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Indigenous Neighbours Program part of reconciliation path

Justice, Commemoration of History
Treaty 6

Leonard Doell co-ordinates the Indigenous Neighbours Program of the Mennonite Central Committee and he started his journey with reconciliation 39 years ago. The Office of the Treaty Commissioner caught up with him during the 140th Anniversary of the Signing of Treaty 6 event in August 2016.

How did your journey with reconciliation begin?
I was actually a kid, I was 22 and I was asked to do a research project in 1977. In 1976 there was a whole uproar in the Mennonite community about Young Chippewayan people showing up on this land and saying it was theirs. Our people were upset and there were meetings in the churches about how do we respond to all of this.

I was a bible school student in Winnipeg and I was asked to do a research paper on the whole thing. That’s where we found out that yes, this land had actually been taken away from the Young Chippewayan Band and given to our people to settle. Our people were given a block of land all the way from Saskatoon to Rosthern and when that land filled up they appealed to the federal government for more land and that’s when this land was taken away from the Young Chippewayan and given to Mennonites to settle.

On a personal level, my life sort of took on a bit of a different curve, but 39 years later I’m still working on the same issue and trying to work out some kind of resolution to the whole thing.

What do you see as the importance of a commemoration event, like this one, the 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 6?
It’s a wonderful opportunity for peoples to actually work in relationship building, building understanding, and education on how we can live together in peaceful and good ways. Beyond that is understanding there is an injustice that also needs to be corrected and we can actually work together to resolve some of these things and I think that’s what reconciliation to a large extent is all about.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Absolutely. When I think about what happened 10 years ago, 10 years ago it was a struggle just to have a meeting. (Young Chippewayan First Nation Chief) Ben Weenie phone me and I said, “this is not a decision I can make on my own. I’m going to have to invite the Mennonite and Lutheran churches together and we are going to have a conversation about how we are going to deal with your request.” And we struggled, but at the end of the day people said, “yes, this is the right thing to do. We want to gather together and find resolution.”

That’s what brought us together and ten years later, look at today, people come. There’s a mixture of people, there’s openness to conversation, openness to dialogue.

Yes, there are lots of hurtles to climb, but there are so many more positive things happening which even 10 years ago we didn’t see and 39 years ago it was a very different story.

Knowing what you know and working with these communities, what does reconciliation mean to you?
It means a couple of things. First of all, that we need to find a way to live together and be together as people; god created us and it’s our task to figure out how to live together.

Then there are things that happen in life where people are separated or there’s injustice that happens that needs to be addressed too. In this case the Young Chippewayan people have been displaced and it’s impacted them in so many negative ways. Our job is to try and undo some of it, at least to attempt to make a crack at it. I think we’ve made a difference. It’s still a long way to go, but we’ll work at it.

(Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length)

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