News Story

What Latter-day Saint Youth in Montreal Discovered on National Indigenous Peoples Day

To celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, youth from the Montreal Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent the evening of June 21, 2023, visiting the permanent exhibition “Indigenous Voices of Today” at the McCord Stewart Museum in Montreal, Quebec. Visiting the exhibit allowed the youth a chance to learn more about Indigenous knowledge, hear inspiring stories through texts and videos from members of Indigenous nations, and develop an appreciation for the incredible resilience of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

National Indigenous Peoples Day, first announced and celebrated in Canada on June 21, 1996, is an official day of celebration to recognize and honour the heritage, history, rich cultures and achievements of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada. Indigenous peoples have traditionally gathered on this longest day of the year (summer solstice) to pray, celebrate and give thanks for the season.

Professor Dennis Wendt, communication director for the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake and director of the Cultural and Indigenous Research in Counselling Psychology lab at McGill University, provided the youth with a brief introduction to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. For the past 12 years, Wendt has collaborated with Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States to explore, develop and evaluate culturally relevant interventions pertaining to mental health, substance use and community wellness. Wendt told the youth that they “were going to learn about things that would inspire them, disappoint them and challenge them.”

As part of the exhibit, Wendt introduced the youth to a visual representation of holistic wellness that is common among Indigenous peoples. Wendt described that this approach to wellness includes “spiritual, physical, emotional and mental aspects of wellness, and the importance of balance.” The youth made connections in this regard to the goals they are working on through the Personal Development: Youth Guidebook, which is part of the Church’s Children and Youth program. This guidebook also encourages youth development in similar spheres to those of Indigenous wellness. The group agreed there is great wisdom in this approach to wellness.

When asked about the exhibit, Charles Frimpong, 12, noted that he had already learned at school some of the information presented in the Indigenous exhibit. He said, “I already knew that Indigenous people lost their land when Europeans came to North America. The land was really important to them because their ancestors’ teachings came from the land.”

Frimpong noted that his favourite exhibit was one that showed an Indigenous game. It involved a basket with beaded decorations on top. Frimpong said, It was a game for children and sometimes for adults.”

Hebe Xia, 15, loved learning about Indigenous innovations. She said, “Indigenous people discovered new things like waterproofing. They made parkas that protected them from the snow and rain years before other people learned how to waterproof with rubber and plastic.” Xia also noted that “Indigenous people were the first to invent canoes. They used them for fishing and travelling. They were innovators, making new things to improve their lives.”

Katelyn Wendt, 14, remarked, “[My] favourite part of this exhibit was learning about the experiences and beliefs of the Indigenous parents and children. We learned about how important it is to love children and protect them. Sometimes it’s hard to read about tough topics like residential schools, but I still think it’s important to educate yourself on these types of things.” She noted that one new thing she learned was that “even though only four percent of children in Canada are Indigenous, 52 percent of children in foster care are Indigenous” and added that she “found this quite concerning, obviously.”

After the exhibit, Bishop Patrick Robertson spoke to the youth about “the tragedies of residential schools, systemic racism, the displacement and scattering of Indigenous children.” He invited the youth to imagine going through that and to consider the importance of family and the cost of splitting up families. He reminded the youth that such consideration is “difficult to bear but an important part of the reconciliation discourse.”

Bishop Robertson encouraged the youth that just as the restoration of the gospel is a never-ending work, so is the work of reconciliation. Canadian society may be doing better recently in this regard, but there is much yet to do.

Bishop Robertson invited the youth and told them that “they play an active part in the reconciliation process; with what they’ve seen, heard and learned, they have a responsibility to be active agents of change toward attitudes, perceptions and actions toward Indigenous peoples.”

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