James 3:13-18,Mark 9:30-37

Opening remarks by Rev. Karen Bowles

I do not have to say much this morning – not because I do not want to but because I do not need to – what these young people bring to us this morning is spirit filled hopeful and pragmatic.  

Their words are wise and their experiences on this canoe trip hopeful.  I have only 2 observations to make :  

First, Chief dan George in his 1967 Lament for Confederation laments and so must we as well, for past wrongs and lost generations – for hurt and harm we have done to land and air and one another — and I do not make light of that need at all.  But Chief Dan George goes on to enumerate how his peoples are going ‘to shatter the barriers of their isolation.’  And I want to this morning say that it is not only the Indigenous peoples who need to shatter these barriers but the rest of us.  How many Indigenous people do you know?  Have you ever met?  It will take at least 7 generations to heal the wounds of the past but the first step is getting to know one another and to hear the other’s story.  That is what this canoe trip called Gibimishkaadamin – we paddle forward together – is all about:  Breaking down the barriers of our isolation from one another.  Laying aside all the contentious and outstanding issues of which there are many and I am not making light of them, but laying them aside to simply travel together is a very good first step toward reconciliation – of restoring relations.  

And the second point I wish to make this morning is that it is not only the ‘getting to know one another’ as you will hear this morning that was a result of this trip – it was also the learning from one another that was valuable.  There are business models now being followed that build on indigenous spiritual understandings.  Witness the article in the Globe and Mail last week regarding the principles of a ‘circular’ economy (Opinion and Analysis section, Sept. 19) The teachings these young men refer to impressed them and have stuck with them.  And they are good and sound teachings.

So let us sing together and then I would ask Sue Vanstone to come forward and introduce the trip to us. Sue is  a member of our church and and the board of Gibimishkaadamin.

We sing first – ‘Many and great go God are your Works.’  This hymn is a Cree hymn and the english translation was done by Rev Stan McKay – a former moderator of the UCC and an elder on the trip last year.  

We stand and sing together.

Introductory remarks by Sue Vanstone

Good morning, everyone. Gibimishakaadimin is a five-year partnership amongst three United Churches in central Toronto – Rosedale, Bloor Street, and Fairlawn.  2018 is its second year of bringing together Indigenous youth from across Canada – literally from coast to coast to coast – together with non-Indigenous youth from the Toronto area in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation. 

This year, a total of 20 youth ages 14 to 18, with three young adults in training, embarked on nine days and eights nights of learning about each other and the richness of Indigenous cultural and community histories. This journey of paddling together and fostering relationships through a canoe trip and experiential learning on both land and water took place deep in the heart of the Canadian Shield, an area of North America where our histories as nations have engaged together deeply for centuries; more specifically, in Teme-Augama Anishnabie territory – which means “the deep water people” in Ojibwe, or Temagami in English. 

Rosedale United was fortunate to have three tremendous young participants – Nicholas, Alexander, and Julian – with myself representing our congregation on the Board. In mid-August, we met the First Nation, Inuit and Metis participants travelling from as far away as Inuvik, NWT, Goose Bay NfLd, Kahnesahtake Quebec, Oxford House in northern Manitoba, and Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario. We travelled by bus to Temagami and then by float plane across the lake to base camp. While I fully admit that I wanted to stay for the canoe trip very badly, alas, it was time for the old people to leave and for the youth to begin their leadership and learning adventure in the good hands of Indigenous guides and a renowned outfitter. Each day, the canoe trip involved learning about the land, water and each other, building friendships and trust through sharing and teamwork. This was interspersed with Indigenous pedagogy and reconciliation learnings like sweetgrass ceremonies and The RedDress Project, an aesthetic response to the more than 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

Reflecting on our relationship with Indigenous nations not only as the United Church but also as Canadians is often a difficult experience of realizing the truth, reconciling our pasts, and moving forward together. For me it brings up my own family history in northeastern Ontario and Manitoulin Island – an area incredibly rich with Indigenous history and culture – and I think about my maternal grandfather, a teacher and school principal who encouraged First Nations youth on Manitoulin to pursue education, engage in sports, stay away from alcohol, and attend the United Church. How incredibly complicated any trust relationship must have been across cultures. 

