Celebrating Our Diversity Spirituality Conference
Saturday May 25, 2019
By Debbie Aker, Catechetical Consultant, Diocese of Antigonish
As the last strains of Bach’s Ave Maria, sung by Sr. Dorothy Moore in Mi’kmaq, resonated through the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre; those gathered at the Celebrating Our Diversity Spirituality Conference Closing Mass had much to reflect upon. In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the Diocese, St. Anne, Membertou and St. Marguerite Bourgeoys hosted this Conference on Mi’kmaq Spirituality.
To the sound of drumming, chatting and the soft jingle of the women’s regalia; Elders, Chiefs and Grand Council members entered in the hall in procession. Following the Opening Prayer lead by Yvonne Paul-Meunier and Lawrence Wells Sr., in Mi’kmaq and English, we had our first presentation “We are all Treaty People” by Jamie Battiste. He helped us to make our way through the terminology used to describe Indigenous peoples; stating in Nova Scotia the appropriate and respectful term would be Mi’kmaq.
He played a video on Treaty Education. The video took us through the history of the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia from pre-contact with Europeans to the present with a particularly moving “Blanket Exercise” which provided a visceral demonstration of how over time the Mi’kmaq were denied their land.
We then had a presentation on the Mi’kmaq Creation Story by Stephen Augustine.
We learned of the Giver of Life who made everything; the Sun called Grandfather and the Earth called Mother Earth. How Glooscap, the first person was created from soil, leaves and lightening and peeled off the earth. Glooscap praised the Giver of Life for the earth and its bounty. Through the guidance of an eagle – the messenger, Glooscap is joined to his family. The eagle feather becomes Glooscap’s connection to the Great Spirit. From a rock, the Giver of Life created Glooscap’s Grandmother. She taught him about the animals, the birds, the plants, the trees and the fish. Glooscap and his Grandmother ask the Marten to give up its
life so they might have food, clothing and tools. They give thanks to the Marten for giving its life. Glooscap then meets his nephew by the water side. The Giver of Life created his nephew from sea foam, sand and sweet grass with the gift of seeing into the future. Glooscap meets his mother while sitting by a fire. The Giver of Life created her from a leaf and morning dew. She brought colour to the world and strength and understanding to her children. So that they would continue to survive, to understand one another and to share and rely on each other. The Eagle returns with a message from the Great Spirit asking Glooscap and his Grandmother to go to the spirit world. His Mother and nephew are left behind to keep the fire.
Out of this fire flew seven sparks which landed on the ground and became women and seven more sparks landed on the ground becoming men. These women and men came together to form seven families and these seven families went off in 7sevendifferent directions. The Mi’kmaq people were one of these families. To honour Glooscap’s Grandmother, the Sweat Lodge ceremony was created. To honour Glooscap’s nephew sweet grass is braided and burned. To honour Glooscap’s mother, tobacco is burned.
Following a lunch of Three Sister’s Soup (Squash, Beans and Corn, a traditional recipe) and sandwiches; we had a presentation by Jeff Ward on Mi’kmaq Ceremonies. Jeff wore his regalia during his presentation with its beautiful hand crafted leather and bead-work. He alerted us not to think of his regalia as a costume but rather as the traditional dress of his people. Part of a living culture. He also explained the seven sacred teachings of the Mi’kmaq: Wis- dom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth.
In the last presentation, Sr. Pricilla Solomon shared her Ojibwe upbringing and faith journey. She shared many intimate details of her life and faith. She made the most insightful and beautiful remark which for me captured the ethos of the Conference. She saw herself as having two old testaments; the Hebrew Scriptures and her Ojibwe teachings, both guiding her to a deep relationship with Christ.
Jada Paul, a young Mi’kmaq girl from Membertou followed Sr. Pricilla, singing a haunting beautiful Honour Song.
It was an privilege to be present at the Conference and learn more about the Mi’kmaq culture, have some misconceptions about their Treaties clarified and on a personal level pray for forgiveness for the abuses suffered by a gentle, humble people at the hands of manyinstitutions.
Thank you Fr. Bill, Edith Christmas and your team for making this day possible.
More images of the Day: