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Getting Relations Right

April 5th, 2017 by Jennifer Neutel

Helena Lamb’s interest to learn more about Indigenous people was sparked in 2013, when she saw the documentary We Were Children at a film festival.

The film centres on two residential school survivors.

“I just sobbed through the whole thing,” says Helena. “I could not believe this had happened in Canada, I had no idea about the residential schools and that was the beginning for me to learn more.”

She sees a similar spark with people who are part of a Right Relations Circle at Hillhurst United Church in Calgary.

“The more people learn, the more they want to know,” she says.

Helena volunteers as communication coordinator for the group, and says the interest is growing daily. She produces a newsletter to keep people informed of upcoming events.

Formed in the fall of 2015, the Right Relations Circle developed out of an energy in the congregation for reconciliation and gathering. Spirituality, learning, awareness and co-participation are among the group’s tenets.

The group is diverse in exposure, understanding and learning and is open to everyone. As part of the group’s purpose statement is they are “actively striving to live out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action, and build respectful relationships with Aboriginal Peoples.”

“We found ourselves as a community, individuals and collective, opening our imaginations, our understanding, our heart wider and wider to questions about reconciliation and right relations,” says Rev. Dr. Danielle A. James, ministry lead for the group.

Danielle says she appreciates the organic way the group came together and the effort to practice the wisdom that Indigenous circles hold. There is no assigned chair, but what Danielle refers to as a “soft leadership circle” of about six people who meet every couple of months to discuss what questions are arising.

Helena has been impacted by the stories of Indigenous people through different gatherings.

“[Indigenous people] don’t seem to have any bitterness, they want to be understood and they have so much wisdom to share,” she says. “Every time I go to an event I feel like I’m opening up a whole new world.”

The group keeps a pulse on Indigenous cultural projects, events, ceremonies, plays, films and speakers happening in the city. A highlight was hosting a young filmmaker last November who showed some short films, says Helena, noting there is a hope to repeat that event at a larger venue.

The Right Relations Circle is looking for ways to continue learning and expanding, and is currently in the process of setting some goals. Part of the hope is “that we continue to build awareness and build the proverbial bridge of reconciliation while we’re walking on it,” Danielle says.

Hillhurst’s commitment to treaty relations is becoming ingrained. It is mentioned in the church’s weekly bulletin and there is often an acknowledgement of the land on Sunday mornings, notes Danielle.

Hillhurst stands in solidarity with all other communities of faith in Canada. “I can talk with Muslim and Jewish colleagues and other Christian ministers and we can be in solidarity that right relations is something to be united in for our common work,” she says.

On Feb. 19, the Right Relations Circle hosted the Blanket Exercise during Hillhurst’s two Sunday services. Upcoming possibilities for the circle includes planning a group trip to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, forming a book club and adding a right relations section in the church’s library.

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