First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

On May 30 and 31, 2017, a meeting was held to bring together First Nations and “immigrant” people (everyone else). One of this year’s many meetings, the gathering took place at the Notre-Dame-du-Cap sanctuary in Trois-Rivières in Quebec. We wanted to provide you with an overview of the event in honour of International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, which is celebrated on August 9 of each year.

We might ask ourselves, what is the link between First Nations people and L’Arche communities? Meeting organizer and long-term member of L’Arche, Bernard Ménard responded without hesitation. He believes that “the feeling of belonging to a greater entity than the family unit is very strong, both at L’Arche and among Aboriginal people. So too is their fight for dignity.” Bernard Ménard adds that compassion for marginalized people is not enough. As a community, we share the responsibility to integrate them into society.

The contemporary individualistic lifestyle tends to make us believe that through donations, funding, assistance programs and other forms of generosity, society is taking responsibility for a certain portion of the population. But unless we go beyond charity and funding programs, marginalized people will never find a space where they can truly thrive and feel well integrated. To begin, we must meet each person face-to-face. We must transcend our preconceived ideas and judgment, and recognize that we have a great deal to learn from each person.

Every day at L’Arche, we fully experience this meeting with difference, as well as the significant contribution of each person, whatever their condition. This phenomenon is embedded in the culture of our community life.

The meeting of May 30 to 31 at Notre-Dame-du-Cap brought together 250 First Nations People and 100 immigrants. The First Nations people came from 11 different communities, some travelling from as far as Schefferville and Natashquan on the North Coast. Each person had the courage to meet one another face-to-face. As we so often see at L’Arche, participants were able to fully embody the experience of living with, rather than simply remaining at the level of words and talking.

Clearly emerging from this two-day assembly was the unique and exceptional quality of listening inherent in First Nations culture. The workshops were held in a space of complete respect for each speaker, regardless of the length of the speeches or any communication challenges. The gathering of First Nations people showed absolutely no sign of impatience. It is evident that within First Nations culture, each person has their place, and everyone wholly possesses the right to speak.  

Another common point between L’Arche communities and First Nations is the importance of Speaking Circles. Our modern-day “democracy” still has an enormous amount to learn about the act of true mutual listening, a practice that surpasses all forms of hierarchy.

The Importance of Listening without Judgement

A space of sharing and support, for each Speaking Circle, an essential starting point is to learn how to “listen without judgment.” This is easier said than done. Listening without judgment helps create an atmosphere of trust, inclusion, communion and healing.

From the beginning, the process assumes an acknowledgment of our profound interdependence, stemming from the fact that each person is unique and each person contributes fully to the harmony of their environment.  Fueled by competitiveness and personal success, contemporary culture has become increasingly centered on individualism. In contrast, First Nations cultures recognize that the whole of living beings are profoundly interconnected and responsible for one another.

In just a few words, the Wasauksing First Nations chief Shane Tabobondung expresses this idea beautifully. To him, “our vision of the world holds a wealth of teaching on responsibility, a responsibility that’s deeper than the one we hold toward ourselves, a responsibility for everyone, and even beyond that, a responsibility toward life. Love is what draws us together the most. When we pull back, we’re left with a hole, an emptiness in our chests.”

As we mentioned earlier, this sense of responsibility goes much further than the level of intellect or good deeds. To get to the place where we wake up to this social co-responsibility, the Speaking Circle serves as much more than a space of sharing our viewpoints.  

Françoise Lathoud is a University of Ottawa professor who has used the Speaking Circle many times within the school system. She cites Attikamek Elder Roger Echaquan who describes the Circle as the practice of “speaking with one’s heart. We must not have doubt, for doubt pushes away the spirit.” Roger Echaquan speaks of “being fully present,” of “clearing oneself out,” and of making the circle but “one entity,” to “arrive at a place beyond words.”

These days, the ancestral Speaking Circle has been integrated into new management systems. The circle is used to avoid prejudice and abuse of power within a hierarchical system, thereby promoting a consensual decision making process.

The Unique Journey of Marginalized People and Community Life

Our organizer of this First Nations’ meeting, Bernard Ménard has also contributed to the growth of L’Arche in Canada. For seven years, Bernard lived in L’Arche La Caravane, located in the small town of Green Valley, close to Alexandria, Ontario. (Now part of L’Arche Ottawa.) Additionally, Bernard has organized a number of retreats for L’Arche communities in both official languages.

Passionate about the community trend that arose in the 1970’s, he found himself at Berkelely where he embarked upon a doctoral thesis on the topic. His thesis entailed visiting over 153 communities spread out over seven different countries. In the wake of this research, Bernard chose to commit to L’Arche.

Just like many people who have lived in L’Arche communities, he discovered that when people have physical or intellectual disabilities, in truth, their main disability stems from the way society views them. Now 84 years old, his call out for a “greater solidarity with marginalized people” possesses the same deep fervour. He claims that society has “just begun to discover” these people’s deep value.

