Join Kyle Rudge and Keepers of the Forest, Val Vint, Lee Anne Block and Kerry Saner-Harvey for a commemorative conversation about the Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest. This space is a place to reflect and learn about the history of residential schools and work towards right relationship, truth and reconciliation.
Following the confirmation of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops, B.C. MCC has issued a statement.
Kapabamayak Achaak, which means “Wandering Spirit” was gifted by Elder Peetanacoot Nenakawekapo. Visit the forest's Facebook page to learn more here.
Please note: As of July, Threads will air on the first Sunday of the month instead of the fourth. The following episode will air on July 4.
Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month. Visit mccmb.ca/threads to hear more podcasts from MCC Manitoba.
Kyle Rudge 0:00
[MUSIC] It begins with a single thread, woven through another thread and then another, and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another just like it. [MUSIC]
This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.
Kerry Saner-Harvey 0:51
This last month 215 unmarked graves of children were confirmed near the former residential school site in Kamloops, BC.
Kyle Rudge 1:01
That's Kerry Saner-Harvey. He works with MCC Manitoba as the Indigenous Neighbors program coordinator.
Kerry Saner-Harvey 1:07
In the days that followed more has been uncovered and over the next several years there will be still more. Mennonite Central Committee like many others put out a statement expressing our sadness. It reads in part, MCC laments the loss of these young lives. We acknowledge the deep grief this revelation causes all Indigenous peoples, especially survivors and intergenerational survivors of residential schools. It also notes as settlers who became part of the mainstream of society, Mennonites benefited directly or indirectly at the expense of Indigenous peoples, and the prejudices that gave rise to the residential schools. And we commit to walking alongside Indigenous sisters and brothers seeking justice.
Kyle Rudge 1:55
Our original plan for this episode was to speak about the Indigenous people of Canada and the history of residential schools. We recorded these interviews in May before the tragic announcement of the 215 unmarked child graves identified in Kamloops. Needless to say that confirmation has radically changed the context with which we provide this episode.
Kerry Saner-Harvey 2:15
And as part of this role, I became involved with what we now call the Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest back around 2017 or so fairly soon after the founders like Lee Anne, started talking about it and then bringing others on board. And being a community grassroots initiative, one that was responding to the TRC calls to action, it was a good fit for us and allowed us to expand our relationships. MCC's involvement has included some initial funding in its early stages. But mostly it's been my continuing as a member of the working group and which was what we now call the Keepers of the Forest and watching it emerge.
Kyle Rudge 2:54
I was invited to come and tour the Healing Forest, learn more of its history, it's art and it's purpose.
Val Vint 3:02
I'm Val Vint. I'm part of the Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest group, and we're just working towards trying to help with truth and reconciliation, because it's kind of something that everybody has to participate in.
Kyle Rudge 3:19
To set the scene a little from where we sat in the Healing Forest about 100 meters North was the graveyard that surrounds St. John's Anglican Church. In the distance were some slowly dark moving clouds, but for the duration of my visit, the sky remained primarily clear and bright. Val sat opposite me with her little dog, a papillon, who would sometimes wander off or make her voice heard during our time.
Lee Anne Block 3:44
I'm Lee Anne Block. And I've been involved since 2017, I guess. Together with Deb Brady, we just heard about the Healing Forest, the National Healing Forest and thought maybe something could happen in Winnipeg, and got together with a lot of community people, both Indigenous and non indigenous community people, including Val and then we...
Kyle Rudge 4:09
[Lee Anne continues talking inaudibly in the background] It must have been quite the sight. A nearly 40-year-old religiously Mennonite man and two grandmothers, one of Indigenous descent and the other Jewish, speaking about the atrocities of our nation's past and finding peace in this holy place. The space where we were seated was a circle framed by these massive logs that we sat on as we spoke.
Lee Anne Block 4:34
It could be what we wanted it to because it was what we wanted it to be. It wasn't any one person's idea of what a memorial to children lost to the residential school system should be. It really emerged from a lot of deep and some very difficult conversations amongst us
Val Vint 4:52
In in Indigenous culture, everything is in a circle. You know the seasons come in a circle the the morning, the afternoon, the evening, the night that's all in a circle. The birds build their nests in circles, we live in circles they are, a circle is welcoming. And a circle also eliminates hierarchy. Because everybody's front row center.
Kyle Rudge 5:17
The circle extended, and several very large stones sat at each of the four directions. This idea of a circle extended even into the overseeing organization of the forest as well, have a hierarchal structure as we would often do with a chair, the board, CEO, presidents etc. was not in line with Indigenous culture. And in both Val and Lee Anne's words, colonial. Instead, they call themselves the Keepers of the Forest.
Val Vint 5:47
That's really nice, because really a circle. When we talk about a circle in the culture, it's not really a circle. It's a you're looking at it like the plain view, right?
Kyle Rudge 5:57
Val Vint 5:58
It's actually a spiral. Because that movement doesn't stop. You keep going.
Kyle Rudge 6:02
But I've seen paths coming up. Right?
Val Vint 6:06
From each direction.
Kyle Rudge 6:06
From each direction. Oh, yeah. Is okay. Yeah. Okay. But also these large stones that seem to be carved in, what what are the stones significance and these paths?
Val Vint 6:17
Well they're the, these are the grandmother stones from you know, stone from each direction.
Kyle Rudge 6:22
Forgive me, what is a grandmother stone?
