Photo: Bernadette Arthur
Photo by Bernadette Arthur

“The canoe was used as a tool of colonization in this area, and now we are using them as tools to build relationships and reconciliation,” mused Kayla Boone as she paddled down the Grand River in southern Ontario as part of the CRC’s Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation Program this month.

The Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation Program is a week-long immersion experience designed to provide non-Indigenous CRC young people with the tools and opportunities to act as bridges between their church community and a local Indigenous community.

This year, three Christian Reformed young adults joined a group of Indigenous youth from the Global Youth Volunteer Network. Together they visited sites throughout southern Ontario to learn about Indigenous history in the area and to form relationships of respect and reconciliation. They were guided by Shannon Perez of the CRC’s Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee, Bernadette Arthur of the Office of Race Relations, and a staff member from the Global Youth Volunteer Network .

The team met with Indigenous elders, visited sites such as the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, the Kayanase Longhouse on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve near Brantford, Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, and the Wisahkotewinowak Gardens in Kitchener.

Christian Reformed participants Jeremy Vander Hoek, Jessica Banninga, and Kayla Boone said they applied to participate in the trip out of a desire to lead their churches in seeking justice and reconciliation and to learn from Indigenous peoples.

“Having learned about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, I want to be part of our nation's reconciliation efforts, but I need to learn and build relationships to be a part of this journey,” explained Banninga.

“I would like to learn more about how to appropriately express compassion and the desire to learn from Indigenous people in a respectful and dignified way,” said Vander Hoek. “I feel I have much to learn. In nearly every category I have immense privilege and opportunity to pursue my goals. I want to look into ways that I can use my privilege to humbly pursue justice.”

This isn’t the first cross-cultural experience for any of these youths. Banninga just finished a semester in Jordan learning about Arab culture and politics in the region; Vander Hoek served on Waterloo CRC’s Interfaith Dialogue Committee; and Boone has served alongside her parents in Fort Babine, a Carrier Indigenous reserve near her hometown. Some had connected with the program through World Renew’s connections with campus ministries, and some through the Centre for Public Dialogue’s advocacy work with Indigenous peoples.

With the continued support of CRC staff and mentors from their local churches, these three CRC young people will now serve as Youth Ambassadors and will design Reconciliation Action Plans to help their church communities engage in reconciliation in their areas.

“I am reminded of how the Creator already knows where we need to be and goes ahead of us,” said group leader Shannon Perez. “The young adults that participated on the Youth Ambassador of Reconciliation program did justice, walked humbly, and loved kindness. I am inspired, thinking about how they will continue on with their journey, fulfilling the Micah calling.”

For more information about the program and to inquire about the 2019 program, visit World Renew’s Global Volunteer Program.