An annual event of the United Church of Canada is evidence that it has started moving forward with reconciliation between the church and Aboriginal communities. The Banff Men’s Conference will focus on partnerships with First Nations and finding harmony together.
The conference, which has been held for over 50 years, is part of the implementation of the United Church of Canada’s statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from March of 2014. The document includes words from Right Reverend Gary Paterson, the moderator of the UCC: “And so, we commit ourselves to continue the spiritual practices of listening and learning, healing and reparation, until relationships are in balance...respectful, just, and healthy.”
Organizers of the Banff Men’s Conference felt it was an important time to explore relationships between the Aboriginal community and the United Church, as the United Church was a signatory to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which created the TRC. Conference Executive Director Jim Graves says that part of the way the conference will seek to build relationships with Aboriginal communities is “by conducting rituals on an equal footing – for example, a pipe ceremony and Holy Communion.”
The conference is being promoted on a regional basis among Indigenous groups and organizations in Treaty 6, 7, and 8, as well as the Arctic, Mexico, and Guatamala.
“The United Church and it predecessors were part the genocide that the TRC is attempting to address. At the time it was business for the church - the church got used just like all the other churches. While this was going on, people within the church started to wake up to what was really going on and the church was not kind to those people either. So yes, the church was involved in the colonial project: can this be changed? That is the question this conference attempts to address,” said Graves.
Relationships between the United Church and Canada itself are important parts of the church’s history, says Graves.
“Early pioneers in the church, McDougall and Rundle, set in motion the relationship that represents the reality that is Canada today,” he said. “Mountains and churches were named after these men. This is an opportunity in the present moment to revisit that relationship and explore where it will lead into the future. To do that, we will connect with the past in the region and celebrate an exciting new chapter in the history of this land.”
The conference takes place Sept. 18-20. Open to men of all religions and cultures, the conference will feature ceremonies, workshops, recreational activities, music, and speakers. The keynote speaker is Miles G. Richardson of the Haida Nation, who was a member of the British Columbia claims task force, which worked with the governments of Canada and BC, and First Nations in BC to make recommendations on how the three parties could begin negotiations with the goal of building new relationships.
Other goals of the Banff Men’s Conference include spiritual exploration and personal development.
“The conference as about doing things together: to do rituals together, to create art, to sweat, to socialize, to talk, to share meals and music. There will be an opportunity for individual reflection and meditation, and the opportunity to experience the spiritual power of Banff itself,” said Graves.
For more information, visit banffmen.org.