I’m spending a week in Canada at a conference organised by the Canadian School of Peacebuilding at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on ‘Healing Justice Communities’; I’m here because of my own involvement in the Iona Community. Other communities represented here are from Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, France, Israel, and a community here in Manitoba. The purpose of the week is to look at ways in which trauma and healing are addressed in community contexts, and to share understandings and opportunities.
Yesterday we were privileged to spend the day with people in Hollow Water, a First Nation community dealing with incredible external and internal pressures. Hollow Water/Wanipigow is about 200km north of Winnipeg, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. I have long known of the problems with Canadian residential schools (look that up if you don’t know what I mean), but was unaware that the level of discrimination and deprivation intentionally created by the Canadian government in the past is in large measure still perpetuated today. I didn’t know that the South African creators of Apartheid came to Canada to see how to create reservation and discriminatory systems, for example, and these systems continue to exist, with the provisions of the Canadian Indian Act determining much of how life works for First Nation peoples.
Hollow Water is located on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The location appears idyllic, but it is a fraction of the space the community traditionally sees as theirs to move in – one of the speakers described the reservation system as an open-air prison.
What was most moving about it all was the resilience and creative nature of what people were doing in Hollow Water as a community to engage with the political and social realities they faced. This is happening with input from the youth and young adults, the parents and elders, all seeking to re-create and re-interpret old societal structures in the reality they find themselves in, a reality that is deeply destructive to their way of life, whether this be the fallout from the residential school years, the industrial pollution of the water, or the discrimination in judicial processes or… That is a common experience in relation to all the communities represented here: on Monday, we heard about Sarvodaya‘s engagement in Sri Lanka, and in the coming days we will be engaging with the other communities here too (my colleague and I from Iona presented on our context on Monday). There are some things that are only possible in community: whether this be confronting the ravages of neo-liberal economics, the trauma of discrimination and extermination, deprivation and de-development in situations of conflict… these things are too strong to successfully face alone (not least since the proponents of these things are usually part of a community too, whether they are aware of it or not – think of collective identity and group-think amongst e.g. bankers to understand what I mean).
At the end of the day, we wandered off along the shore of this little section of Lake Winnipeg (if you clicked on the map link above, you’ll realise Lake Winnipeg is enormous!), and in that short time alone with my camera, it was good to reflect on some of the difficult and traumatic stories we’d heard during the day. Having been introduced to Hollow Water’s understanding of the interconnectedness between the land, the water, the plants and the skies, and people’s place in this system – not that dissimilar to ancient Celtic traditions in Scotland and elsewhere, I think – it seemed appropriate to go and wander along the shore for a while engaging with these elements. Given all that we had engaged with during the day, these images for me convey something profoundly political in their representation of this little section of the lake, not least since I now know it is a space that is under considerable threat.