Beyond his involvement with people with disabilities and environmental causes, he has contributed to several other endeavours including the creation of an online event to promote a change in the way society views homosexuals.

Ménard was well aware that First Nations communities often encounter isolation due to the current reserve systems. He wondered if it would be possible to organize a meeting so that First Nations communities could get to know one another, and so that we could learn from them. As our modern society faces its walls and new forms of division, Bernard Ménard sees these sorts of actions of solidarity as a path to mutual understanding that brings hope to the world.

His goal was accomplished! This first meeting was a great success and participants clearly expressed their desire for the adventure to continue. The next edition has been scheduled for May 31 to June 1, 2018. If you missed the event this year, be sure to treat yourself to getting there next time.

Photos: Speaking Circles on ecology, justice and reconciliation, spirituality, and the depossession of land during the “Meeting between First Nations and immigrant peoples.”

Measuring the Impact of Federal Legislation to Promote Inclusion

On December 3, the International Day of Person with Disabilities, L’Arche Canada participated in the 9th annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion hosted by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First of Canada.

Canada accedes to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

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I Believe in You

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Accessible Canada Act passed third reading

L’Arche Canada has joined the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance (FALA) and supports its recommended changes.

Le Sacrement de la Tendresse (the Sacrament of Tenderness) a new film about Jean Vanier

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Louis Pilotte, new National Leader

“From my very first days in L’Arche, I was convinced that I was living an experience that was part of a project for society, part of a vision of the world.”

New Community Leaders in Saint John and Wolfville

… and celebrating Homefires Community Leader Ingrid Blais

Second Reading for Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) legislation to ensure a barrier-free Canada

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Fall 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: Support for L’Arche Lithuania

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying Regulations Fall Short

September 6, 2018 – L’Arche Canada supports the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) in urging the federal government to strengthen the system of monitoring Medical Assistance in Dying.

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L’Arche Canada and the Board of Directors present Trish Glennon, as the new Community Leader for L’Arche Daybreak

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Third Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada

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Minister Duncan introduces the proposed Accessible Canada Act

June 20, 2018 – This historic legislation would enable the Government of Canada to take a proactive approach to end systemic discrimination of people with disabilities.

L’Arche Canada Newsletter Summer 2018

“Community is built as we become interdependent, humbly recognizing and welcoming our need of one another.”

L’Arche Canada Foundation’s Spring 2018 Impact Bulletin

Top Story: L’Arche Toronto’s Trying It On For Size (TIFS) project for young people with intellectual disabilities

Summer in the Forest is coming to Canada

“Summer in the Forest is an extraordinarily tender documentary that asks what it means to be human. Here, even the most gentle scenes raise mighty questions.” (New York Times)

The Courage to Listen and Speak Out

As part of the campaign on fundamental values, the L’Arche Canada communications team recently published an online, illustrated account of a person who has lived through abuse. In very simple words, the account expresses a universal reality, the truth that not being heard is a source of immense suffering.

Jean Vanier Interview on CNN

Christiane Amanpour interviews Jean Vanier following the release of Summer in the Forest

First Nations – The Courage to Meet Face to Face

At L’Arche, we are all experimenting with what it means to find “the courage to truly meet difference.” We are on this journey whether we’re encountering a new person, or group, or any culture other than our own.

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Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Spring Trainings take off

The L’Arche Canada leadership development has entered a major new phase. After years introducing a model based on the core values of L’Arche and tools for reviews and team building, a comprehensive formation and training program – through over 100 online training modules – is being delivered across the country.

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On February 8, members of L’Arche attended an “in person” session of the accessibility consultation, as several L’Arche folk from other communities had done in their cities.

Meeting with the Minister

On April 6, 2017, representatives of L’Arche Canada met with the Hon. Qualtrough, Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, to share our hopes and concerns – and express our gratitude and support – for new federal, accessibility legislation.

Revelations of Abuse in Trosly, France

In a letter dated March 24, 2015, the Leaders of L’Arche International informed the communities of L’Arche around the world of the results of a canonical (Church) inquiry into accounts of sexual abuse by Père Thomas Philippe who was involved in the beginnings of the first community of L’Arche in Trosly. (Père Thomas died in 1993 so there was no trial.)

Love at Second Sight

AboutFace, an organization providing supports to individuals with facial differences and their families, as well as public awareness and education to increase understanding and acceptance, recently hosted the Toronto premiere of this powerful film that transforms attitudes about appearance and encourages students to accept themselves and others. It’s about difference and belonging, judgment and inclusion.

What does an Accessible Canada mean to you?

The Government of Canada has launched a consultation process that will be open until February 2017. Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation by visiting:

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In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Physician-Assisted Dying, and as the Federal Government works on drafting legislation on this issue, L’Arche in Canada has re-committed itself to providing the best possible supports for the people with intellectual disabilities in our communities, both in life and as they approach death.

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart

An excellent new book on Jean Vanier by Michael W. Higgins is available from Novalis.