Eleven members of the Church of the Ascension community in Ottawa (seven youth age 14–22 and four adults) spent a week at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre near Winnipeg.
We had a wonderful experience learning about Indigenous spirituality and the importance of relationships with the land and the church. A morning spent with an elder who generously shared her story and her teachings moved us deeply.
We also experienced a sweat lodge and visited the Museum for Human Rights and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The group is currently preparing how it will share its learnings with the rest of the parish.
Rowan Hughes is in her second year at the University of Guelph, and wrote this powerful narrative poem that she read to us at church on the Sunday following our return:
My trip to Manitoba began with a bear and ended with a buffalo.
On our first day, I don’t know what my other group members would say, but I took two steps out of my comfort zone and found myself overwhelmed by the open hearts of our guides, willing to share with us powerful songs and sacred teachings meant to open our eyes, ears and hearts to a history left untold for such a long time…well, not untold, but unheard, because all the powerful words that graced our ears echoed the teachings of ancestors long gone, but in sweat lodge songs somehow still breathing, on beating drums and in dancing their stories.
One by one, our journey began to connect each Indigenous teaching back to each other in a circle, back to ourselves and back to the Bible.
Now this is something I must admit I grappled with for a while. I couldn’t comprehend how a woman we met on our second morning connected her native heritage back to a church that had a huge role in trying to eradicate her culture and way of life. This woman was a residential school survivor. So we asked her how it was she found balance? How was it that she could reconcile all the teachings of the Bible with the ones passed down by her grandfather? And so she told us about seven sacred animals.
The first one I had come across the night before, when I said my trip began with a bear. He walked with me on big black paws in my dreams through a place of peace we visited called the Human Rights Museum. We walked around and up and down passages of alabaster, connecting stories until the morning, where I listened and learned from this woman that bears teach us to be courageous; to take the steps to do the things we are afraid to, bears will walk by our side so that we may believe in ourselves as we believe in them.
And there was so much else I learned—that eagles teach love; a Sabe (Saskquatch) asks honesty; a wolf begs humility, and on and on until we understood what she was trying to help us comprehend.
That, in fact, there wasn’t anything to reconcile between the Bible and her teachings, because without love, truth, honesty, courage, humility, wisdom and respect, there would be me and there would be you.
And the truth is, if we ripped pages from the Bible that bred those life lessons, teaching of love, courage and so on, there would be nothing left.
What I learned on this journey is that I may not know much about spirituality, but that’s all right because you don’t need to know it to feel it and you don’t need to worship the same way as others in order to live life on an honest red road path.
On our last day, I had an encounter with a buffalo; and I’ll tell you all a secret that he told me: he said, “Go in peace and write what you know.”