Threads - Sept 2023 Kapabamayak Healing Forest

A conversation with the Keepers of the Forest (Originally released in 2021)

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Manitoba — Sep 2023

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Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge talks to Kerry Saner-Harvey, Lee Anne Block, and Val Vint about the Kapabamayak Healing Forest in Winnipeg.

Threads is a 15-minute radio program featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of each month.

Audio file

Kyle Rudge (00:02):

It begins with a single thread woven through other thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world. Today's episode of MCC Threads is a replaying of a past episode that originally aired in June of 2021. In it, I toured the Kapabamayak Healing Forest in Winnipeg with three people to discuss the history of the indigenous people in Manitoba and Canada. You'll hear us walk through the forest, birds chirping and kids playing in the distance while we talked and shared. It was a very moving time, and it came just a few weeks before the first unmarked graves at a residential school were discovered in Canada.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (01:26):

And as part of this role, I became involved with what's we now call the Kapabamayak Healing Forest back around 2017 or so.

Kyle Rudge (01:34):

That's Kerry Saner-Harvey at the time, and still to the present. He serves MCC Manitoba as the Indigenous Neighbors coordinator.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (01:42):

Fairly soon after the founders like Lee Anne started talking about it and bringing others on board. And being a community grassroots initiative, one that was responding to the TRC calls to action, it was a good fit for us and allowed us to expand our relationships. MCC's involvement has included some initial funding in its early stages, though mostly it's been my continuing as a member of the working group and which was what we now call the Keepers of the Forest and watching it emerge.

Kyle Rudge (02:12):

I was invited to come and tour the Healing Forest and learn more of its history, its art and its purpose.

Val Vint (02:19):

I'm Val Vint. I'm part of the Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest group, and we're just working towards, trying to help with truth and reconciliation because it's kind of something that everybody has to participate in.

Kyle Rudge (02:37):

To set the scene a little from where we sat in the healing forest, about a hundred meters north was the graveyard that surrounds St. John's Anglican Church. In the distance were some slowly dark moving clouds, but for the duration of my visit, the sky remained primarily clear and bright. Val set opposite me with her little dog, a Papillon who would sometimes wander off or make her voice heard during our time.

Lee Anne Block (03:02):

I'm Lee Anne Block and I've been involved since 2017, I guess, together with Deb Radi, we just heard about the healing forest, the National Healing Forest, and thought maybe something could happen in Winnipeg and got together with a lot of community people both indigenous and non-indigenous community people, including Val. And then we...

Kyle Rudge (03:26):

It must have been quite the sight. A nearly 40 year old ,religiously Mennonite man and two grandmothers, one of indigenous descent and the other Jewish speaking about the atrocities of our nation's past and finding peace in this holy place. The space where we were seated was a circle framed by these massive logs that we sat on as we spoke.

Lee Anne Block (03:52):

It could be what we wanted it to be because it was what we wanted it to be. It wasn't any one person's idea of what a memorial to children lost to the residential school system should be. It really emerged from a lot of deep and some very difficult conversations amongst us.

Val Vint (04:10):

In indigenous culture, everything is in a circle. You know, the seasons come in a circle. The morning, the afternoon, the evening, the night. That's all in a circle. The birds build their nests in circles. We live in circles. A circle is welcoming, and a circle also eliminates hierarchy because everybody's front row center.

Kyle Rudge (04:34):

The circle extended and several very large stones sat at each of the four directions. This idea of a circle extended even into the overseeing organization of the forest as well. To have a hierarchical structure, as we would often do with the chair of the board, CEO, presidents, et cetera, was not in line with indigenous culture. And in both Val and Lee Anne's words, colonial. Instead, they call themselves the keepers of the forest.

Val Vint (05:05):

That's really nice because really a circle, when we talk about a circle in the culture, it's not really a circle, it's like you're looking at it like the plane view, right? Yeah. It's actually a spiral because that movement doesn't stop, you keep going.

Kyle Rudge (05:20):

I'm seeing paths coming up right.

Val Vint (05:22):

From each direction. Oh yeah, okay! But also, these large stones that seem to be carved in. What are the stones significance and these paths?

Val Vint (05:35):

Well, they're the, these are the grandmother stones from, you know, stone from each direction for,

Kyle Rudge (05:40):

Forgive me, what is a grandmother stone?

Val Vint (05:42):

It's in indigenous culture. Culture stones have more value than what you would just think about as stones. It stones carry all the stories, all the wisdom of Mother Earth. So it's, it's like Natalie Rostad-Desjarlais did this. She's a rock painter and has been for 40, 50 years. So she looks at the stones and she connects with them, and they show her the stories that they want her to bring out. And that's how she works. She doesn't go, "oh I'm gonna paint this on that rock. She, she goes, and she sits with the rock and gets its permission to highlight the stories it, wishes to share.

Kyle Rudge (06:34):

The art on these stones was incredibly subtle, ornate, and frankly moving. When Val speaks of how the artist would sit with the stones and let them speak to her, you could tell by the art itself, the scenes, the animals, the faces paint, and it all felt like they were drawn out of the stones and not forced upon them. And then of course, was the name.

