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The theme for day 1 of DOTAC in Vancouver was “Indigeneity”.  The two speakers were The Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne and Melanie Delva. Dr. Lansdowne is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation; Melanie has worked with the Canadian Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Both of them spoke to us about the Canadian and US government’s treatment of indigenous people, in the past and now.

Melanie spoke mostly about the Indian boarding schools. While I had been aware that the government had forcibly taken indigenous children from their homes and put them in boarding schools to “make them white”, and knew that there had been Indian boarding schools right here in Nebraska, apparently I had not known or had forgotten how truly inhumanely the children were treated in these schools. After hearing her speak, I asked our small group, “Was it actually that bad?”  Yes, it was.

One of my site visits was to the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.  Friendship Centres are a growing program in Canada; there are many throughout the country. The ministry this Friendship Centre provides seemed to me very much like the ministry that Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service provides, minus the Christian part and with an emphasis on traditional cultures.  We were going to have a tour of the facility, but we didn’t have time for that. Rather, several of the young aboriginal men who work in the Friendship Centre told us their life stories. They are not pretty stories.  For example, more than one told us that his father had been in one of the boarding schools, and because of that he had a very unhappy childhood.

One of the workshops I attended was “Creative Responses to the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Children”. As many as 4,000 indigenous women and girls in Canada have been murdered or are missing, and this is going on now. Someone in our small group mentioned that it is probably not much different in the United States.  In this workshop we learned about some of the ways that indigenous people are working to solve this crisis.  The Red Dress Project is mostly an awareness project. “Butterflies in Spirit” is a group that is working to find the women and girls who have disappeared.  From what we heard, it sounded like “Butterflies in Spirit” is actually more effective than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

  One of the reasons I attended DOTAC was that I was hoping to learn about ministry to & among indigenous people in Canada.  I did not.  However, maybe this is what God wanted me to learn at this time.  It left me with questions:  What do I do with this knowledge?  Where do I go with it from here?  I don’t know.

By Sister Ruth Ellen Rebelein