Author: Fehderau, Karin
Date published: September 20, 2010
A be Funk didn't realize the land he was farming belonged to someone else. Other people living in and around the Laird district of northern Saskatchewan didn't know it either. Originally given as part of a package to the Young Chippewayan First Nation during the signing of Treaty 6 in 1876, the rich farmland was later taken from its members and turned over to Mennonite and Lutheran settlers. When the truth came to light, farmers like Funk wondered what to do.
In 2006, Mennonites and Lutherans met with the Young Chippewayan community and were relieved to find out that its members didn't want the land back, only proper compensation for what had been rightfully theirs. In turn, the farmers and townspeople living on the land agreed to support the aboriginal community in its fight for justice.
But before the first nation can move in that direction, it needs to identify its present members. According to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a search is necessary to determine the exact descendents of the original first nation.
To raise funds for this search project, Grace Mennonite Church in Prince Albert and Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan decided to work together to help the Young Chippewayans.
"There were originally 60 tents or families [at the treaty signing in 1876] ," says Renata Klassen, Mennonite Church Saskatchewan moderator. "The project is to trace the descendents of those families."
"Due to a shrinking budget [at Grace], we haven't done a lot of donating [towards the search project]," says Ryan Siemens, pastor of Grace Mennonite. Instead, the congregation decided to use its energy and love for others to stage a few fundraisers. A local musician who attends Grace suggested a music festival.
But the church didn't just want to hold a religious-looking event. Siemens sees more to the event than just people getting along. "It's about right relationships," he says. "We need events that build trust [between the two communities]."
Relationships, yes, but the congregation also sees this as a chance to do its part for MC Canada's call to active peacemaking. "It's our 'peace in the public square' event," he says.
Almost $4,000 was raised at the Spruce River FolkFest and Jamboree on Aug. 28. Leonard Doell, who works with the MCC Aboriginal Neighbours program, would like to see it become an annual event.
"I hope it's used for God's purposes," Siemens says. "And that's about reconciliation."
Now in his 90s, Abe Funk is still waiting for the issue to be resolved. "I hope this gets dealt with before I go," he says.
BY KARIN FEHDERAU