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Elmira church event to explore First Nation issues of truth and reconciliation

The treatment of First Nations children in residential schools and their families has dominated the headlines across Canada over the past year, detailing abuses perpetrated by the Canadian government.

There was a commission put together to investigate the injustices against those who were taken from their families, never to see them again. Now, Gale Presbyterian Church in Elmira has invited some of those involved in the investigation to share what they learned for what it calls its First Nations Sunday.

On Sept. 25, Bob Brown, a member of the team who documented the stories from First Nations people and their experiences in residential schools, and Truth and Reconciliation student Kelly Laurila will be in Elmira to talk to churchgoers and residents about what he heard. The event is open to anyone who wants to come listen. The theme of the event is “Widening the Circle.”

Kees Vandermay is the chair of the Life and Mission team at the church, and is one of the organizers of the event. He says it is important to hear about other people’s experiences from times gone by and show support to the communities that were affected by the government’s actions.

“I think that the time has come to talk about it, quite frankly, and at first, we were all shocked but I think that we are more receptive today. I think there is a greater understanding in the public eye that yes, things went wrong and it was a political thing. It is time to stand with them,” he said.

The event is unique, with the subject matter coming from an outside voice.

“I think it is important, especially this service, because it isn’t coming from the church’s perspective. This is being done by our First Nations people,” said Vandermay, adding that it is about standing with the First Nations. “I think it will draw us all closer together. Our speaker was writing the stories on the residential schools, and this has been organized together, we took the leadership, but we all worked together on this. It is a group effort.”

The evening talk will also feature First Nations traditions like smudging, the act of burning a bundle of herbs and plants to cleanse the area, and traditional music and stories from the Good Hearted Women Singers (Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak) and Drummers.

“We can learn from that,” said Vandermay. “Their traditions and their faith, they are very strong and we can learn from them.”

The evening includes traditional prayers, songs, tales and an indepth discussion about how everyone can help in the future and to correct the past.

There will also be a morning service at the church, where Lew Ford, a member of the PCC Truth and Reconciliation Committee will share their experience with residential schools and the aftermath.

The evening event will be held in the church gym on Sept. 25 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. All are welcome.

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