ST. BONIFACE — The Manitoba Provincial CWL Council celebrated their annual Day of Celebration Feb. 14 with approximately 120 members in attendance. The event was held at the Aboriginal church, St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Winnipeg.
As the day unfolded, information was shared on the four directions, which would be honoured during mass and the teachings of the teepee. The four directions are always used in a clockwise manner because of the way the sun moves.
The east represents the woman spirit, where the sun rises and our warmth and vision starts. The spirit of women brings warmth to the home. In the south, life is active and our physical aspect is represented and we become young people. The west is the time of adulthood, of responsibility and being responsible for other people. It is also the parenting stage, which is never a smooth journey because of the responsibilities and children you bring into the world. Because of this, the gift of emotion is also in the west. The ceremony finishes in the north which is our life journey and we finish our journeys as older people in that direction, which is the mental part of our journey.
Russell Maytwayashing explained the teachings of the teepee. The teepee represents the spirit and body of a woman who is the foundation of family and community. Maytwayashing said, “It is through her that we learn the values that bring balance to our lives.”
He said, “A teepee cover is like that of an elderly woman with a shawl. As it comes around the teepee, it embraces all the teachings and values of community that women hold.”
When the flaps are up it teaches you how we embrace life itself and is like a woman standing there with her arms out saying “thank you” to everything, he said. The 15 poles of the teepee represent the following values: obedience, respect, humility, happiness, love, faith, kinship, cleanliness, thankfulness, sharing, strength, good child rearing, hope, ultimate protection, and control flaps (we are all connected by relationships and we depend on each other; we cannot exist alone).
Mass was celebrated by pastor Rev. Gnna Arockiyam Bastin Jesu Raj; Rev. Maria Robert, priest from St. Theresa Point; Rev. Messiah Vallapadasu, who had just arrived from India the day before; and Rev. Leo Fernandez, Manitoba provincial spiritual adviser.
The parish choir and drummer led the congregation in sacred songs and prayers. Smudging occurred before mass began. Although the mass was traditional, one could sense the Aboriginal influence in the pastor’s vestment, Aboriginal teepee tabernacle and various symbols throughout the church. Before communion was distributed to the congregation, the four directions were honoured accompanied by a drummer.
Following lunch, Wilmar Chopyk, executive director, Catholic Health Association of Manitoba (CHAM), made a presentation on a project CHAM has embarked on, Legacy of Care, Courage and Compassion. This project will honour women religious, who have been of service to communities in Manitoba over 170 years, to recognize and celebrate their contributions.
Chopyk said, “Approximately 44 orders have come and gone, leaving their presence in Manitoba.” He said the average age of women religious in Canada is approximately 82 years. A little-known fact is that institutions such as St. Boniface Hospital, Misericordia Hospital and St. Amant Centre were owned by Catholic organizations, said Chopyk.
A celebratory mass at St. Boniface Cathedral will kick off the project on March 8, International Women’s Day. On April 22 at the Caritas Dinner, representatives of Catholic women religious will be receiving the Caritas Award from the French, English and Slavic orders.
As part of the project, a commemorative monument and speaker series are planned. Also included will be a Sisters Reflection Project, and sisters will be able to write letters to their younger selves reflecting on their life — their experiences, contributions, words of wisdom and inspiration. A travelling photography exhibit of some of the sisters and their letters will be launched in September. There is also plans for a book launch in Spring 2016. Finally in 2016 a documentary will be released to showcase the history and women religious legacy in Manitoba.
In the afternoon, members participated in the Blanket Exercise facilitated by Br. Thomas Novak, OMI. The Blanket Exercise is an experiential learning activity exploring the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and examines how federal policies and programs have an impact on the lives of indigenous peoples in Canada.
The exercise uses blankets to represent the land held by all the people (distinct cultures and nations) of what is now called Canada. Participants represent the First Peoples; when they move onto the blankets and then are taken back in time to the arrival of the Europeans. The exercise goes through the history of treaty-making, colonization and resistance that resulted in the nation we today call Canada.
It provided for a visual effect showing how originally everyone shared the same land until it was decreed that some would be placed on reserves. The reserve was identified by a different colour blanket. In the exercise it showed how the numbers of the Aboriginal people slowly diminished as some left the land in search of a better life and others died from illness. As conditions were placed on the reservations, the blanket was folded up, reducing the size of the area where the people were standing. Following the exercise participants were invited to meet in small groups and discuss how the exercise made them feel and what they learned.
As the day wound up those had attended were left with much to ponder as they journeyed back to their homes. They experienced Aboriginal spirituality centred in the Catholic mass; became informed on the Legacy of Care, Courage and Compassion project honouring Manitoba’s Catholic women religious and participated in an experiential learning activity called the Blanket Exercise. Only time will tell if this day has an impact on their lives.