Val Vint 6:25
It's in Indigenous culture. Stones have more value than what you would just think about as stones and stones carry all the stories, all the wisdom of Mother Earth. So it's, it's like Natalie Rostaddejarlais did the, she's a rock painterand has been for 40-50 years. So she looks at the stones and she connects with them. And they they show her the stories that they want her to bring out. And that's that's what and that's how she works. She doesn't go Oh, I'm going to paint this on that rock, she she goes and sits with a rock and and gets its permission to highlight the stories it wishes to share.
Kyle Rudge 7:17
The art on these stones was incredibly subtle, or neat and frankly moving. When Val speaks of how the artists would sit with the stones and let them speak to her you could tell by the art itself. The scenes, the animals, the faces painted on all felt like they were drawn out of the stones and not forced upon them. And then of course, was the name.
Val Vint 7:38
I don't know how that comes other than it comes from the ancestors. Peetanacoot has had that gift for a long time, he's been more immersed in his culture as even as a child, and I was not I had to learn my culture as as an adult. I knew. But yeah, I was at a place I couldn't if I would have claimed my heritage. I may have been beaten to death. So no, it wasn't anything I could speak up as a child. But as an adult, I made it my business to know.
Kyle Rudge 8:14
What is the purpose of it’s space? It was certainly artistic. It certainly had a peace about it, but who comes here? What is their experience?
Lee Anne Block 8:22
You know, when when the school kids come? They've usually had some conversations with their classroom teachers already. And then they come in here into this space. And, and I, we talked about what do you think this, this land was like, you know, 200 years ago, and that's a really long time ago if you're in grade one or two. So we talked about that. And then we talked about who lived here and how settlers came here and and then we can talk about your on when I talk about residential schools. I've used to say, Tell me about your school. What's good about your school, what's not good about your school? I am talking about very young kids right now like K (kindergarten) to three and and and and then say, Well, okay, well do you know they used to be schools there and then I go into or read them a story book about residential schools. There's several good ones. And then we talk about, you know, what those schools did and what happened to the kids and how they couldn't go outside to play. And then we used to go play outside here.
Val Vint 9:21
I think for me as well, it's mostly like let's get outside and look at the gifts we have. And let's utilize those gifts but in utilizing them we all know we also have to take care of them.
Kyle Rudge 9:34
About a week and a half after these interviews, news came to light of the child graves in Kamloops. I had liked the Healing Forest on Facebook in preparation for releasing this episode. And what I got was I started to see what the Healing Forest was doing to the people around it.
Kerry Saner-Harvey 9:52
In the last several weeks there have been so many individuals, both Indigenous and others who have come to the space to commemorate this loss. Many folks are placing tobacco or tying ribbons on trees. One ribbon says we will not forget,it's been really significant to see how the community has already embraced this space as a place to memorialize and hopefully find some rest and solace. Even in its early stages.
Kyle Rudge 10:21
MCC got involved because it's important. Even though we are not directly involved in the colonization of Canada, we've benefited from it. We don't bear the same scars that our Indigenous brothers and sisters do. And this Healing Forest is just one example where open, honest and genuine reconciliation can begin. It won't be magically fixed tomorrow, but the journey is worth it. Because we will all, settlers and Indigenous people alike, will be better for it.
Val Vint 10:50
You take what you need, you don't take what you want. You leave for the future, you leave for others, and you leave for next year.
Lee Anne Block 10:58
I think that connection that Val was talking about, like paying attention to all the living things, and nonliving things that are part of the earth, if if we can relearn it or remember it, teach it to kids who, who who aren't learning it at home or at school, that some kind of balance and some. And and I guess at a social level, if we can, if we can sort of braid together the different cultures that we bring to the table in this space, or in the board room as opposed to the Keepers of the Forest, you know if we can braid those cultures together rather than seeing them in opposition. It's not complicated, right? Like to come together and figure things out without violence and without bias.
Kerry Saner-Harvey 11:58
You know, when we began this project, almost four years ago, I was aware that there were deaths and missing children at residential schools. But it hadn't really hit home for me how pervasive this was, how how so many families to children that they love to simply didn't come home. Not only did families lose their languages and and teachings and livelihoods from the land, they lost, what I as a parent can only describe as the most precious part of themselves. I hadn't fully grasped that. So I can understand how many of us non-Indigenous folks were surprised or even shocked by what was confirmed at Kamloops. But we really shouldn't have been, maybe if we were truly listening to what so many were saying doing during the the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We would have heard that Indigenous families have known this all along and and have carried this with them for generations. And that these unmarked graves, sadly, are all across the country, including Manitoba. That's why this initiative I think is so important. Because we need spaces to go to remember to learn and relearn these stories and be reminded again and again that this isn't just some news flash that we can let fade away from our memory. No, this is our story that we all will need to continue to heal from probably for generations. It's longterm work. And it's hard work because it's about relationship and entails letting down our defenses right so that we can fully grasp how it's affected them and how it's affected us and will take all of us to one degree or another to step into the circle to listen and learn. And hopefully, heal. [MUSIC]
Kyle Rudge 14:06
MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Emily-Ann Doerksen and Allison Zacharias. Thank you to Kerry, Val, and Lee Anne for taking the time and the opportunity to take me through the Healing Forests so we can share the story of the forest, but also be reminded of Canada's story as well. This is MCC Threads. [MUSIC]
Transcribed by https://otter.ai