Participant Reflections

Living with Loss; Facilitation question: What’s the role of ceremony in group work?

Ceremony brings everyone together for a greater cause.

It gives everyone a role to do something so not one gets left out.

A positive outcome (vibe).

Lots of work, teachings, history.

Some people who come to ceremony could be confused, hurt, sick, worries, sad, angry, mad, unsure, lost.

Knowledge is passed on.

Education is revived.

Better understanding of self and everything around them.

Soul and spirit are awakened.


A good ceremony would be Education.

To educate on history and Ethnicity to have a better understanding of people/ where they come from for better knowledge of one another instead of ignorance.

Everyone has a way of doing things maybe we could learn from each other rather than argue and fight.

To understand oneself is hard let alone to understand others.

There is so much that we as humans have in common, but we let our ignorance get in the way of understanding each other.  Somer G.

What is my experience with ceremonies?” I thought. When I was a child, I participated only in 2 types of ceremonies: 1) some of my Christian Orthodox relatives had a prayer before beginning of a group work; and 2) the Soviet regime related ceremony, for example raising a USSR flag or singing an anthem at my school or summer camps. I was always taking it as something given and never analyzed it in terms of how it affected our group work. However, for most of my life I am used to NOT having a ceremony before starting a group work; therefore, having a ceremony these days always has a strong effect on me. I feel this like a shock wave (in a good way), a system been rebooted. My feelings about having a ceremony in a group work incline more towards liking it and I would happily participate in one, but I don’t feel competent enough to initiate a ceremony and to be a master of ceremonies.

Listening to other people talking about ceremony in group work made me realize there are different types of ceremonies, and each of them serves a different purpose. In my opinion, not all those ceremonies are related to work (or the definition of group WORK has to be clarified to me) in my understanding; they could be celebratory, commemorational, mourning, etc. and they have much more clear purpose, preestablished one. But when it comes to a ceremony in a group work that purpose has to be identified. When a ceremony is successful it gives a framework to group work; makes people being on the same page; reunites them and makes the group cohesive. It is both important to begin a group work with a ceremony and to end.

I am trying to be more grounded and mindful in both my personal and professional life, so having a ceremony before and after group work is a way for me to become more focused on what we are going to do, to be fully aware about this work, mindful, and dedicated. This made me think of how a ceremony can be included into work place that usually does not have a ceremony as a way of practicing? What could be an alternative? A motivational speech? An agenda setting? Something individual by each worker? Would it be a true ceremony? Would it be tolerated? Encouraged?

I also thought about how often Treaty recognition ceremonies are performed prior to many group work events. Although this practice has been criticized for not being meaningful in many non-aboriginal gatherings, I think it could become meaningful if we try to.

What is a good ceremony for here, now, if we hope to help everyone truly thrive?

Here and now – is Edmonton – home for aboriginal peoples, European colonists, and a refuge of to numerous cultures. It is a multilayer place carrying a lot of history

This question has very strong statements like “a good ceremony” and “everyone truly thrive”. So, under these circumstances, I think, a good ceremony for such a “multilayer” place (as Anna Marie called it) would be not creating a universal ceremony for everyone, but rather the encouragement to develop an individual, personal, ceremony that would help a person to bring themselves to a place of going to a common goal of shared thriving. I don’t know how that encouragement might look like as a ceremony, or maybe we have to move from creating a ceremony (which although has a repetitive nature, but still is a single act) to developing an on-going practice/a culture of encouraging and teaching people to develop their own individual ceremonies that would be meaningful to them, but at the same time serve a common purpose of shared thrival. The willingness to understand what thrival means to others is inessential in developing such individual ceremonies. – Tatiana K.  

Image and Reality –  3 rounds of linked Facilitation prompts 


Question: How do you see your community via Caricature, Document(ary), Portrait?

Since childhood I have been aware of the caricatures of Jews, shown to us today by Elaine. I have even seen a collection of such sketches in a Harlem museum devoted to the history of stereotyping and characterization of African Americans; but which also covered some history pertinent to Jews.

As a youngster, I didn’t understand the hatred inspiring such pictures, although my older brothers told me stories about joining groups to stop and fight with marchers in Manchester (UK) supporting Oswald Mosely and his “brown shirts”. Recently I have read reports that Hitler planned that he would replace Churchill with Mosely, after the conquest of Great Britain.

I am unaware of similar evil caricatures of Indigenous people. The portraits I recall of Indigenous chiefs are of proud and commanding persons. Contrarily, there is a great deal of written material regarding the image of less fortunate indigenous persons who are jobless, hapless alcoholics filling a disproportionate percentage of our prisons.

However, because of this project, I have made contact with indigenous persons who have been through the Residential School System. It has been a horrific and eye opening experience. Reading newspaper accounts did not bring home this shameful episode in Canadian history. Meeting people such as Terry Lusty has not only exposed me to the horrors of the system but enabled me to meet a remarkable person.

Moving towards Thrival

Question: Who am I now? What are my dimensions? 

