SASKATOON — Parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon are being encouraged to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action.
At a diocesan Administration Day Sept. 13, parish leadership learned more about two initiatives launched recently in the diocese as a response to the TRC: a Treaty Elder speakers series and the proposed installation of a treaty plaque in each church building.
“Reconciliation in the diocese has moved past opposition, isolation, indifference even tolerance. We are seeing more and more situations where engagement is happening,” said Myron Rogal of the Justice and Peace Office, describing diocesan initiatives.
“The Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR) emerged out of the Truth and Reconciliation process that has happened in Canada. Named by Bishop Don (Bolen), that council came together and began with prayer; prayer led to listening, listening led to community, and community has now led to action.”
The DCTR has organized events and workshops, is planning a video project, and has launched an annual day of prayer for healing and reconciliation marked in the Diocese of Saskatoon and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools on Oct. 21, the anniversary of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. The DCTR is also seeking ways to assist the diocese in responding to the TRC Calls to Action, Rogal said.
“At times we might look at the TRC as a great challenge or even a burden, but I would invite you to see it as a gift, a sanctifying gift for the entire church, one that is drawing us into transparency, and drawing us into holiness,” said Rogal to the parish and ministry leaders gathered for Administration Day.
“In the TRC’s 94 calls to action, there are specific ones that are directed to us as church, the People of God,” added Christine Zyla, co-ordinator of the diocesan Office of Migration, who has also been working with the DCTR.
“Specific calls to action for churches relate to educating ourselves about treaty relationships, as well as about the church’s role in colonization (#59), and to educate ourselves about indigenous spirituality and prevent ‘spiritual violence’ (#60),” she said.
“In addition to these calls to action, we of course have Jesus’ call to action — and that is the call to love. Jesus reminds us to love God and to love each other. That pretty much trumps everything,” Zyla pointed out. “Solidarity is about valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are as individuals — not making them be like us, but respecting who they are: created in the image and likeness of God, as we all are.”
A number of speakers came forward to describe the impact of the two initiatives: inviting a treaty elder to speak in the parish and installing a treaty plaque.
The diocesan Treaty Elder speakers series was launched in June at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Saskatoon, with elder Gladys Wapas-Greyeyes of Thunderchild First Nation speaking to parishioners after mass, along with Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner.
Nathan Yaworski, a member of the Parish Pastoral Council at St. Francis, described the visit as a blessing for his parish community.
“After mass we gathered in the welcoming area, and in the next hour we were given a chance to listen, to learn and participate in dialogue of mutual understanding and reconciliation,” he said.
Linklater first gave insights into the history of the treaties and their present day meaning and importance, Yaworski described. Next, Wapas-Greyeyes “shared with us her personal journey of faith and her love for her culture.”
Wapas-Greyeyes described the horrors of residential schools and the anger she carried for a long time afterward. “She tells her story so that it and the stories of countless others will not be forgotten,” Yaworski said.
“Elder Gladys also spoke to us about her faith and the profound influence it has on her. We found that we share a lot of similar beliefs: belief in a Creator God, in the sacredness of things like fire and water, and the responsibility that we all have to care for God’s creation,” he said.
Yaworski encouraged other parishes to take this opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation.
“All of our churches and all of our homes are built on treaty land. We are treaty people just as much as our indigenous brothers and sisters are treaty people,” he said. “As Mr. Linklater told us, we are not to blame for the injustices of the past, but we are responsible for the way we act now, and what we are going to do going forward to heal the wounds that have been inflicted in the past.”
A second diocesan initiative encourages the placement of a treaty plaque in church buildings. The first such plaque was installed June 13 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon during a service involving First Nations, diocesan, parish and community leaders.
An enlarged replica of a medal that was presented to participating First Nations chiefs at the time of the treaty signing, the plaque portrays a treaty commissioner grasping the hand of a First Nations leader. Between them is a hatchet, buried in the ground, and around the two figures are images of the sun and the land, symbolizing the eternal promise of the treaty relationship “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”
The plaque at the cathedral is installed on the fieldstone fireplace in the welcoming area, which was created with stones from parishes throughout the diocese, most of which stands on Treaty 6 territory. Signed in 1876, Treaty 6 covers 121,000 square miles of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta.
An explanation beneath the plaque states: “Newcomers to Canada and their descendants benefited from the wealth generated from the land provided in the treaties. They built their society in a place were some were looking for political and religious freedoms. Today, there are misconceptions that only First Nations peoples are part of the treaties, but in reality, all of us are treaty people.”
At Administration Day, speaker Dianne Anderson of the diocesan Office of Restorative Ministry described the meaning and the impact of the plaque.
“It was a day that physically marked our identity as treaty people. This day was filled with emotions of joy, of hope and of friendship,” she said with emotion. “It is a hope that offers great understanding and forgiveness of each other that will continue to move forward.”
The installation meant a lot to her as an indigenous woman and a Catholic, Anderson said. “I heard the church say that we all belong, and that we are all treaty people and we are all church,” she said. “We can all have a sense of belonging to this one family. The plaque itself is a symbol of that unity.”
Anderson added that every day since the ceremony she has walked into the cathedral with more confidence. “My sense of belonging has grown. I feel more accepted and appreciated — a part of a bigger family — and we are all children of that family.”
Rev. Matthew Ramsay, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Saskatoon, spoke about his parish’s plan to participate in the initiatives. He described how St. Anne’s will invite a treaty elder to speak, and will unveil a treaty plaque in the St. Anne’s building at the same time.
Ramsay described how the parish will invite students from nearby Bishop Mahoney High School for a prayer service focused on the treaty plaque and reconciliation. “A lot of high school students now are pretty aware of that history; they have been taught it in school. What I want to show them is that we as a church are taking this seriously, and that we are taking steps to address to it.”