Rectangular sheets of paper bearing seven words were arranged in a circle on the floor of St. Mary’s Anglican Parish Hall last Wednesday evening.
The words were: “Humility”, “Courage”, “Honesty”, “Wisdom”, “Truth”, “Respect”, and “Love”. In Indigenous culture, they represent Seven Grandfather Teachings seen as essential to living a good life; each teaching must be used with the rest.
To those seated around those pieces of paper, the words are guiding principles for a conversation started two weeks ago by Nancy Yee, Michele Rowe, Malinda Drury and Coralie Wiebe.
The conversation seeks to provide signposts in a journey towards truth and reconciliation and right relationships in the community. The hope is that eventually hearts and minds will be sufficiently open for non-Indigenous people to walk side-by-side with their Indigenous neighbours.
In the first week, 16 people sat in a circle. This time, there were nine, two of them newcomers. The lower numbers were down to prior commitments, and possibly the swirling snow that buffeted doors and windows.
The gathering started with a recording of Jeremy Dutcher singing “Honor Song”, which contains a message for people to join hands and honour their lives with dignity, because they are a part of the Creator’s work.
A Treaty 4 acknowledgment followed.
Yee took the role of facilitator.
She asked people to introduce themselves, and say whether they were “morning” or “night” persons.
There was then a reminder of the meaning of being in a circle – the notion of equality, with each person sitting the same distance from the centre, from where knowledge is held and comes. The circle is also a representative of life.
A reiteration of guidelines for respectful communication in the acronym, RESPECT, followed. R is for responsibility (take responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others), E for empathetic (use empathetic listening), S for sensitive (be sensitive to differences in communication styles), P for ponder (ponder what you hear and feel before you speak), E for examine (examine your own assumptions and perceptions), C for confidentiality (keep confidentiality), and T for trust (trust others to speak and listen with integrity).
Yee asked the gathering three questions: What norms, or values, should govern the gathering? What are the best ways to learn about right relationships? What are some of the possible topics, themes and ideas that you want to know more about?
She invited attendees to share stories about their journey with Indigenous people.
It was at this stage Yee introduced the Seven Grandfather Teachings.
“They are moral stepping stones,” she said. “Stories are attached to each word.”
The gathering learned the significance of the seven words in Indigenous culture, and how each one is represented by an animal.
Humility is represented by the wolf; this teaching makes clear you are a sacred part of creation, and allows you to carry your pride with your people;
Courage is represented by the bear; this teaching underlines the importance of having a conviction based on your decisions and helps you find your inner strength to face your fears and live your life free;
Honesty is represented by the raven; the teaching focuses on us knowing and accepting who we are and not trying to be someone we are not;
Wisdom is represented by the beaver; this teaching allows you to use your inherited gifts wisely and recognize your differences and those of others in a respectful way;
Truth is represented by the turtle; this teaching allows you to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to being complete persons, and that although the journey may be slow, people need to keep move forward;
Respect is represented by the buffalo; this teaching will focus on treating those around you the way you want to be treated, and to share and give away what we do not need;
Love is represented by the eagle; love is at the core of all teaching. The focus is on having peace with yourself, balance in life, and acceptance of all things and graciousness with the creator.
It was agreed that members of the gathering will be sent reading material related to truth and reconciliation and right relationships. At the next gathering, they will discuss what they learned during the week, and what they learned about themselves.
Afterwards, Yee drew encouragement from the second gathering.
“I am very hopeful that the people that are here want to be here, and they are contributing lots to the conversation,” she said. “So, I am very hopeful and grateful that they are contributing.”
The next gathering will be on Wednesday, November 23, at St. Mary’s Anglican Parish Hall, starting at 7pm. Everyone is welcome.