Walking on Sacred Ground Together

Open discussion at St. Joseph’s provides an opportunity for conversation and healing

by Fr. Remi Hebert, C.Ss.R.
Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Grande Prairie

I believe it is a powerful symbol of reconciliation to admit that we must learn from each other and grow together. As a response to finding unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, we began a conversation, “Walking on Sacred Ground Together,” at St. Joseph Parish in Grande Prairie.

On Sunday, May 30, 2021, a group of people gathered outside the church under the bell tower expressing their own deep hurt as a result of residential schools. It came in the immediate aftermath of the announcement by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, that 215 suspected unmarked graves were found near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

That evening we stopped and listened as a parish, cancelling evening Mass so that we could stand together with our brothers and sisters who were hurting. The evening ended in a tender way as we prayed together.

In July, in response to the event on May 30, we began “Walking on Sacred Ground Together,” a way to promote a conversation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We met Tuesday evenings in July and August at the church. There was always iced tea and cold water.

The format of the evening was pretty simple. We introduced ourselves, and then shared with the large group our reason for attending.

We would then break into smaller groups to share something we had learned in our conversation. It truly was a time of walking on sacred ground together – in conversation and friendship.

“Walking on Sacred Ground” was held every Thursday evening throughout July and August, at St. Joseph’s Parish in Grande Prairie.

“The findings of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children was shocking and reawakened a sense that God is continuing to call everyone to walk in love with Indigenous people,” said Vivianne Servant, who was in attendance.

“Love requires that we first come to know the depths of one another’s pain. I was very appreciative that a time and space was provided for brave Indigenous and Metis parishioners to speak their painful truth to those present. It was humbling and difficult to hear, but very rewarding.”

Servant’s sentiments were felt among others as well.

“Attending Walking on Sacred Ground was both an honour and an amazing learning experience,” said Erna Moon. “Sharing and listening to other’s stories and ideas in a safe environment created an opportunity to see the world through other’s eyes. I came away feeling very strongly that we all have so much to learn in order for healing and reconciliation to take place. I look forward to future organized events designed to meet these goals.”

In the words of Angie Crerar, Elder and President of Metis Local 1990, “it is time for reconciliation. This was getting ready to move forward. We have a lot of work to do to reach peace.”

People would gather after the 7 p.m. Mass for informal and open discussions. Water and iced tea were provided by the parish.