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Outward Bound

Wednesday is a special day at CYM. That’s when Friends are invited to help with a local service project and then partake of the simple evening meal, with the cafeteria’s savings on the meal going to a local charity, usually the charity organizing the service project.

This year we got a chance to take part in a Battle River watershed project designed to alert the public to the need to keep hazardous waste out of storm drains and hence out of the river. The Battle River was apparently the scene of many a battle between the Blackfoot and the Cree in past centuries.

As an alternative, thanks to Canadian Friends Service Committee, Friends had the opportunity to visit Maskwacis, a 45 minute drive from Camrose. The community, with a total population of 13,000, consists of four First Nations. We visited the Samson and Montana First Nations.

We parked “downtown” within sight of the pawn shop, Lucky Dollar Food store and the bingo hall, and then entered the Samson Cree Nation Administration Building, where we exchanged introductions.

Jennifer Preston, of Canadian Friends Service Committee, gives tobacco to Chief Kurt Buffalo.

We visitors were presented with some information sheets and a gift of braided sweet grass. When you are united like a braid, you are strong, we were told.

 In contrast to the warm welcome was the grief evident in the community: a long hug given to a woman who had just lost her husband, the wake going on for a youth who had died by suicide… To strengthen their sense of identity and reconnect with their past community leaders are encouraging a revival of the Maskwacis Cree language. In the local museum, where we were reminded of the near-extermination of the buffalo in the late 1800s and consequent threat to the Plains Indian way of life, we were shown an app to teach the local language, developed with the help of our guide.

Brian Lightning demonstrates a Maskwacis Cree language learning app that is in development. One is already available for download, the other will be available soon.

 

Unemployment is high in the community and the Band Council is a major employer. The literature we were given soberly stated: “Death by suicide has reached epidemic proportions within the Maskwacis community. The rate of suicide for aboriginals is 2.1 times greater than the national average.” As many children are in care, the community is creating an agency to try to reintegrate some of those in foster homes.

After the museum visit, we drove to the Montana First Nation, which is accessed by an extremely rutted gravel road. The first person we saw was a young man in a black T-shirt with the words “solar training” on the back. Our guide led us up to the roof of the long building containing a gym, where we were shown six rows of solar panels. These low-maintenance panels have halved electricity costs. A federal grant was obtained for their construction and now, with a new Alberta government, the province has chipped in. This is not just an environmentally friendly job-creation project, but also a training strategy. It is the biggest First Nations solar project in Western Canada and justifiably a source of great pride to the 1000-strong Montana First Nation.

Montana Cree Nation Green Energy Solar Power Project, explained by Councilor Brad Rabbit. The project has greatly reduced the Montana Cree Administration Building’s energy bill and has employed about 20 community members, some as trainers for others wishing to do solar projects.

Our hosts had yet more visits in store for us. Once we were reunited with a carload of Friends who had gone astray on the way back from Montana First Nation, some of us indulged in tea and bannock, while others hastened back to campus – one driver picking up a speed ticket on the way – where the cafeteria were eager to serve us our simple supper and quit for the day.

High school of the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

 

Although not a typical service project, the visit to Maskwacis was an eye opener to us all. Several community members commented that they were rarely visited and remarked on the distorted perceptions about them circulated in the general public. A big thank you to CFSC for organizing this educational tour and to our First Nations hosts for opening up to us about their problems and their achievements.

In Friendship,

Sheila Havard

Coldstream Monthly Meeting

Posted in: Quaker Blog, Quaker Stories

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Thankfulness and Celebration Usher in CYM 2016

With a song of gratitude in his native tongue, Elder Rick Lightning welcomed us to Treaty Six Cree territory. We were gathered in Wahkohtowin Lodge at Augustana University in Camrose, Alberta. This Cree word refers to creating kinship with the natural world. So it is fitting that Elder Rick deplored the accelerating destruction of Mother Earth and the consequent violation of Aboriginal rights. The Cree who signed Treaty Six in the late 1800s understood that the treaty would allow the settlers to use the top six inches of soil, in other words plow and farm the land, whereas mineral exploitation nowadays pollutes to a much deeper depth. Pointing to the children in our midst and referring to his own grandchildren, Elder Rick stressed that it was they who would bear the brunt of environmental destruction.

Elder Rick Lightning welcomes Friends to Treaty 6 Territory. Camrose, AB.

Elder Rick Lightning welcomes Friends to Treaty 6 Territory. Camrose, AB.

When the treaties were signed, cultural misunderstandings were rife, and there was a gulf between the expectations of the two parties to these legal documents. The new arrivals understood the Indians to have many gods as they appeared to be worshiping rocks, trees and the like, whereas they were actually giving thanks to one deity, the Creator.

Briefly, and without bitterness, Elder Rick reminded us of past injustices inflicted on the Cree and on Aboriginal peoples in general. Both his parents went through residential school. Under the Indian Act, native languages and ceremonies were suppressed, depriving the Indian peoples of their own culture. But what touched me most in his welcoming address was that he did not dwell on this painful past. “Let it go,” he said. “Don’t hang on to it.” In other words, his message was that relationship building in the here and now is what counts.