Well I am a husband, a father, a grandfather and a great grandfather. Those are the most important me(s) at this time of my life. My influences were growing up in England in a middle class, fairly observant, Jewish home.  After living in Canada for more years than I lived in the UK, I also think and behave differently to a sessile Englishman.

Where do I go from here and how do I get to “Thrival”? At this moment I believe that I am there; but at my age this could change at any time. For the Jewish community, it depends on where you are living. Anti-Semitism is alive, well and thriving. In Edmonton, we are lucky to have such great support from the Edmonton Police Department (EPD). Unlike my older brothers, I have never had to literally fight to protect Jewish property and although the Jewish Senior Citizen’s Centre has to face up to the possibility of damage, this is minimized by the presence of the EPD and precautions taken by Staff and Board. To thrive one must be able to live in the larger community as an equal with equal opportunities. I believe that is the present situation for the Jewish community in Edmonton. For this to continue I believe we as a community need to constantly mix with and educate the larger community so that we are not seen as strangers with weird customs but as people who just want to live and flourish in a similar manner to other immigrant communities.

Question: Look at life here and now. What connections matter? Where and how can you influence and contribute?

In conclusion, my life time experiences have suggested to me that the road to “Thrival” is via strong personal relationships and strong family ties. Thrival comes when you meet, talk and respect each other, one to one and culture to culture. – Mark S.

Food as Connection: A Story on the Theme

Her Name was Maggie 

Maggie came to my door one summer when I was taking care of a rental property for a friend who was on holidays.  Maggie wanted to rent the suite that was available.   I looked at her, she was obviously native, and elderly.   Then she told me her name.  I was flabbergasted. 

My father and his buddies used to go to a bootlegger after the hotel was closed, and my mother used to tease him about his relationship with Maggie, whom the women in town called “The Tar Paper Blonde.” 

I was prepared to refuse to show her the suite, but something about her called to my heart.  She had a dignity and way about her that caused me to invite her in.  I made a cup of tea and we talked.   It turned out that she had cancer, and was looking for a place to live while she had treatments at the local hospital. I told her I knew her name from when I was a kid.  I asked her about her family. This is her story. 

Maggie married a German man and had seven children.   Her husband enlisted in the Korean war, and came back a different man than she married.  He began to drink and abuse her and the family, and in particular, one son who was gay.  She used the term, “ Shell Shocked,” to describe her husband.  He went to war as a miner who worked hard for his family, and came back a monster. After a terrible night where  he dragged the gay son out of bed and beat him badly, Maggie left with the children. Her Cree relatives took her in as they were able.  

In those days there was not much help from Welfare, except that they helped them find sub standard shelter.  Maggie washed walls and did housework  for the wives of the executives in our company town,  but  low wages and the humiliation against native people went with the jobs. There wasn’t enough money to take care of her large family,   though her relatives were able to share wild meat, and Maggie harvested herbs, mushrooms and berries.  

She started to make home brew and sell it as the only way left to her to raise her children.  In our small town her name was bandied about in a shameful way in most households.  The men’s nights out were  often ended at Maggie’s place.  Yet all her children except one finished school and either had a trade or went to university.  One daughter was a teacher, and two were in nursing school.  Maggie cried as she shared the fact that her gay son committed suicide.  

I rented her the suite, we became friends, I met some of her family, many of her relatives, and anyone who came to town for medical  appointments would knock on my door and ask if they could stay with Maggie.  She was honoured as an elder by her nation.  

One day she invited me to meet the chief of her community, and served what I thought was a chicken stew.  It was delicious.  She asked me if I liked it  and then told me it was not chicken, but was a rabbit stew.  She said she didn’t tell me before, because she didn’t know if I would eat it if I knew.  It was the first time I ate rabbit. I admit my only connection with rabbits was a tame white rabbit I kept as a child, so I was a bit taken aback.  

Yes, her name was Maggie.  It was the 1960’s in a small mining town in northern Manitoba.  Her story  will stay with me all my life, because I met someone who was in no way what my town called her.  In her memory I tell this story to show that good people are often put in situations that are beyond their control, and they do the best they can.  Maggie went from  mere survival to thrival for her family, and did it her way despite the prejudices and humiliation she faced daily.  RIP  dearest Maggie.  – Audrey B.

Wannabe, facilitation question ‘How do I reflect on my own identity?’

I am a unique individual. Everyone is. However, my identity is largely defined by the groups into which my life evolved.

I am male, Jewish, Canadian, a university graduate, a retired lawyer. I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, a nephew, an uncle, a cousin, a friend. I am now considered a senior citizen.

I am a volunteer and I advocate volunteerism. Through the Jewish Senior Citizens Center I feel that I can advance the interests of senior citizens and Judaism. Also, it is a medium that provides an opportunity to reach out and connect with other groups, which what we are doing in this From Survival to Thrival program.

My parent taught me by example to do my part to contribute to the betterment of the community, to be respectful and tolerant of others, and to always act with honesty and integrity. Lewis W.

