SASKATOON — Elder Agnes Desjarlais led a Treaty Elder Series along with Lyndon Linklater May 28, hosted by Sts-Martyrs-Canadiens francophone Catholic parish in Saskatoon.
Marie-Jeanne Will of Sts-Martyrs-Canadiens worked with the Roman Catholic Diocese Office of Justice and Peace to organize the event. Several Treaty Elder Series events have now taken place as a partnership between the Office of the Treaty Commissioner and the diocese.
The initiative stems from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in which churches were tasked to respond. Specifically, these diocesan events are designed to respond to Call to Action 59, which asks churches to develop ongoing education strategies to help congregations learn about the church’s role in colonization, as well as the history and legacy of residential schools, and Call to Action 60 to teach and respect indigenous spirituality in its own right.
Rev. Jean Baptiste Murhumwa opened the event with words of welcome, expressing gratitude for the large crowd present and acknowledging that the parish resides in Treaty Six Territory. Traditional gifts and words of thanksgiving were then exchanged, recognizing the willingness of the elder to participate in this series.
Lyndon then thanked the diocese for the rich partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC). Linklater, who serves as a member of the speaker’s bureau at OTC, “set the table” for the event by sharing with wit and humour the necessity of reconciliation as a path to living out our treaty relationship.
Linklater expressed the hope that treaty relationships bring in breaking down divisions among peoples. Listeners were challenged to view treaties as a mutual relationship that leads to accountability, growth and the success of each person.
The Treaty Elder Series serves as a means to receive gifts into the Catholic community, and for this to happen those present are asked to set aside their urge “to help and to fix.” It was in that spirit that Elder Agnes Desjarlais and the message she delivered were received as gifts to Sts-Martyrs-Canadiens Parish.
With her soft-spoken and humble projection, Desjarlais shared her experience of growing up in a Catholic residential school in southern Saskatchewan. She shared the whole of her experience with moments of deep hurt along with occasional joy.
Desjarlais then wove together how the familial trauma was lived out in her parents and herself, along with her siblings, and continued in the experience of her own children.
“It was through discovering that my people had spiritual practices and traditions that were healthy that caused me to seek out healing for myself,” said Desjarlais.
“Growing up, I never knew that I had a culture, and if it had not been for my grandmother, I might have never known.”
Desjarlais described how she continued on to seek healing from a traditional medicine man in Alberta. It was a different First Nation than the one she was raised in; however, this connection continued to change her life for the better.
Desjarlais ended by saying that “she is grateful to be alive” and hopes the Creator blesses her “with another 30 years or more.”
The hosting of this event in a Catholic francophone parish was significant, as the French language and culture along with religious freedom have also at times been victims of colonization and cultural imperialism, both in Saskatchewan and abroad, participants noted.