Engaging with History for Truth and Reconciliation

Monday, March 28, 2022

Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters

“It is incumbent on all settlers in Canada today to understand their relationship with Indigenous peoples as a means to right the injustices of past and present, and to act on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 Calls to Action,” stressed Professor Marlene Epp, one of the organizers of the upcoming Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters Conference. The event, coordinated by Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, is titled, “Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters in Time and Place: A Gathering of Body, Mind, and Spirit.” This academic conference and community education event offers insight into the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Mennonite settlers. The organizers anticipate several days of listening, reflection, conversation, and silence.

“All of the presentations in some way deal with encounters between Indigenous peoples and Anabaptist-Mennonites, whether relating to land acquisition and displacement, personal relationships and exchange of knowledge, the role of archives in historical memory, and how to work at reconciliation,” said Marlene. From scholars to storytellers to activists to artists and musicians, presenters from various backgrounds will gather to tell their stories. The keynote address will be offered by Lori Campbell, Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement, University of Regina, and Maria Campbell, writer, educator, activist, and Officer of the Order of Canada.

Music will play a significant part in this conference. Grebel Music Professor Karen Sunabacka worked with local musical group, the Andromeda Trio, to explore Indigenous and Mennonite history through music. “Miriam Stewart-Kroeker, cellist of the Andromeda Trio has Mennonite heritage, and I have Métis heritage,” said Sunabacka. “We all felt that it was a good and timely project and one that addresses #83 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action which states: We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.” Sunabacka also worked on this project with her mother, Joyce Clouston, to convey text through music. “Our hope is that the piece will show this complicated history in a way that enables further conversation in the long path toward reconciliation,” expressed Sunabacka.

Another highlight of this event is a free public concert, performed by two-spirit Juno Award-nominated Cree cellist, Cris Derksen. She has Cree and Mennonite heritage, and her music sits firmly on the intersection of Indigenous and Mennonite encounters. Derksen was commissioned to write a choral piece for the concert called “kȃ-nîmihitocik: They Who Are Dancing,” and she will perform alongside the Grebel choir led by Music Professor Mark Vuorinen. Derksen will also perform a solo cello piece with electronic works along with a dancer.

It is important to acknowledge that Mennonites were migratory people and have settled on lands of Indigenous peoples. “It is essential that Mennonites understand and come to terms with the implications of that history for their own historical knowledge and to act on Indigenous rights to land in the present day,” said Epp. “We hope that the audience will learn, question, reflect, continue the conversation, and take action to address historical wrongs, as well as develop revised narratives of Mennonite history.”

All are welcome May 12-15 to learn more about Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters. There will also be in-person activities like gathering at the Ceremonial Fire Grounds and an outdoor photography exhibit “On the Land” by Bangishimo Johnston. The intent of the academic sessions and in-person activities is to address the past of Mennonite settlers’ colonial history and make an effort to advance reconciliation and bring justice to Indigenous-settler relations.

Registration is required to attend. Learn more on the Indigenious-Mennonite Encounters website.

By Ashitha Mantrawadi

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