Val Vint (06:56):

I don't know how that comes other than it comes from the ancestors. Peetanacoot had that gift for a long time. He's been more immersed in his culture even as a child. And I was not, I had to learn my culture as, as an adult I knew, but I was at a place I couldn't, if I would've claimed my heritage, and I may have been beaten to death. So no, it wasn't anything I could speak up of as a child, but as an adult, I made it my business to know.

Kyle Rudge (07:32):

What is the purpose of its space? It was certainly artistic. It certainly had a peace about it, but who comes here? What is their experience?

Lee Anne Block (07:40):

You know, when, when the school kids come, they've usually had some conversations with their classroom teachers already and then they come in here into this space and we talk about what do you think this, this land was like, you know, 200 years ago, and that's a really long time ago, if you're in grade one or two. So we talk about that and, and then we talk about who lived here and how settlers came here and, and then we can talk about, when I talk about residential schools, I usually say, tell me about your school. What's good about your school? What's not good about your school? I am talking about very young kids right now, like K to three and then say, okay, well do, you know, there used to be schools where, and then I go into, or I read them a storybook about residential schools. There's several good ones and then we talk about, you know, what those schools did and what happened to the kids and how they couldn't go outside to play. And then we usually go play outside here.

Val Vint (08:38):

Well, I, I think for me it's mostly like, let's get outside and look at the gifts we have and let's utilize those gifts. But in utilizing them, we also have to take care of them.

Kyle Rudge (08:52):

But a week and a half after these interviews, news came to light of the child graves in Kamloops. I had liked the healing forest on Facebook in preparation for releasing this episode. And what I got was I started to see what the healing forest was doing to the people around it.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (09:10):

In the last several weeks, there've been so many individuals, both indigenous and others who have come to the space to commemorate this loss. Many folks are placing tobacco or tying ribbons on trees. One ribbon says we will not forget. It's been really significant to see how the community has, I think, already embraced this space as a place to memorialize and hopefully find some rest and solace, even in its early stages.

Kyle Rudge (09:39):

MCC got involved because it's important. Even though we are not directly involved in the colonization of Canada, we benefited from it. We don't bear the same scars that our indigenous brothers and sisters do. And this healing forest is just one example where open, honest, and genuine reconciliation can begin. It won't be magically fixed tomorrow, but the journey is worth it because we will all settlers and indigenous people alike, we'll be better for it.

Val Vint (10:08):

You Take what you need, you don't take what you want, you leave for the future. You leave for others, and you leave for next year.

Lee Anne Block (10:16):

I think that connection that Val was talking about, like paying attention to all the living things and non-living things that are part of the earth. If we can relearn it or remember itteach it to kids who aren't learning it at home or at schoolthat some kind of balance and some, and I guess at a social level if we can sort of braid together the different cultures that we bring to the table in this space or in the boardroom as opposed to the keepers of the forest room, you know, if we can braid those cultures together rather than seeing them in opposition, it's not complicated, right? Like to come together and figure things out without violence and without bias.

Kyle Rudge (11:15):

As an update, the total confirmed unmarked graves is at 302 with the latest confirmed in January of this year. That number does not include the uncountable graves discovered in Saddle Lake Cree Nation. The suspected number of unmarked graves is at 2,773 with ground penetrating radar and other search efforts continuing to this day.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (11:36):

You know, when we began this project almost four years ago, I was aware that there were deaths and missing children at residential schools, but it hadn't really hit home for me how pervasive this was. How so many families had children that they loved who simply didn't come home. Not only did families lose their languages and teachings and livelihoods from the land, they lost what I, as a parent can only describe as the most precious part of themselves. I hadn't fully grasped that. So I can understand how many of us non-indigenous folks were surprised or even shocked by what was confirmed at Kamloops, but we really shouldn't have been maybe. If we were truly listening to what so many were saying during the, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we would've heard that indigenous families have known this all along and have carried with them for generations. And that these unmarked graves, sadly, are all across the country, including Manitoba. That's why this initiative, I think, is so important because we need spaces to go to remember, to learn and relearn these stories and be reminded again and again that this isn't just some news flash that we can let fade away from our memory. No, this is our story that we all will need to continue to heal from, probably for generations. It's long-term work and it's hard work because it's about relationship and entails letting down our defenses, right? So that we can fully grasp how it's affected them and how it's affected us.

Kyle Rudge (13:27):

Coming sunday afternoon on September 17th at the Forks in Winnipeg, MCC Manitoba presents the We Are All Treaty People celebration event. It runs from 1:00 to 4:00 PM at the Forks Center field in Winnipeg. A pipe and water ceremony will start at 12 noon. All are welcome. The event is an opportunity for settlers and newcomers to join together with indigenous people in celebrating the kinship relationship, forged by the signing of the treaties to share in the richness of these cultures through the arts and to honor the treaty commitment to share the land together in a good way. Come out for an afternoon of music and dance by indigenous and non-indigenous performers. Information about treaties, indigenous arts, and crafts, free food, family friendly games, and fun. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance by Jason Dueck. I'm Kyle Rudge, and this is MCC Threads.

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