Threads – Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties, shows Indigenous reparations in action.

A talk with Ko’ona Saber, Kerry Saner-Harvey and Jonathan Neufeld

Ko’ona Saber, Kerry Saner-Harvey and Jonathan Neufeld sitting together on a bench

Manitoba — Jul 2024

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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 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.

Ko’ona Saber (00:51): 

And I would ask them, you know, do you know an Indigenous person? And it's like, you know, how many of you have had them in your house for dinner? And like, it's just like they didn't <laugh>. They might know them, but they've never had them in their homes, you know?

Kyle Rudge (01:04): 

A few weeks back, I made the trek into Winnipeg's North End, just past the Redwood Bridge on Main inside St. John's Park to the Kapabamayak Achaak Healing Forest.

Michael Veith (01:14): 

You all together. <Camera firing> And then a more candid one, and then I'll just take my leave. Fabulous.

Kyle Rudge (01:18): 

As you can tell, we were outside when we conducted the interview, and it was quite a windy day. I did my best with the audio to kind of tone down that wind, but it does get better later on.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (01:28): 

Hi, my name is Kerry Saner-Harvey. I work with Mennonite Central Committee as the coordinator for the Indigenous Neighbours Program and I've also been a part of Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties for about seven, eight years.

Kyle Rudge (01:41): 

Kerry works for MCC Manitoba as the Indigenous Neighbours Coordinator and has done so for many years. It feels like every time I talk to Kerry, I learn something new about our indigenous neighbors and how little I was taught growing up about their stories. Additionally, I feel so uninformed about all the initiatives that are attempting to heal the wrongs of the past. So it's such a breath of fresh air to hear of another.

Kyle Rudge (02:06): 

What overall is the idea?

Kerry Saner-Harvey (02:08): 

Sure. So Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties was started a little over a decade ago as a sort of brainchild after some conversation, mostly Elaine Bishop, who's a Quaker, spearheaded the idea and brought a bunch of folks together to talk about the resources that we have, the wealth that we have as non-Indigenous folks. And so the idea came together that maybe we could start this organization that would be working towards a reparations fund and encourage contributions towards the reparations fund that would then be entirely turned over to Indigenous people for the sake of them making decisions about what would happen with those resources and have them entirely make those decisions. So the control would be outside of settlers' hands, if you will, or non-Indigenous people's hands.

Kyle Rudge (03:04): 

It was not just Kerry and me at the Healing Forest. We were joined by two others.

Jonathan Neufeld (03:08): 

Hey, I'm Jonathan Neufeld. I'm a co-pastor at Charleswood Mennonite Church. Also serving half-time with Mennonite Church Canada as Indigenous Relations Coordinator.

Kyle Rudge (03:19): 

Jonathan was the first. He spoke about the history of the Charleswood Mennonite Church and then the heart of why Charleswood Mennonite would participate in such a program.

Jonathan Neufeld (03:28): 

Sure. So this story goes a little ways back, back to 2018 at Charleswood Mennonite Church. We were visited by Adrian Jacobs, who is Haudenosaunee and was living here and working for Sandy-Saulteaux Center as the Fire Circle keeper. I think that is the role. And visiting churches, it was part of a larger sort of study series in the church around going through the Mennonite Church Canada "Quest for Respect" resources like engaging and honoring Indigenous spirituality. And he came to speak into that series, but while there spoke about some work he had been doing back at Six Nations around land return and land reparations and an initiative, a conversation that he had been starting with non-Indigenous neighbors about the possibility of people considering paying rent, like lease payments to Six Nations as a gesture of, I guess, being seen and recognizing that, you know, livelihoods and congregational life have all been built up on Indigenous land.

Kyle Rudge (04:38): 

Where's that heart come from? Where did it start?

Jonathan Neufeld (04:48): 

I'm gonna struggle to answer that question, actually. Just because I haven't been there long enough. I've only been there a year and a half. Like, I think, like the people that I know that have worked with MCC for years in the congregation, the people I know there that have found themselves wrestling with their participation in the Sixties Scoop.

These are relationships that have history and depth and questions that have come up for congregations as they have sought to support families. Those connections are there. They might not be visibly there on a Sunday morning with those Indigenous families still, those Indigenous kids who were adopted, now adults. But those relationships and those concerns are still present. I think there's a justice orientation in the water there and I think the calls to action were, like for many people, an impulse to move and begin to shift relationships and honor stories. I took a group of 30 congregation members to the National Residential School Museum in Portage la Prairie three weeks ago. A congregation of 120 people, and a quarter of the congregation came out for that to go and learn about the residential school experience. So there just seems to be a hunger to take in more truth.

Kyle Rudge (06:19): 

With us there was also Ko’ona.

