“If you want to love someone, you need to know their story; if you want to know someone, you need to learn their story,” Steve Heinrichs, Mennonite Church Canada’s director of indigenous relations, told participants at this year’s Peace it Together conference at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) earlier this month, as he and his daughter Abby shared about settler colonialism and the importance of learning the stories of both indigenous and settler peoples.
Called “A meeting place: Hearing God in indigenous voices, ” the conference focussed on making biblical and Anabaptist themes of peace and justice relevant for today for the 75 youth, youth sponsors and pastors from across Canada who gathered to hear stories from a variety of indigenous and settler speakers, participate in acts of peace, and build new friendships.
Christy Anderson, a 2011 CMU graduate, shared about the impact colonialism has on her life as an intergenerational residential school survivor.
Clairissa Kelly and Wayne Mason spoke about the Peguis First Nation’s Indigenous Transition Program that CMU is hosting this year, and the two were joined by Della Mason in singing ceremonial songs of healing, love and thankfulness.
Participants had the opportunity to take part in one of six “acts of peace,” including learning about solidarity activism and creating a solidarity activism art peace; hearing from an elder at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House; visiting the Indigenous Family Centre and beading medicine bags; and learning about Christian Peacemaker Teams’ work on Turtle Island.
The weekend closed with a sharing circle, providing participants with an opportunity to speak about what they will take away from the conference.
“I am inspired and challenged to go home to a place whose land I know it should be, to step out of my comfort zone, and to build relationships,” said Marnie Klassen, a grade 12 student from Abbotsford, B.C. “It was a very valuable experience to be surrounded by likeminded people. It was so good to have meaningful conversations in an open space—to be open to questioning with both head and heart.”
Krista Loewen, associate pastor of Wildwood Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, said “Attending PiT reignited a passion for justice within me as a peacebuilder. I was reminded that working to build relationships with my indigenous neighbours is integral to my faith and how I feel called to live in this world as a follower of Christ.”
Youth from Wildwood Mennonite Church also attended. “The youth were also challenged to emotionally connect to this topic that they had learned about in school . . . and hopefully [will] use their thoughts and emotions to inspire others to consider their relationships with their indigenous neighbours.”