This theme of moving forward by relationship building was continued on Monday at a Special Interest Group showing of the movie Elder in the Making: Treaty Seven. This road trip documentary of reconciliation, set in stunningly beautiful Alberta landscapes, traces the history of the area from an Aboriginal perspective and centres on a Blackfoot whose ancestors lived there for thousands of years and who feels disconnected from the place he calls home. It is a profoundly moving film.

In friendship,

Sheila Havard.

Posted in: CYM, CYM 2016, News, Quaker Blog, Quaker Stories

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Epistle from CYM 2015

EPISTLE 2015, August 22, 2015

Loving Greetings to Friends everywhere,
Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends met for the 182nd annual gathering of Quakers in Canada, our 60th as a united Meeting, for the first time on the beautiful campus of the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown. We came knowing that we had many challenging discussions to have and decisions to make.
The pre-gathering retreat, Nurturing Joy in our Meetings, was led by Lesley Read of New Brunswick Monthly Meeting and grew out of silence. Participants moved into small group work and consideration of joy in all facets of our lives.
On Saturday Friends gathered from all across Canada and celebrated community together in the evening. We were welcomed to the traditional Mi’kmaq territory of Abegweit by Indigenous Elder Judy Clark.
On Sunday afternoon, we celebrated the lives of those who died in the last year. That evening we heard the Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, titled Decolonizing Land and Soul: A Quaker Testimony, presented by Alastair McIntosh, Scottish Quaker and activist of Glasgow Area Meeting of Britain Yearly Meeting, whose words were challenging, humorous and thought-provoking. He continued his themes with workshops during the week. The lecture was followed by the traditional ‘cakenight’ in celebration of our beloved Archivist, Jane Zavitz-Bond, who is moving toward release from her long service.
Deborah Fisch of Friends General Conference and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) led us in Quaker Study titled The Joy of Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, with depth and humour. We began our regular week of activities, with Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business, as our Quaker Studies leader has reminded us to call it. An important session took the form of an extended Meeting for Worship with attention to the future of Quakerism in Canada, and the future of our Canadian Yearly Meeting’s functions. We proposed major changes to our structure. We are anticipating a fallow year in 2017 during which we will not meet as Canadian Yearly Meeting in session. We were tested, being unable to reach unity in this matter about which many felt deeply. We remain committed to seeking the spiritually rich and financially-sustainable Yearly Meeting we desire. We learned with sadness of the laying-down of Simcoe-Muskoka Monthly Meeting in Orillia, Ontario, and welcomed with joy the birth of Cowichan Valley Monthly Meeting on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Afternoon programs consisted of worship groups, followed by a wide selection of Special Interest Groups. One afternoon, we took part in community service projects proposed by our hosts, Prince Edward Island Worship Group: labouring in a nearby community garden and tree planting in a river watershed. Funds saved by a simple supper were donated to the university food bank. The week continued hot and humid, and many Friends enjoyed the glory of God’s Creation in salt water on nearby beaches.
Our evenings were filled with interesting activities. “The Experience of the Spirit in my Life”, an annual opportunity for Friends to share spiritual journeys was moving, with Friends sharing sometimes unusual experiences. There was a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered-Queer (LGBTQ) sponsored film presentation, entitled My Prairie Home, and discussion. Another evening, we were led in considering communication and outreach in times of changing technology, finances and demographics.
Our youth numbers were small but Young Friends particularly loved the sun and activities of Canada’s smallest Province situated on an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Because the group consisted almost entirely of Young Adult Friends, youth joined in on much of the adult programming, including attending Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business meetings, Quaker study, worship groups, Special Interest Groups, and evening activities. Youth-specific activities involved Canadian Young Friends Yearly Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, excursions to beaches, late-night brownie baking, a dance, to which we joyfully welcomed older Friends as well, and drawing games. Some Young Friends and Young Adult Friends also enjoyed volunteering with the Children’s Program.
On our last evening together we enjoyed the various gifts and talents of many Friends young and old during our annual family night. The ministries of music, dance, and laughter nourishes us as we prepare to leave this blessed community.
We are grateful for the setting here but recall the unusually severe wildfires in western Canada and the dangers these pose to Western Friends and to Mother Nature. We urge Friends to work ceaselessly, including with faith-based groups around the world, to mitigate and adapt to the challenges posed by changes to Earth’s climate.
Although it was a week spent in serious work and in considering and making decisions, it was also a week during which Joy was a recurrent theme. We approach the coming year spiritually refreshed and full of hope and expectation.
Elaine Bishop
Presiding Clerk

Epistle CYM 2015

Posted in: CYM 2015, Quaker Blog

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2015 Fall Course: “Introduction to Quakers and Friends’ Ways”

Dear Friends:

The Canadian Yearly Meeting Education & Outreach Committee would like to announce its upcoming online workshop “Introduction to Quakers and Friends’ Ways”. The course will be facilitated by Eric Kristensen (Vancouver Monthly Meeting).

The Introduction to Quakers and Friends’ Ways will address the early history of Friends, the history of Friends in Canada, the experiential nature of Quaker faith, the role of the Meeting in Quaker life, Quaker testimonies and their origin, and how our Quaker community nurtures how we live, work, worship, and transact business.

For further information about the workshops and how to register please consult the attached PDF document.

Posted in: Education, Events, News, Quaker Blog

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