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South Africa experience sparks interest in Canada’s Indigenous Peoples
HEPBURN, Sask. – A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) summer learning tour has inspired a second year student at Bethany College here to learn more about the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Spencer Nikkel of Lundar, Man., was one of five young adults to participate in Simunye, an annual four-week summer tour organized by MCC Saskatchewan, MCC Alberta and MCC Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa. Simunye is a Zulu word meaning ‘we are one’.
Although historic racial divides and mistrust still exist in post-apartheid South Africa, Nikkel said he had met people--involved in churches and other groups--who are bringing about understanding and reconciliation by creating opportunities for people to get to know each other.
“There needs to be personal reconciliation”, he said. “The next step in the truth and reconciliation process is to build personal relationships. It is all about sharing stories and taking time to get to know each other.”
Nikkel was reminded of these learning’s when he and other students from Bethany College spent eight days in the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation community north of Saskatoon in September.
As he learned to set up a teepee and listened to the elders share stories of their culture and history, he realized how little he knew about the injustices experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Nikkel said he was especially moved when the elders talked about the long-lasting effects of being forcibly removed from their families as young children to live in residential schools.
“They said they had never learned from their parents how to be parents because they were taken away from their parents when they six years old,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about that before. I grew up near a First Nation community in Manitoba but this had never crossed my mind.
“It made me realize that we need to look at each other as individuals and ask questions to help us understand why people are who they are. All of us have been shaped by our circumstances. Truth and reconciliation comes about with hearing each other’s stories.”
The 2011 summer service trip included three days of orientation in Johannesburg, a visit to a village in Swaziland and volunteering with MCC’s partner organizations.
"Simunye gives participants the opportunity to visit a country that has been through a truth and reconciliation commission process and, although is still in need of a lot of healing, has given the international community wisdom in sharing its journey towards reconciliation,” said Myriam Ullah, MCC Saskatchewan community engagement coordinator.
Learn more by visiting mccsk.ca/simunye