A few weekends ago, I found myself back in the Outtatown vans with staff and program alumni taking a little road trip in Southern Manitoba. We were on our way to a celebratory BBQ; a time of sharing and laughter as we commemorated over 10 years of partnership and friendship with the Roseau River Anishinabe community. We spent the evening roasting hot dogs, eating venison burgers, sitting around the fire, and chatting.
At one point towards the end of the evening our host and an elder in the community, Peter Atkinson, invited the group to come into a sharing circle, to speak out the things they had learned from the community. One by one, we went around the circle, speaking softly as the fire crackled before us; naming the moments that had encouraged, inspired, and challenged us. Current students spoke about the eye-opening and inspiring lessons they learned during the previous week. Alumni reflected on the ways their own time spent with the Roseau community has continued to impact both their studies and the ways they think about and interact with the world around them. As I listened to these voices, I was struck by the incredible privilege it was to be there—at the home of friends and partners, who for over a decade now have been committed to teaching and sharing their culture with Outtatown students. Generously, they pass along wisdom, knowledge, and the experience of some of their cultural practices. We do not take this for granted; it would be perfectly reasonable for them not to welcome the loud, exuberant groups of Outtatown students, most of whom are settler peoples, onto their land and into their homes. Yet year after year they welcome us, and as we sat around the fire, I was overwhelmed by the weight and generosity of that commitment.
As both a Christian in the Anabaptist faith tradition and someone deeply involved in Outtatown for the last number of years, I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to be people of reconciliation. My natural inclination is to want to do something, to make things right—and there are good arguments for this! There is so much to be done in repairing our relationship as Canadians with our Indigenous neighbours. But I have also heard it said that we cannot have reconciliation without first hearing truth. Outtatown students over the years have had the joy of sitting around the fire, learning from wise elders who love to teach about their people and their ways. As I sat around the fire that Saturday night, I saw a small spark of what this means: we come, we listen, we learn, we share. Year after year, we do it all over again, each year growing a little bit more in our understanding of what it means to be neighbours, and people of reconciliation. There is still so much to learn, but perhaps joining together around the fire, sharing a meal, and listening to story is a good place to start.
– Renee Willms, Outtatown Co-Director