MoM 100: Other voices from apology to Semá:th First Nation

July 27, 2023
John Longhurst | Special to Canadian Mennonite

Henry Engbrecht leads singing at the July 24 gathering. (Photos by John Longhurst)

Henry Engbrecht leads singing at the July 24 gathering. (Photos by John Longhurst)

Following the apology to Indigenous people in the Fraser Valley by Richard Thiessen, president of the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia, and a response by Dalton Silver, chief of the Semá:th First Nation, the July 24 event featured sharing by “witnesses,” as they are called in the Semá:th tradition—people who could go home to testify about what had occurred.

They included Peter Wolfe, chair of the board of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) B.C. who told the gathering that the organization was committed to pursuing truth and reconciliation with the First Nation, and with other Indigenous people in the province.

“We have work to do to keep the journey going,” he said.

Andrew Victor is the pastor of the Native Pentecostal Church in nearby Chilliwack and Chief of the Cheam First Nation.

“I appreciate you taking the time to visit this community,” he told the participants in the “Memories of Migration” tour and others gathered in the long house at the First Nation.

He went on to say he appreciated how Mennonites in the province were being intentional with respect to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “wrestling with what actions can come out” of that commitment.

Referencing the Old Testament practice in the book of Joshua of piling up stones as a reminder of what God had done for the nation of Israel, he said he hoped the meeting and apology that evening could be like a “memory stone,” something future generations could ask about.

And when they ask about it, Victor said, they can be told it shows that “something transformational occurred tonight, that it is part of our story, a part of our journey of reconciliation with one another.”

Ingrid Schultz.

MCC B.C. board member Ingrid Schultz noted that the Cree word for “welcome,” tawâw, means “there’s room.” She thanked the First Nation “for making room” for members of the Mennonite community to share with them that evening.

Harry Heidebrecht, a longtime pastor in the Fraser Valley, remembered participating in a celebration in 1972 to mark the 100th anniversary of Mennonites coming to western Canada.

At that event, he was asked to speak about the arrival of Mennonites in the Fraser Valley, and how the draining of Sumas Lake created farmland where the new arrivals could prosper and grow.

“I spoke of it in a positive tone, never thinking of how the loss of the lake impacted you,” he said. “There was no acknowledgement of that. Only thankfulness to God that we settled there. I acknowledge that [loss] today.”

By meeting together and “listening carefully,” Mennonites and First Nations people can “discover their commonalities,” he said, and that can be a “base for reconciliation.”

Members of the two groups can also “become friends,” with “friendship being the beginning of a new relationship.”

Heidebrecht went on to say he hoped the gathering in the long house would mark “the beginning of knowing each other” so Mennonites and members of the Semá:th First Nation could “bless each other in whatever way we can.”

After reporting on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.), Winnipeg freelance writer John Longhurst is blogging about the third and final leg (from Saskatoon, Sask. to Abbotsford, B.C.).

Read John's previous posts about the tour:
MoM 100: Witnessing history in Abbotsford
MoM 100: Young adults learn about their heritage on tour
MoM 100: Southeast Asian refugee migration remembered
MoM 100: B.C. concert explores ‘Music Along the Journey’
MoM 100: Grandfather and grandson bond on tour


Henry Engbrecht leads singing at the July 24 gathering. (Photos by John Longhurst)

Author Name: 
John Longhurst
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