This past summer, MCC partnered with the Woodland Cultural Centre and Mennonite Disaster Service to create a unique opportunity for youth volunteers to learn, work, and wrestle with the legacy of residential schools and colonialism. The Woodland Cultural Centre is a museum dedicated to, among many things, showcasing the rich Haudenosaunee civilizations of the Great Lakes area and educating on the legacy of residential schools in Canada.
The former Mohawk Institute Residential School photo: Ken Ogasawara
Four youth groups (three from Ontario and one from British Columbia) each spent a week at the site of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in First Nations, Ontario. Youth and their leaders were taught by Indigenous staff at the Woodland Cultural Centre about the history and cultures of the Indigenous peoples in Ontario, listened to stories from residential school survivors, and were challenged to confront their own complicity in colonialism, which continues to this day. The groups also worked on construction projects including renovating a long house, building period based benches, tables, and desks for the museum, and moving in a library full of Indigenous literature and history.
But there was learning from both sides of the partnership.
Here is an excerpt from a wonderful letter we received from one of the staff at the Woodland Cultural Centre after the project had finished:
“The learning and cultural exchange was not one-sided. I greatly admire how each of you put your beliefs into practice, and publicly express your faith through your acts of service, inclusion, and human kindness while still being "real people" with relatable challenges, weaknesses, and humour.”
“One of the main mantras in our traditions is ‘Our culture is sharing….’As Haudenosaunee [people], we are taught to be the givers. I mentioned quite often to my fellow staff that I felt like a ‘taker’ with your groups. The great lesson I learned from this [project] is that sharing involves both giving and taking as an exchange of equals. The impression I had was that ‘taking’ somehow made you lesser. Yet my epiphany was that ‘taking’ actually makes you equal and more able to completely give.
And she adds: “I just wanted you all to know the profound realigning going on in my mind.”
This collaboration was one of mutual learning, relationship building, and a small but powerful step toward meaningful reconciliation.
We are so grateful for the support of churches, donors, and especially to the Woodland Cultural Centre for hosting us and for helping to create this life-changing opportunity.
Woodland Cultural Centre - The Woodland Cultural Centre was established in October 1972, upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. The purpose of the Centre includes the preservation and interpretation of the original residential school site, as well as showcase the rich Haudenosaunee civilizations of the Great Lakes area and contemporary indigenous artistic practices. The WCC offers unique programming including school visits, special events, workshops, performances, historic and contemporary exhibitions, an active language program, a library and an archive.
Save The Evidence - Save the Evidence is an ongoing $25 million campaign to restore the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, and to develop the building into an Interpreted Historic Site and Educational Resource. The final goal is to create a fully-realized Interpretive Centre that will be the definitive destination for information about the history of Residential Schools in Canada, the experiences of Survivors of the schools, and the impact that the Residential School system has had on our communities.
The Mohawk Institute building itself is one of only a handful of Residential School buildings left standing in Canada; one of only two in Ontario, and the only one which has offered guided tours of the space until its closure for repairs.