By John Sovereign, Rector, St. Thomas, Chilliwack; Regional Dean of Valley Deanery
In May of 2015, Indigenous Justice Ministry Coordinator for the diocese of New Westminster, Brander McDonald suggested that I attend Bright New Day. I was able to find the cost of registration, and I was able to find the time. Chief Dr. Robert Joseph and John McCandless sent me an invitation, and I attended.
It was held at Squiala Longhouse in Chilliwack June 16 and 17.
The first day continued the story of disenfranchisement and pain endured by many in the First Nations community. The second day fostered relationships and a new response.
As a write this the morning of June 18, I am struggling to speak. I want to say just the right things about Bright New Day. I came away hopeful, but very afraid that we non-Aboriginals are still pretty much where we have always been. We still don't see any problem.
Somehow we must listen. Somehow we must discover it! Bright New Day is about a future together with our neighbours, where all our children are included. Somehow we must change our hearts, and rub our eyes to get that lying damaging historical grit out of them.
It was an honour to be welcomed by the local Sto:lo, First Nation and to spend two whole days in their sacred Squiala Longhouse. I wished that the St. Thomas congregation could have been there, to listen, to speak, to grow, to make friends. Or even better, if all of Chilliwack could have found a seat, no matter how tightly packed they would’ve been in the Longhouse.
We had homework our first night. We were asked to create art. We brought the art in the morning. Or maybe I should say in words and pictures and colours we expressed our hopes and fears for the future. In my picture, done with markers, I depicted a settler (that might be me) climbing the bank of the Fraser River, and reaching out my hand to a tall Sto:lo who is welcoming me. A welcoming song is being sung and played in the background, near the door to a longhouse.
In explaining my art, I spoke of canoes out on the Fraser afraid to land, many of them failing to even see the settlement and the longhouse. That is true of many in Chilliwack today. People not ready to land. I explained that I was reaching up to the Sto:lo to help me. Without their help, this settler cannot understand and cannot change. And I drew a tall Sto:lo reaching down to take my hand.
My response to this experience includes a personal commitment to educate my congregation, to recognize the unceded territory St. Thomas sits upon, and to renew and restore our relationship with our neighbours the Sto:Lo.
A Bright New Day will appear when we begin to meet and reconcile and live in truth, justice and grace.
The web address for Bright New Day is http://www.brightnewday.ca/
1. Bright New Day class photo the author is back row far right.
2. Mealtime at the Longhouse
3. John's art