News Story

Finding Strength in Unity

Maawandoonan: bringing them together

In Anishinaabemowin, “maawandoonan” means “bringing them together.” The power and strength of bringing people together was apparent in Saugeen First Nation when local community organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rallied to help during a state of emergency. 

In July 2021, while Ontario was emerging from a COVID-19–related lockdown, Saugeen First Nation had a surge of COVID-19 cases and declared a state of emergency. Spearheaded by the Dufferin County Cultural Resource Circle in Orangeville, Ontario, many organizations, businesses, friends and neighbours came together in a short 72 hours to provide aide.

Charity Fleming, an Anishinaabe Latter-day Saint said, “Strength came in unity. This was an incredible team effort with substantial donations given by the Barrie Ontario Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Latter-day Saint members in Orangeville and Guelph, Blue Mountains Anglican Church, Qualia Counselling Services staff and networks, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, Martin Luther University College [formerly Waterloo Lutheran Seminary], and Anishnabeg Outreach. Chi-miigwech [a big thank you] to all who donated.”

Together, the community organizations donated over $20,000 in non-perishable items and cash. In-kind donations included a busload of non-perishable food items, baby food, diapers and wipes. President Robert Chaggares of the Barrie Ontario Stake donated $5,000 on behalf of the Church, while individuals from the Orangeville Ontario Ward donated $1,800 in gift cards.

Recognizing the importance of spiritual strength during times of adversity, Qualia Counselling Services (QCS) and Tribal Trade donated traditional medicine smudging kits. “Food is medicine, and our traditional medicines help to nurture and feed our spirits,” said Melissa Ireland of Indigenous outreach and relations at QCS.

Fleming commented on the importance of respecting and understanding the healing power of each other’s religious traditions as outlined in the Church’s eleventh article of faith. “Much like our Latter-day Saint ceremonies, where we focus on the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Indigenous smudging ceremony is about renewal. The teachings I received about smudging focus on prayer to Creator, … to help me think pure thoughts, have eyes and ears that hear and see goodness, a heart full of love and kindness, and a body that goes into the world walking paths of peace. It is a time to focus on goodness and being the good in the world we want to see.”

Fleming was moved by the donation of smudging kits and said, “This is evidence of God speaking to all His children and giving us ways to connect with the Holy Spirit and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

“When one mourns, we all mourn,” Fleming added. “When one struggles, we all struggle. To our Indigenous brothers and sisters — we hear your struggle, we care about you, and we want to respond.”

Conrad Ritchie, currently sitting on the Saugeen First Nation Chief and Band Council, acknowledged the help that arrived. He commented, “Our elders have always taught us to look after one another, to be caretakers of the land, water and one another. The old ways of our people will carry us through this hardship and strengthen our spirits.”

Reyna I. Aburto, second counsellor in the Relief Society General Presidency, has counselled, “Every one of our paths is different, yet we walk them together. Our path is not about what we have done or where we have been; it is about where we are going and what we are becoming, in unity. When we counsel together guided by the Holy Ghost, we can see where we are and where we need to be” (“With One Accord,” April 2018 general conference).

Debbie Egerton of the Dufferin County Cultural Resource Circle summarized the experience by emphasizing, “We aren’t just friends. We aren’t just a community. We are family — and we care.”

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