Wannabe, Facilitation Questions: How do you claim identity? Why do we claim identity? In what ways do you claim identity?

Last week, Jason asked if “canoeing is an act of cultural appropriation.” This both struck me like a canoe paddle dipping into still waters and resonated within me like the ripples waving slowly away from the entry point of the paddle. Canoeing has been such an important part of my life, and it never occurred to me in my wildest daydreams that I might be guilty of cultural appropriation simply for floating in a small water craft and propelling it forward with the sheer determination and strength of my arms and torso. I am not a big woman by any measure, but I have indeed spent so much time in a canoe that I cannot wear a woman’s small or medium blouse. My shoulders grew with every stroke of the paddle, and now I must wear a woman’s large blouse.

Here in this Red Canoe — this is where I feel most comfortable, most at ease, most in touch with my ancestors, most in communion with my two-winged friends, most at one with myself and most at one with whoever is with me in my canoe on the lake or the river. Here in this Red Canoe — this is where I feel most me.

Maybe my Red Canoe is how I reconnect to who I am and to who my mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers, my aunties and uncles, my great-aunties and great-uncles are. Maybe my Red Canoe is how I express who I am as an Indigenous person. I am a modest woman who need not a lot of bling or jewellery or external ostentatious expression.

The world looks at me and does not see an Indigenous woman because the world is ravenous for stereotypes. When I am in my Red Canoe, I am in awe of all Creation, and I am especially pleased to share my awe with anyone who is brave enough to come with me to the river or the lake and pull water with me in my Red Canoe.

Cheecheeman — that’s the anglicized pronunciation painted on the big boat on Lake Huron that ferried me, my bike, and other people from South Baymouth to Tobermory, Ontario in 1995, as I pedalled my way across this vast land. Only years later would I learn — in my quest to know myself as an Indigenous woman – that cîcîmân is a Cree word for “big canoe.”

I first learned to canoe, then I learned to bake pahkwêsikan — bannock –, and oh what a gift that bannock should be both a Scottish word and an Indigenous dish; then I learned how to make pemmican — pimîhkân — how to cut the rich red meat of the paskwâwi-môstos, how to build the right kind of smudgy smoky fired to dry and smoke the meat; then I learned to tan a hide, and now I’m trying to learn the language of my forbears– nêhiyawêwin êkwa anishnaabêmowin.

I feel most authentically me with a pen in my hand (not in front of a screen with a keyboard under my hands), a paddle in my hand, a canoe around me. – Naomi M.

On Identity
Last Labour Day weekend, on the way home from a Mennonite retreat with my wife Suzanne, and our friend, Donna. We got in a discussion about my (slight) discomfort around Mennonites’ enthusiasm for ‘camp songs’, with rather shallow (I think) theology. I was particularly put on edge by a song about wanting to ‘boogie with Jesus.’ The conversation was steering into dangerous water, because my wife and I have a history of her wanting to include me in her Mennonite community, and me wanting to make an effort to include myself, but nevertheless sometimes feeling like an outsider. And this can provoke anger from Suzanne that I’m just not trying hard enough, whereas I feel like I have to defend my feelings and perceptions.Anyway, Donna steered the conversation away from this precipice, and got me talking instead about my exploration of Judaism in the past year. I talked about the things that had kept me at arms’ length from Judaism and the Jewish community in the past, and how these had changed for me more recently. I articulated my new Jewish-informed understanding of God, and my relation to Torah and other Jewish sacred writings. I talked about my discovery of Orthodox Talmudic scholar Daniel Boyarin, and his insights into (ironically) New Testament texts. This discussion helped clarify for Suzanne what this exploration of Judaism meant to me, and she expressed validation. I like to think I’m secure enough in who I now am without that external validation. But the fact is, it made a big difference. It helped me take myself more seriously. Task: what I was doing here was expounding, synthesizing some strains of thought from recent readings, discussions with Rabbi Gila and others, putting together my own understanding of those ideas, clarifying them in my own mind, expressing my excitement about all this. I was also claiming these ideas, asserting them as my own, not knowing if my audience’s reaction would be supportive or disparaging. It turned out to be highly supportive, from both Suzanne and Donna. And I went on to write up my thoughts as a blog post for an interfaith dialogue group in which we participate.
How did I come to understand connection between task and identity? From one way of looking at it, me riding in a car and talking to Mennonites about Judaism–this task has nothing to do with Jewish tradition. It’s not one of the mitzvot laid down in the Shulchan Aruch to converse with Mennonites while travelling by car. On the other hand, what I was doing was, loosely conceived, engagement in Torah study. Not in a Shul with the text in front of me. But bringing my mind and heart into engagement with the teachings of Jewish tradition. Not passively accepting it all, but speaking about how it speaks tome, how I make sense of it, how I question it, how I am critical of it, how I learn from it.What activity could be more Jewish? – Robert K.

Read Reflections on the project as a whole Here