Allegra Friesen Epp is wrapping up a six-month internship with Mennonite Church Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), but she is already brainstorming ways to continue doing solidarity work.
The internship is the first of its kind, created by MC Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations (ISR) office and CPT’s Turtle Island Solidarity Network. From February to July, Friesen Epp immersed herself in peacemaking and solidarity work. She connected with local and national groups organizing around environmental and decolonization issues. She helped plan a rally to protest a legislative bill that she says endangers people’s rights to peaceful protest. She walked with Mama Bear Clan, an Indigenous-led community street patrol in Winnipeg’s inner city.
Friesen Epp attends Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and graduated from Canadian Mennonite University there in 2020. She did her practicum in MC Canada’s ISR office, helping coordinate a two-week walk through Alberta to raise awareness about treaties and a rally in support of Bill C-262, a piece of Indigenous rights legislation.
“I care deeply about justice and the dignity of all peoples, and one of the fundamental injustices in this country that we now call Canada is the treatment of Indigenous peoples,” she says.
It’s an issue Home Street Mennonite has explored over the years, and she hopes other congregations will do the same. To help with this, she created and compiled prayers, sermon ideas, songs, artwork and stories that churches can use to take action towards reconciliation in their communities.
She says that her time at the Unist’ot’en camp was the most impactful experience of her internship. The camp has been a place of Indigenous “resistance and resurgence” on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia for over 12 years. Friesen Epp and four others formed a joint CPT-MC Canada accompaniment team that spent a month at the camp this June, at the invitation of the land defenders there.
As guests on the territory, team members listened, learned and helped out in whatever ways possible. They built tiny houses, chopped firewood, cooked meals, washed dishes, and shared food and stories.
It’s a beautiful place, she says, adding that there is so much more going on there than just pipeline resistance, which was well documented in the media in 2020, including Canadian Mennonite. A central feature of the camp is the healing centre, which provides cultural teachings, runs youth camps and reconnects people with the land.
Life at the camp is a decades-long effort to rectify land-rights violations and protect a whole way of life inseparable from creation, she says.
“A major learning for me was realizing that if we, as a church, can be present in these places, we would learn so much about what it means to care for creation,” she says. “It became really apparent to me that the frontline struggles are the places to be right now. As we reach unprecedented heat waves, and as climate change increases, and as the call for land back and Indigenous sovereignty is stronger than ever, the frontlines are where history is being made.”
Friesen Epp says that the MC Canada and CPT partnership is exciting because both organizations can learn from each other: the church from CPT’s frontline work and CPT from the church’s strong faith focus. She hopes more people will consider getting involved with opportunities like these.
“Allegra is an incredible young leader, with so many gifts and passions to add to the work of the circle,” says Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous-Settler Relations for MC Canada, co-chair of CPT’s steering committee, and a member of the accompaniment team. “And there are others like Allegra in our constituency, who care deeply about reconciliation, decolonization and climate justice. Internships like this create space, not only for Allegra to grow in faith and hone her skill, but to help me and the institution do the same.
“When we link arms, we are not only stronger together, but we’re often more creative and courageous,” he says. “I’m praying that we can do this again!”
Watch a recent sermon Allegra Friesen Epp preached:
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Manitoba? Send it to Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe at email@example.com.
The CPT-MC Canada accompaniment team spent a month at Unist'ot'en camp in unceded Wet'suwet'en territory in northern B.C., learning from Indigenous land defenders and helping wherever they were needed. (Photo by Steve Heinrichs)
The healing centre at the Unist'ot'en camp provides cultural teaching, runs youth camps and reconnects people with the land. (Photo by Josiah Neufeld)
The Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) in Unist'ot'en territory, where life is deeply interconnected with creation. (Photo by Allegra Friesen Epp)