An Individual Act of Reconciliation

As I pursue my explorations through Northern Ontario, I'm trying to come to terms with the harm we have done to our indigenous fellow citizens. There is a sense of remorse in this, but it's mixed with hope that we can do better.  Without hope, there can be no progress.

The work of Elizabeth Kingston gives me hope.  She and I share a similar background as Settlers.  We are both grandchildren of Anglican bishops, we've both lived much of our adult lives in Ottawa and both had careers in international  affairs. But unlike me, Elizabeth has already started down the path to reconciliation. This trip allowed me to learn about the path she has embarked upon.

From what I can understand, it started with the land. 

I had the opportunity to visit a part of the land to which Elizabeth has a strong emotional connection. Since she was a small child her family has owned a cottage on St. Joseph Island. It's a gorgeous spot, covered by pine trees stretching right down to the shore, looking out over the narrow stretch of water that separates Michigan from Ontario.

I can see the attraction the place has to her family. Three adult siblings join her here for large parts of every summer, drawn back to this place from their professional lives in the south. This was a special place for their parents, and grandparents before them. 

And for many people before that as well.  Even the briefest conversation with the Kingston clan reveals how curious they are about the people that loved the land before they did.

That curiosity led Elizabeth to focus on traditional baskets scattered throughout the small community of American and Canadian cottagers. These are large, sturdy, and intricately made baskets, woven out of branches of the young ash tree.  In older times they would have held all manner of provisions and everyday goods for the people. They represent a way of life.

Along with the Sisters of the Transfiguration who owned a cottage nearby, Elizabeth felt they belonged with the people whose way of life they represented.  Moreover, Elizabeth had already established relationships with the nearby Garden River First Nation through the work she has accomplished as a Deacon in the Anglican Church.

And so on one magnificently sunny morning, descendants of Chief Shingwaukonse gathered with Elizabeth's family and neighbours to receive the baskets back. The location was a sandy shore on St. Joseph Island, at a site that has served as a meeting-place for different nations for centuries.  Today it hosts a lovely wooden chapel, where Archbishop Anne Germond of the Anglican Church blessed the baskets.


From right to left: Loretta (Pinkie) Grawbarger, Karen (Trudy) and Bougie of Garden River First Nation receive traditional Anishnaabe baskets from Elizabeth Kingston after a blessing by Archbishop Anne Germond. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kingston.


This first act has prompted conversations about further works to follow. Chief Shingwaukonse's burial site is not far away, serving both as a Spirit House and an Anglican Church. What other acts towards reconciliation will this lead to?

Although a simple act, the gift of the baskets brought together all the people that have loved this particular land. Settler and indigenous, coming to terms with the harms done in the past and resolving to work together to undo them.

It reminded me of a passage from a Seneca elder named Henry Lickers, an environmental scientist prominent in international efforts to preserve the Great Lakes. Having spent decades working with Settler societies in finding ways to restore balance:

"You know, they came here thinking they'd get rich by working on the land. So they dug their mines and cut down the trees. But the land is the one with the power. While they were working on the land, the land was working on them."

  As quoted in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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