to say ‘come, let us move forward together.’ ”
Chris Hrynkow of St. Thomas More College also spoke on the first evening of the regional assembly, in the absence of keynote Harry Lafond of the Treaty Commissioner’s Office, who was unable to attend.
Repeating a presentation that he recently gave at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Hrynkow described efforts to foster welcome and reconciliation at STM, the federated Catholic college at the University of Saskatchewan.
An associate professor in the department of religions and culture at STM, Hrynkow also serves as chair of the college’s Academic Working Group on Indigenous Engagement.
Hrynkow gave an overview of STM’s location on traditional indigenous territory, and of indigenous-settler relations, including the history, abuses and ongoing impact of the residential schools. He then outlined the college’s efforts to respond to the TRC, including curriculum development, hiring indigenous staff and faculty, and engaged learning opportunities that further dialogue and reconciliation.
A Chair in Indigenous Spirituality and Reconciliation has been established at STM and the new chair’s advisory circle has launched a number of initiatives, including hosting a public address on reconciliation by former national chief Phil Fontaine.
Hrynkow also described how the college’s working group on indigenous engagement sponsored a public forum in January entitled “What should a Catholic college know to be truly welcoming to indigenous peoples?” Panelists Marie Battiste, Verna St. Denis, Erica Violet Lee, and John Merasty offered insights and suggestions for nurturing relationships and understanding, and building a welcoming community and positive academic experience for indigenous students.
The theme of reconciliation continued the next day, with delegates participating in the blanket exercise — an interactive representation of the history of indigenous peoples and the effects of colonization.
In another session, Gillio Brunelli presented information about Development and Peace’s collaboration with indigenous partners in the Global South.
Jackie Block, regional representative of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and Hélène Tremblay-Boyko of Development and Peace, gave a presentation on learning tours to Lebanon.
The 50th anniversary was highlighted early in the program by Danny Gillis, and was later celebrated with the wider community at a mass and banquet held April 29 at St. Mary’s Parish.
Bishop Albert Thévenot of Prince Albert presided at mass with Archbishop Emeritus James Weisgerber and Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB, who is presently serving as pastor of parishes in La Ronge and Southend, Sask.
A program of speakers, presentation and awards was part of the 50th anniversary banquet that followed (see related article).
The regional assembly concluded April 30 with an annual general meeting, including a report from Saskatchewan and Keewatin-Le Pas animator Armella Sonntag.