What is an ‘outsider’?

A few days ago, an interviewer asked me what I thought of the residential schools, ‘being an “outsider”’. By calling me that, he was referring to me being from the Netherlands and moving to Winnipeg only three months ago. I came here so that my wife, who is from Winnipeg, could be with her family. I had thought of myself as a newcomer, but the term ‘outsider’ had not yet occurred to me. So during the interview I found myself wondering aloud whether or not I was one, and whether or not I could give the interviewer the outside perspective he was looking for.

In one obvious sense, I most definitely am an outsider: I have not experienced the residential schools. I do not know what it is like to be taken from your parents as a child, to be removed from life as you know it and to be raised in a loveless environment by teachers, nuns and priests whose aim is to take away your very identity. It is beyond what I can imagine. The only thing that I can do to learn is to listen to the stories of the survivors. It is their inside perspective and not any outside perspective that needs to be heard.

Over the last two weeks, we received hospitality from several First Nations: the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, the Poundmaker First Nation and the Little Pine Cree Nation. Their Elders entrusted us with the stories of their childhoods in the Residential School system. The stories were heartbreaking. We heard of a family that had five consecutive generations go through residential school, stories of horrible abuse and of trying to find healing. I am deeply grateful to the Elders who shared their stories, as they are profoundly affecting the way I am experiencing the country that surrounds us as we walk.

Taking the word ‘outsider’ in a very different way, I feel that calling myself by this name would be letting myself off the hook way too easily. I am not an outsider to colonialism at all: as a European and as a Christian, I am part of the culture that gave rise to the evil of colonialism. More specifically, my home country has a very bloody colonial history – there is absolutely nothing to be proud of there. So I also have to ask myself the questions that Canadian settlers who aspire to be allies to Indigenous people have to ask: whatever is it in our culture that made us think it was okay to do this, and what steps can we take to overcome that mentality?

The Residential Schools where one dramatic stage in a long history of dispossession; traditions and spirituality were taken away from Indigenous peoples as well as the land and its resources. Now that we’ve entered Alberta, the oil storage tanks that surround us serve as constant reminders that the colonial project has not stopped; it is still going on, at a great cost to the Earth.

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Having moved to Canada, I am now also making use of resources that were taken from this land. I am now also receiving many of the privileges that come with being a white settler in this country. Thus, the history of oppression and colonization in this land is becoming a history that I share. Even as a newcomer, I have a responsibility to learn and to take steps that might lead to healing. In this sense, I am not an outsider anymore.

– written by Laurens Thiessen van Esch (Walker)

March 14 – Little Pine First Nation and Poundmaker Cree Nation

 

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Christine and Sekwun joining the walk from Poundmaker to Little Pine (Below)

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Walkers traveling from Poundmaker Cree Nation to Little Pine First Nation are greeted with a drum circle.

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A ceremony and community banquet for residential school survivors and the walkers held at Chief Little Pine School.

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It was a gift to be invited to share a meal, partake in a round-dance, and witness the strengths of these two communities.

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Deep thanks to all those who shared their stories with us.

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Also a special thank-you to Reilly and Sekwun for coordinating the community gathering and hosting us overnight.

 

Honour Walk Photos – Day Two to Six

The first week of our walk was an opportunity to encounter the beauty of the prairies as we walked the quiet country roads with rollings hills.  Abandoned settler homes and churches from the not so distant past dotted the landscape. Despite the chilly weather weeks prior, the first days of our walk came with above seasonal temperatures. For the group of walkers, this week was an opportunity to have some fun together. It was also an opportunity to quiet ourselves with the land as we reflected on the opening stories of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and Stoney Knoll.

– Ann, Brad (Walkers)

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March 8th – Stoney Knoll Story and the Day of Departure

In Laird, Saskatchewan, representatives of local Indigenous, Lutheran and Mennonite communities welcomed the walkers to St. John Lutheran church to share about their mutual history and their efforts to heal wrongs of the past.

In the 1880s, the land of the Young Chippewayan First Nation was sold out from underneath their feet to Mennonite settlers. At a later point, Lutheran settlers moved in as well. The Young Chippewayan First Nation became a landless band and eventually its members were scattered. In the 1980s, two of their descendants initiated conversations with the settler communities – stating they did not intend to take the land back from the settlers, but that they just wanted to meet them. After a historic gathering, the group signed a memorandum that would mark an ongoing relationship and a commitment to working for land justice.

Since then, the three communities have worked together towards land compensation beginning with a genealogy of the Young Chippewayan First Nation.

After listening to these stories, the walkers left for Stoney Knoll on the outskirts of Laird. This remains a place of worship for the Young Chippewayan First Nation. Later, it became the site of the Lutheran church building, which was eventually moved into Laird. From this place, members of all three communities accompanied the walkers as they took the first steps on their journey to the TRC National Event in Edmonton.

Laurens Thiessen van Esch (Walker)

 

St. John Lutheran Church 

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STONEY KNOLL

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Stoney Knoll Trailer

March 7th – Muskeg Lake Survivors Gathering – Saskatoon

On Friday, March 7th, the group of walkers and some members from Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan were invited to a closed family gathering on Residential Schools by the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. It was a privilege to be included in this circle and to begin our journey by hearing first-hand stories from those who been through the residential school system and continue to live with the impacts of these schools on their lives and their community. The government-run, church-sponsored schools were responsible for horrible abuses that have brought many challenges to Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. Over the course of this day our group witnessed a profound sense of vulnerability and resilience from the Muskeg Lake community. We were deeply moved by their humour, creativity and courage. This was an important way to begin our journey and we are deeply grateful for their invitation to be part of this gathering. Thank you Muskeg Lake.

Brad L

(Walker)

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Winnipeg Send-off – Thursday, March 6th

It was a cold and snowy start to our 6km send-off that began at Canadian Mennonite University. After a prayer and commission, we began a local walk with a group of 15 students joined by a professor and a few others community members. We were very appreciative of this act of solidarity with the walkers and to honour the stories of residential school survivors. When we reached the edge of the city at the perimeter highway, the group parted ways with a blessing and goodbye. A number of the students who joined for the 6km walk will meet back up with us four walkers in Edmonton to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event held on March
27-30th.

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Honour Walk

On March 8th, 2014, a few walkers will take a 500KM trek from Stoney Knoll Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta to honour the stories of Residential School Survivors. This blog will be an opportunity for walkers to publicly journal about their learning’s and experiences.