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NAIN at Luther College, July 19–22, 2015
The North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) held its annual “Connect” conference at Luther College at the University of Regina this past summer. The theme of our conference was “Restoring Spirit through Sacred Listening,” a theme designed to engage academics and activists of all faiths or no faith in the difficult task of reconciliation through deep listening. Over 150 people from around North America, including delegates from Mexico, participated in our four day event which featured workshops, tours and panel discussions that intentionally spoke to the issues of heart (interactive workshops), mind (academic panels), and action (practical application) in this sacred business of redressing social injustice. Pictures from this wonderful event can be viewed here.
Specific focus was given to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report. Dr. Marie Wilson, one of the three commissioners, presented the challenges before us to acknowledge our past and reimagine our future that would include all peoples and in particular First Nations peoples. Other opportunities to learn and work together on First Nations issues included viewing the film Amnesia, available through The United Church of Canada, which tells the story of the Regina Indian Industrial School. One tour visited the RIIS cemetery, where at least 40 children are buried, frequently without the parents’ knowledge.
The conference was framed around the contributions of First Nations University of Canada (FNU). The opening banquet was served by The Sioux Chef in the FNU atrium; the Rainwater Dancers captivated us at our Sacred Listening Evening; Elder Betty McKenna (our conference guiding Elder) held a tour of FNU’s Healing Gardens to discuss the health benefits of plants indigenous to this land; a Cree sweat was held; and a workshop by young adults highlighted the educational tool “Project of Heart”, Metis jigging, poems, drumming and talking circles. Presentations were also made around First Nations Spirituality, featuring discussion on how counsellors within the Western model of health treat fetal alcohol syndrome endemic in First Nations communities still affected by Canada’s colonizing history and current governmental practices and policies.
Presentations were given on responses to the persecution of people from other faiths. One workshop focussed on Muslims responding to the persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Leaders from Regina’s Sikh community discussed the intergenerational effects of the massacre of Sikh citizens in India following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the creation of The Widow’s Colony for those left without husbands or fathers. Several Muslim students addressed issues within the North American communities in terms of justice and identities, including gender variance, gender segregation, violence, ecology, and more. One presentation featured the work of The Green Room, an inclusive community in Edmonton, Alta. Muslim slam poet Ahmad Majid from Moose Jaw left participants with no doubt that violence begets violence in his call to people to care and to act with compassion. While religion has clearly been used violently, it has also been used as a vehicle to redress this pain and suffering.
Participants moved from an academic talk on “Listening in the Face of Religious Terror” to engaging in Jain or Buddhist or Sikh or Hindu meditational practices. A “Mandala of Compassion” was created throughout the conference by Lori Petruskevich of Saskatoon. The sound of the sticks rubbing together as Lori created the mandala and prayed for the conference could be heard from the auditorium where events were held, lending a contemplative atmosphere. The sand was dispersed at the end of the conference in a symbolic gesture that reminded participants to spread compassion to their own communities.
Art – whether in the forms of the visual, dance or music – engaged all the senses necessary for sacred listening. The Multifaith Saskatchewan’s Artistic Display, which featured 29 pieces of art created by high school students around Saskatchewan, was popular, while other art adorned the Luther College chapel and music and dance was a regular contribution throughout our days together. A sidebar project allowed participants to create their own works of art reflecting their conference experiences.
While at first a plenary talk on “Humour and Healing” may not seem to fit with this difficult work, it was precisely for this reason that Zarqa Nawaz, creator of the hit comedy Little Mosque on the Prairies and author of Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, told how her work in journalism and media opens spaces for us to see our common human frailties, hopes and potential. It should be noted that much laughter was heard throughout the conference!
Storytelling was featured as an essential tool in the work of reconciliation. Women from the Jewish, Jain, and Muslim faiths answered the question of what they found challenging and what they found liberating about being women in their faith traditions. Fifteen recipients of the NAIN Youth Scholarships, as well as all the other students and young adults in attendance were particularly effective in teaching us how the personal must be acknowledged and cared for within all these politico-spiritual endeavours.
In sum, all this and more was brought together for us to grow in our understandings that reconciliation means we must first bear witness to past violence and indignities; that we need to learn and re-learn the difficult task of deep or sacred listening; and that, ultimately, without commitment to action in partnership with one another, justice and dignity will continue to elude the humans and animals inhabiting our planet. This conference invited people to continue to engage in interreligious dialogue with those of different faiths and no faith as one step forward in this important work.
This conference was a joint effort of the Regina Multifaith Forum, Multifaith Saskatchewan, Luther College, Campion College, First Nations University of Canada, University of Regina, and Regina Police Service. If people would like to be involved in events such as these or to learn more about multifaith work at Luther College, they are invited to contact the people listed below.
Next year’s NAIN Connect will be held in Guadelajaro, Mexico.
For more information or to receive information about NAIN, please visit http://nain.org or contact the following:
Regina Multifaith Forum: President Gagan Deep Singh, firstname.lastname@example.org
Multifaith Saskatchewan: Colin Clay, Saskatoon, email@example.com
Luther College, University of Regina: Dr. Brenda Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org or
Luther College, University of Regina: Rev. Sean Bell, email@example.com