Topics: UCC in Focus | Indigenous

Land-based camp connects church and Indigenous communities

Pabaamashi came out of a partnership between a Kenora United church, Anishinaabe and Métis leaders, and local organizations

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In northwestern Ontario, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities are coming together to create relationships that move beyond reconciliation. Pabaamashi is a land-based intercultural camp created from a collaboration between members of Knox United in Kenora, Ont., Anishinaabe and Métis leaders, and local organizations. An Anishinaabe spirit name, Pabaamashi means “soaring and looking around” like an eagle and was given to the group by Langford Ogemah, an elder of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation.

“The point is not to have dialogue; it’s to do things together,” says Theresa Jamieson, an Anishinaabe member of Pabaamashi’s Guiding Circle. “And particularly, for everybody to be learning from Indigenous perspectives.”

In 2017, the church took part in an interactive six-week “Road to Reconciliation” series, and the relationships and conversations that started there led to the camp and ongoing partnership. For three days in the summers of 2018 and 2019, a dozen or so people camped overnight at West Hawk Lake. By day, more joined them to pick berries at Iskatewizaagegan #39 (Shoal Lake) and learn about the traditional territory from a Shoal Lake elder. Other activities included swimming, cooking together, campfires, and making leather medicine bags and birchbark baskets. While the camp isn’t running this year due to COVID-19, organizers are committed to continuing in some form.

A $25,000 Embracing the Spirit grant from the United Church contributed a large portion of the program’s operating costs, and local fundraising and community donations were also key.

Beyond the camp, relationships have been strengthened through deep discussions at weekly Guiding Circle meetings, and at fall and spring feasts filled with Anishinaabe ceremony where everyone is welcome. “The feasts have been really impactful,” says Rev. Meg Illman-White, Knox’s minister. The conversations there are filled with dreaming, remembering and storytelling that Illman-White says she finds very moving. “The connections we make are strong.”

Glynis Ratcliffe is Broadview’s senior writer.

This story first appeared in Broadview‘s July/August 2020 issue with the title “Learning together.”


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