Ko’ona Saber (06:21): 

So I just introduce who I am? Okay. I'm Ko'ona Saber. I'm Cochrane, my family is from Peguis First Nation. I'm Lynx clan and I'm part of Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties since it started with Elaine Bishop first engaging with the Treaty Commission to start getting it going and stuff. So I've just sort of been helping and helping along and being there for, I dunno how many years now, but a while. And I really support the initiative because it's, you know, about the reparations and it's about actually supporting, you know, the Indigenous population directly, not just about, you know, services and programs that may or may not be successful. I wouldn't, I don't even know how to describe who I am. <Laugh>. Well, that's, I guess that's why we announce ourselves when we introduce ourselves to people. We say we're, you know, Lynx clan, we're from, you know, the Cochrane clan in Peguis for me. And we announce ourselves that way because it kind of places us where we're from. And so I'm from Peguis and I was born in 1970, and so, like, I'm one of those Indigo child things, you know, <laugh>, and age of aquarius and everything. And I've been very lucky because that was the same year the Red Paper happened. And so it kind of really puts a stamp on who I am because that was the response to the 1969 White Paper.

Kyle Rudge (07:52): 

The 1969 White Paper. I had to look this one up. This was another one of those things I was never taught. In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien, unveiled a policy paper that proposed the ending of the special legal relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state and the dismantling of the Indian Act. This White Paper was met with forceful opposition from Aboriginal leaders across the country and sparked a new era of Indigenous political organizing in Canada. This leads us back to Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties, an initiative working towards settler accountability and treaty relationships through the sharing of gifts that have come from living on Indigenous land. So instead of the White Paper abolishing the relationship, it's recognizing the harm that has happened and looking for ways to heal. One of those ways is inviting churches like Charleswood Mennonite to give 1% of their donations, freely given with open hands, to their Indigenous neighbors.

Kyle Rudge (08:57): 

Speak a little bit about, about the importance of something like open-hand giving, like freely giving versus directed giving. Like, I'll give you money, but you have to do X, Y, and Z. What does that difference mean to you?

Ko’ona Saber (09:12): 

Well, that's where the autonomy comes back and just the sense of dignity, of being able to ask for something and being able to keep your vision the way you intended, instead of having to fit into some sort of box that may or may not give you the outcome you're seeking, you know? And I think just even the voluntary part about it helps people to respect and understand the real relationship behind it because these are, you know, it's not about you owe me to do something, it's something that I want to do because I know there's an imbalance someplace, and I want to try and help bring that imbalance and respect to one another again.

Kyle Rudge (09:58): 

Let's dream a little. If we were to fast forward time and see an initiative like this really start to take off, this idea of reparations, of freely giving. What could you see with our Indigenous communities? What differences would you want to see and dream to see and long to see that something like this could help accomplish?

Ko’ona Saber (10:21): 

Well, you know, it's just ironic that we are sitting here in this healing garden because it is a complete reflection of what that could, you know, entail in the future because it provides this space that, you know, the community and the church had to work together to do and to bring to life and then to the plants. Like I said, so much has grown here in, what has it been? Eight years? <Laugh>. You know? And it's just beautiful. But you know, I see it as the urban living and all these constructs, we're going back to community because, you know, capitalism isn't serving everybody. And, you know, and you look at the politics of everything that goes on, there's always restrictions and difficulty, but you still have to live with each other every day regardless of the next vote, you know? And I think that's where something like this is just beyond that. It's just about human beings getting together and wanting to give and wanting to repair and fix something that they have, you know, no control over, but at least they know that they're gonna create communities. Because we've had lots of initiatives where, you know, settlers and in the North End too, where Indigenous people come together and they work and as long as the resources are there, things get better. And it's the lack of resources that often inhibits, you know, community and growth.

Kyle Rudge (11:47): 

So there's Charleswood Mennonite Church with Jonathan, and now we've got Ko’ona with Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties. Where does MCC come in through all of this?

Kerry Saner-Harvey (11:58): 

Yeah, I mean, MCC has been a partner with Share the Gifts: Honour the Treaties for seven years, perhaps? Been working together to see its evolution, if you will. It's moving towards incorporation, but also moving towards becoming a more robust organization and providing more and more opportunities. But in addition, we've also been having conversations with churches. Last fall, we sponsored, along with Mennonite Church Manitoba, a conference on returning wealth and looking at reparations, and a lot of the conversations that were there led to other congregations in Winnipeg and beyond to start talking, having these conversations, including Charleswood. And so trying to see this as an important aspect of what does it mean for us as a Mennonite body, as a Mennonite community, to say this is something that we really care about.

Ko’ona Saber (13:03): 

To me, it's a really good matching, you know, because it's such a limited number of people that'll have the desire to be giving and to make reparations, you know, and it has to come from a spiritual space that MCC offers as a good conduit, I think, you know.

Kerry Saner-Harvey (13:26): 

Choosing to do something like a reparation isn't going to fix everything, and it isn't certainly a way to wash our hands, absolve ourselves of the history. And yet it's a significant step because we are where we are right now. And as Ko'ona was saying, you know, resources are needed for many communities to work towards healing. And I think that it's a simple and important step that we can do to make some change.

Kyle Rudge (14:03): 

As part of MCC's ongoing work towards reconciliation between Indigenous and settler peoples, MCC has curated a gallery space featuring photos of artworks and powerful stories by Indigenous artists, including three from Manitoba. You can see the transforming relationships, Indigenous art space for free online at and search for Indigenous art. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Jessica Burtnick. Thanks to Kerry, Jonathan, and Ko'ona for sharing your stories and spending some time with me in the Healing Forest. I'm Kyle Rudge, and this is MCC Threads.