For a week in the middle of July, a Christian Reformed Church contingent of four—church members Israel Cooper and Thea deGroot and CRC staff Bernadette Arthur and Shannon Perez—participated in the fourth annual Reconciliation Trip to the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation, a fly-in community in northwestern Ontario roughly 200 km (124 miles) from the Ontario-Manitoba border. The experience was the initial piece in a Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation Program designed by Arthur and Perez for the Canadian Ministries’ Office of Social Justice and Race Relations.
4 Seasons of Reconciliation organizes the trips as a partnership between the youth of KI and a southern Ontario organization.
“I’ve been looking for experiential ways to share information and for people to consider reconciliation. In my search for that, I found out about the [KI] trip,” said Arthur. “I connected with Shannon [who serves on the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee] . . . and then we talked about not just going on a trip and kind of feeling warm and fuzzy, but coming back and actually applying what was learned.”
The program Arthur and Perez developed would see young adults in CRC communities volunteer to become ambassadors of reconciliation, beginning with this visit to a First Nation community and continuing with the creation of a context-specific Reconciliation Action Plan.
For 2016, they had about a dozen inquiries but in the end, only Cooper, a member of Meadowvale CRC in Mississauga, Ont., participated. DeGroot, a senior citizen member of Redeemer CRC in Sarnia, Ont., also went along as an active justice seeker to be an advocate for the program.
“Some of the lessons I learned [on the trip] have made me more empowered in how I can change,” Cooper said. “Sometimes here we are prevented or stalled in making changes because it’s not logical at the moment or you have to think about it so much. But maybe if you just focus on what you have in your heart and what you feel God is pulling you toward, it might be easier to change.”
Cooper will take that new outlook and other lessons learned into account as she develops a plan to continue relationships already begun between Meadowvale CRC and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.
This year’s Reconciliation Trip included 27 people, including John Tory, mayor of Toronto, Ont., Participants spent time in the homes and the lives of the people of KI between July 14 and 21. Activities included treaty education, drum making, an infrastructure tour, and a fishing derby. The group also screened the film 3rd World Canada, telling the story of one KI family in the aftermath of three suicides.
“I went in with book knowledge but now that there are faces I can put to it, just makes it more real. And maybe because it’s more real for me, it will be easier to share than before,” Cooper said.