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Collective statement about water and treaty rights crafted at symposium

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski


Speakers at a recent symposium in Saskatoon about the environment, water and treaty rights included (from left) Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen, author Trevor Herriott, and Bert Pitzel, co-ordinator of justice and peace for the Archdiocese of Regina. Missing from the photo is Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, who also spoke at the gathering "Our Common Home: as long as the rivers flow." Photo by Kiply Yaworski.

SASKATOON — A collective statement about water and treaty rights — in the context of Laudato Si’s call to care for our common home and for each other — was crafted Oct. 22 during a daylong symposium at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

Entitled “Our Common Home: as long as the rivers flow,” the symposium was presented by OMI Lacombe Canada’s Office of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, working in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, the Archdiocese of Regina, the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, St. Thomas More College, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, and Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal.

The collective statement was crafted as a reference point and a model for engagement, dialogue and awareness that could be shared and promoted in various ways, said organizers. “The benefit is that we have diverse partners sharing a public statement in solidarity — and one that grew from the bottom up,” noted Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of Saskatoon.

Gertrude Rompré and Chris Hrynkow of St. Thomas More College facilitated the small group process that happened throughout the day, culminating in the collective statement. The symposium was envisioned as “a place where we collectively have a voice and we can share and listen and come to action together,” described Rompré.

“Water is a path of dialogue and action,” added Hrynkow, describing how water was chosen as a nexus or junction point to bring people together to address reconciliation with indigenous peoples. “Water is something we need — it is part of us.” He stressed that the symposium statement comes out of this particular time and place, and he challenged participants to “incarnate” the experience by going forth from the gathering with concrete, personal pledges for action.

Symposium speakers — Bert Pitzel, co-ordinator of justice and peace in the Archdiocese of Regina; Trevor Herriott, author, naturalist and activist; Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen, who serves as chair of the CCCB’s justice and peace commission; and Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner — provided a framework for the small and large group discussions during the day.

The various presentations explored Laudato Si’ (Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on caring for our common home), reflected on our relationship with water and rivers, emphasized the impact and importance of treaties to all Canadians, and acknowledged the Calls to Action by the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

These themes also resonated throughout the final collective statement, which includes a list of 17 commitments to “individual and collective action.”

Acknowledging that the gathering was being held on Treaty Six territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis, symposium participants opened their collective statement by expressing a “duty to care for our common home as long as the rivers flow.”

The statement asserts: “We recognize treaties as a covenant to share and care for our common home. As Treaty peoples we are all bound together with each other, the land, and water. Yet, this covenant has been damaged by unjust laws and policies, such as the implementation of the Indian residential schools and the ‘sixties scoop,’ which have negative inter-generational impacts. To contribute to healing such trauma, we affirm our responsibility to be Treaty people in the fullest sense.”

Echoing Laudato Si’, the statement describes the call to “hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of those on the margins of our society,” and goes on to describe water as “a commons” — a precious, life-giving gift that is meant for the common good of all

“By dialoguing and acting to care for our common home, we take up our responsibilities toward future generations. We undertake this urgent and exciting task so that all might reach their full potential. The social and ecological benefits of these approaches and actions provide an important opportunity for reconciliation,” says the statement.

“Caring for water opens a path of dialogue and action on which we can walk together. Caring for water can also lead to a deep ecological conversion,” notes the statement. “By honouring indigenous cultures and values, and entering into wholesome relationships with each other, Mother Earth, and the Creator, we can transform our society.

“In all of this we can learn from rivers, the veins and arteries of Mother Earth. Our watersheds provide us with intimate connections to the places in which we live. Listening to what rivers can teach us can help us slow down and gain the necessary courage to be fearless in our work for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.”

Commitments listed at the conclusion of the statement include living in a more environmentally friendly manner, taking concrete action to show respect for the gift of water, and learning to walk with indigenous brothers and sisters. Other commitments in the collective statement call for mindfulness, a slower pace, and simpler lifestyles, as well as a commitment to “listen, listen, listen, then dialogue, dialogue, dialogue” and to renew quality relationships.

Other promises include: to cut down on water usage; to learn more about Treaty Six, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and “the church’s role in where we are today”; and “to re-envision a nation that is full of collective beliefs, which can all offer a piece of the unity, in order to see how we are all Treaty people.”

The day was framed in prayer, led by Oblate Associates Jim and Adele Longstaff in four directions at the opening, and with a multi-faith prayer by Rev. Dr. Colin Clay at the close.

Rev. Ken Thorson, OMI, brought greetings from the Justice, Peace and Integrity for Creation (JPIC) office of OMI Lacombe Canada, placing the gathering in its context. “Too often in our quest to bring the gospel, what indigenous people held most dear — language, spirituality, myth and ritual, the practices of raising the young, and their relationship to the earth itself, in short, their culture — was all too often belittled and disregarded, and we Oblates played too significant a role in this, too often.”

He described the Oblate community’s deepening commitment to continued reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, through programs such as Returning to Spirit, and a commitment to retelling Canada’s painful history as an integral part of doing justice and bringing healing and reconciliation.

“The Oblate family and the larger church is called to continuing conversion — and conversion and healing ask that we listen well. Our gathering today will be a meaningful step in the process. Such events create spaces where inter-faith, ecumenical, inter-cultural and inter-generational conversations can occur, and perhaps we can contribute to increased understanding and empathy and action,” said Thorson.

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