At a recent dinner party, Ukrainian-Canadian author Myrna Kostash told a story. My food grew cold as I listened to her describe a unique afternoon she had organized with Sharon Pasula, a Métis cultural and spiritual resource person.
The story was about a celebration in an Edmonton church. The name of the event describes its intent: Renewing Friendship: Zemlya/Nanaskomun: Give Thanks for the Land. An Aboriginal/Ukrainian-Canadian Ceremonial Exchange of Gifts.
It was the gifts that brought tears to my eyes. The participants exchanged dances. If ever you have seen Ukrainian boys leap or the brilliant Prairie Chicken dance, you will know that this exchange would have been beautiful.
The second exchange was story and song. Ukrainian descendants sang traditional and new songs about homes they’d left and the ones they were building. Cree elder Leona Carter retold history from her people’s viewpoint.
The third exchange was of handwoven sashes, prominent in traditional dress in both societies. Anna Marie Sewell, the City of Edmonton’s poet laureate and herself a Métis, offered a closing blessing. Over a feast, participants continued telling stories. To see a slide show of the event, please visit Myrna Kostash’s website.
On Dec. 13, there was a forgiveness ceremony for the George McDougall family at McDougall United in Edmonton. The McDougall name is well known by United Church people; he and his son John were early missionaries, raising families in Alberta and starting missions, orphanages and schools. But well-intentioned, ignorant George McDougall did something else that’s left a legacy of pain.
He learned about the Manitou Stone, a sacred meteor near present-day Hardisty, Alta. People came from all over the Prairies for ceremonies and prayer at the site. McDougall reasoned that Aboriginals would be more open to Christianity if he removed the Manitou Stone. He stole it away, then sent it to Victoria College in Toronto, where it stayed for about 100 years. (Today it is housed at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.)
McDougall likely didn’t know of the elders’ prophecy about the stone, but the First Nations people did. If they didn’t hold ceremonies at the Manitou Stone, there would be famine, war and disease. After its removal, there followed a deadly smallpox epidemic, which took McDougall children. A war erupted between Cree and Blackfoot. And because the buffalo had all but disappeared, there was famine. A footnote to this story is that George McDougall became disoriented while hunting buffalo. He died alone on the windswept prairie just north of Fort Calgary in 1876.
Anna Faulds of Cold Lake First Nation says, “The stone was a trophy to him for his struggle to tame the people. He placed it on his front lawn facedown, with its mouth buried; another disrespect toward the sacred stone.” Faulds says she had a vision while performing a healing ceremony. “Before the Manitou Stone can be returned to the people, it must be cleared of all negative energy.”
And so 30 people gathered for the ceremony at the church, led by Blackfoot Duane Good Striker, Cree elder Beverly Crier and Mervin Grandbois of the Dene Suline nation. To begin, United Church members read the church’s 1986 Apology to First Nations Peoples, which ends by asking for forgiveness. Rev. Cecile Fausak later reflected, “This was another amazing story of grace exhibited by First Nations peoples.”
“The stone will be a symbol for all people now; a facilitator of healing among these people to bring balance back to the Sacred Circle we all belong to,” Faulds says.
Today, another story is unfolding across the country as people rally behind Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike near Parliament Hill. She wants to meet with the prime minister and governor general to discuss ongoing treaty violations. I pray that this story will have an honourable ending for us all and make Canada’s 2008 apology to First Nations meaningful.
Blessings of the New Year.
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