But today, there is no demographic stratum in a better position than our youth to learn and reflect on and heal from past injustice and then move forward together in friendship. After meeting this group of 20 youth, trust me – we are in good hands. I have every faith that one of this year’s Gibimishkaadimin youth will be the first Inuit player on the national women’s hockey team. Another young Indigenous woman amazed us with her pictures of seal hunting on the Labrador Sea. Not only can she catch, skin and cook seal, she makes moccasins from their fur and can build a shelter with its hide and blocks of ocean ice. Food, clothing and shelter – all the essentials of life. Try doing that in downtown Toronto!  

The Gibimishkaadimin Board – which includes representatives from the three funding churches and our Indigenous partners – will meet next weekend to review this year’s journey and begin planning the 2019 program. We will share details with you as they come together and recruitment for next year’s particpants begin. Now over to Nicky, Alex, and Julian to share their reflections. 

Gibimishkaadamin Reflections by Participants

Nicholas Philipson, grade 9 student

When I first got the invitation to go on this trip, I was definitely very hesitant. I would not call myself a wilderness man at all, no matter the trips that my parents make me go on. And honestly, at first, it really was the ride in the float plane that sold it for me. All previous matters aside, the trip was an experience that I will never forget. There are so many things that I learned over the course of those eight days, but what impacted me the most was the community aspect. Every morning and most nights we would have a fire and everyone would release their bad thoughts and feelings through a ritual called smudging. This is where you take a big stick of sage and light it and wave the smoke over your body, mostly your ears and mouth and eyes so that you can hear, speak, and see more clearly. The thing is, you can not smudge alone. You need someone else to wave the sage over yourself. This means you have to open up and reveal that you do need healing. What I really began to understand about the reconciliation side of the trip was that it was all about meeting people and hearing their side of the story. I had never actually talked to anyone indigenous on a deep level before about their experience. Talking with some of the guys from northern Manitoba, I learned that life on the reserve was worse than I had imagined. Adults would beat up teenagers in the streets. Little kids would burn vehicles and stores. And the amount of pregnancies at the high school is astonishing. And they all think that that’s just life in Oxford House. If there was a way to get everyone on a trip like the g-trip, the full name is WAY too complicated, we would all understand each others viewpoints and come up with a solution much faster. The trip was fun filled, drenched in rain, scorched by lightning, extremely wet, super tiring, and super awesome and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go on it.

Alexander Lawson, grade 11 student

Consider a faith, of which the primary focus is to explore our humanity and leave a positive mark in the world. This faith is thousands of years old, and such ancient lineage is accessed by stories, (parables if you will). These stories are analysed by those more experienced in the faith so it can be shared with the community. This faith has many denominations, each with principles and rituals which deviate from each other, but inevitably focus on the same core principles; humility, honesty, respect, courage, wisdom, truth, and love. In this faith, everyone expresses their spirituality in a different way, and not all people choose to follow it. Yet those who do, follow for their own spiritual enrichment, so they can better understand and love themselves and the world around them. I think we would all agree that I have just described our christian faith. But what I have also described is the indigenous faith. All that, we have in common. So what are the main differences between our faiths? I would say most significant one is the indigenous focus on respect for nature and stewardship for the land, perhaps ironic, given our christian ancestors determination to claim ownership of that very same land.

I believe that reconciliation with indigenous communities is an issue that pertains directly to our church. We are both peoples of faith, though we express that differently. Our ancestors saw this as casus belli and waged needless war against each other. Yet even within our own church, we approach God in different ways. It is our core belief in humility, wisdom, truth, and love that truly brings us together. This is what we share with the indigenous faith, just as it is what we share most with each other. And even without regarding our guilty history, or our commonalities with indigenous peoples, we need look no further than our own faith to know what reconciliation means. It is our duty as christians to support people who are struggling, and indigenous people in this country are struggling. They are strong; if you heard the stories of the indigenous youth on this trip you would know they are strong, but they are born into hardship, and they need our help. So if you take anything away from this, let it be that reconciliation is for us. It is our duty to open our hearts and our minds to this beautiful yet suffering community, and listen to their voices, and do whatever you can, in action or in spirit, to help right the disparity in our country. Because as members of this faith community, reconciliation is for us.