Sharing life together here on earth
MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Participants in Mamawe Ota Askihk – Sharing Life Together Here on Earth learn how to make a salve with locally sourced plants.

BEAUSEJOUR, Manitoba – For many of the people who took part in a week of learning and sharing about the bounty of the land, it was also a week of beginning to heal what’s broken.

Mamawe Ota Askihk – Sharing Life Together Here on Earth was held at the Sandy-Salteaux Spiritual Centre in Beausejour from August 20 to 24 and partly sponsored by MCC Manitoba’s Indigenous Neighbours program. The gathering included hands-on learning about growing, harvesting and preparing medicines and foods from the land. 

Young women sew beads onto moccasins.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

MCC Manitoba helped sponsor the gathering, along with the United Church of Canada’s Justice and Reconciliation fund.  According to Kerry Saner-Harvey, who coordinates MCC Manitoba’s Indigenous Neighbours program, it was important for MCC to support the gathering because it is in line with MCC’s priorities.

“It’s a practical hands-on week, but it’s also about relationship-building. It’s an opportunity for settlers and Indigenous people to share about sustainable food production and learn together about the land,” he says.

Audra Wesley, who is Cree from Winnipeg, hadn’t intended on participating in the activities because she was there to chaperone the youth, but she was able to take part in the events and learn a lot from the experience.

Audra Wesley (in the dark sweatshirt) helps glue cedar pieces together to build a powwow-sized drum.MCC photo/Kerry Saner-Harvey

“It was really amazing to get some hands-on experience. I had never scraped a hide before, for example,” she says. 

Wesley says that’s because of pressures for Indigenous people to assimilate, move to urban centres and give up the traditional way of life.

“My mom (Cree from Lac la Biche, Alberta) used to do that kind of stuff in her day and age. When I came to be they weren’t living that way anymore,” she says.

The week was intended for both Indigenous and non-indigenous people to come together to take part in activities like preparing animal hides, making drums and moccasins, preparing foods from home-grown vegetables and collecting herbs and plants from the forest.

For Hyun Heo, who was sent by his church, Kipling United Church in Saskatchewan, taking part in the gathering was an effort to live out the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Hyun Heo (in black cap and white shirt) helps stretch a recently cleaned deer hide as it dries in the sun.MCC photo/Kerry Saner-Harvey

“I’ve lived in Saskatchewan for one year and I heard about the Indigenous community (in the area), but I don’t see any relationship between our church and the reserve even though we live together very closely,” he explains.

Heo adds: “I don’t have the answers I need yet, but I’m thinking what can I do for my church and community. How can I develop the relationship between the church and Indigenous community?”

Part of the purpose of the gathering was to engage children, youth and young adults in ceremonies and traditional ways of living to make sure these values and skills aren’t lost. 

Tomena Thompson holds a salve she learned to make at the gathering.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

For nine-year-old Tomena Thompson, who is Métis from Winnipeg, spending the week at the spiritual centre was a great learning experience to help reach her goals.

“I came to this gathering because I wanted to learn different things and also I’m the next one up in line to be another healer like my grandma,” she explains. 

She hopes to one day use traditional medicines made from locally sourced herbs and plants to improve the health of Indigenous people around Manitoba. 

“Maybe I can fly to somewhere in a plane and help other people in different Indigenous communities. That’s my dream,” Thompson says.

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