By Karin Fehderau
He believes there has been a positive start to the process of helping the First Nation community get compensation for the land. "If we respect one another, we can work this thing out," he said.
Mennonites in Saskatchewan are working to deal with issues stemming from relationships between Mennonite settlers of the late 1800’s and those of First Nation origins.
When Mennonite Church Saskatchewan delegates met for their annual sessions last March, they were introduced to a new initiative put forward by the area church executive, moderator Renata Klassen. In order to prepare for a Truth and Reconciliation session taking place in Saskatchewan in 2012, Renata suggested that the area church could spend 2011 becoming more familiar with, and knowledgeable about, First Nation issues within the province.
Thus began the journey called "Walking the Path to Truth and Reconciliation." To facilitate this, MC Saskatchewan has been informing its congregations about upcoming events that inform and teach, and those that bring both sides together.
One event held on Aug. 23, the “Stony Knoll gathering” was a commemoration of an original Treaty signing. Earlier, in 2006, a cooperative effort between the Mennonite, Lutheran and Young Chippewayan communities signed a memorandum of understanding to support the Young Chippewayan First Nation's effort to gain compensation for its land that had been taken away from their forebears and given to Mennonite settlers in the late 1800s.
This year, several groups merged together to participate in the event.
"There was an interesting blend of people there," said Leonard Doell, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Saskatchewan staff member, who attended along with others from the organization. A group of Young Chippewayan men also came, as did supportive MC Saskatchewan members. A traditional aboriginal feast was served at lunch and a sausage-and-bun Mennonite meal wrapped up the day at supper.
"We need to keep nurturing this conversation. It doesn't happen on its own," said Chief Ben Weenie of the Young Chippewayan First Nation.
Wilmer Froese, a farmer and former pastor of Laird Mennonite Church, situated close by, owns land in the area. He believes there has been a positive start to the process of helping the First Nation community get compensation for the land. "If we respect one another, we can work this thing out," he said.
"Their grievance is with the government," Froese noted. While MC Saskatchewan has agreed to help raise money to aid the process, Froese pointed out that, "you have to get the support of a large part of the community" to make an impact.
For her part, Klassen felt very positive about the day. "First Nations people are very friendly and outgoing," she said. Each one of these [events] is a step in a longer journey."
By Karin Fehderau
Saskatchewan Correspondent for Canadian Mennonite.
Reprinted from Canadian Mennonite, Vol 15, No. 21. Oct. 31, 2011. Used by permission. www.CanadianMennonite.org