Sunday morning, whatever your religious affiliation or spiritual practice, consider saying a prayer for the health and healing of Canada’s Indigenous people.
“I would have to say if the Indigenous people in the country are not well, Canada is not well,” says Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day of the Assembly of First Nations.
“If the Indigenous people are well, then Canada will be a better country.”
Day invites people across Canada to meditate, pray or participate in a sacred practice of their spiritual tradition at 9 a.m. local time on Sunday as part of the inaugural National Day of Prayer and Mindfulness. In June, Day and other members of the AFN health committee unanimously endorsed the concept of a national day of prayer after consultation with elders.
“It brings everything together, it brings everyone together,” Day says of the prayers, which follow the path of the sun from east to west.
“The National Day of Prayer is reaching out to a number of faiths and denominations to pull together (with us), however they need to pray.”
Day asks Canadians to pray for Indigenous youth dealing with depression, communities facing losses due to suicide, and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The idea for the day of prayer came from the National Indigenous Elder Council, which commissioned Selkirk resident Troy Fontaine to carve a special pipe to use for prayer. The council designated Elder Dave Courchene of Sagkeeng First Nation, 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to be the caretaker of the pipe.
Courchene says taking time to reflect on common issues and concerns may change the tone of the conversation around Indigenous people and perhaps inspire Canadians to action.
“We are requesting a spiritual act that will influence (all of) our minds to change the way we are thinking,” says Courchene, founder of Turtle Lodge Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness. “It is only positive thought that will move us forward.”
The day has been endorsed by several faith groups across the country and publicized by denominations on their websites, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg.
“We believe in prayer, we’re a people of prayer,” says Archbishop Richard Gagnon, adding Catholics pray for Indigenous people every year on Dec. 12, the Feast Day of Guadalupe. “Prayer is an action of love for one’s neighbour.”
And that prayer needs to continue throughout the year as faith groups work toward reconciliation, as well as improving the living conditions for First Nations people, says the president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council. “As a Jew, I often speak of tikkun olam, (which means) mending the world,” Belle Jarniewski says. “There is much in our country that remains broken and in need of healing and mending.”
Courchene hopes the day provides people a chance to pray for these common concerns and emphasizes that every prayer matters, no matter what format or practice. It may be difficult to measure, but he believes the day of prayer will have a positive effect.
“There’s absolutely no doubt something will develop from this day, but I have no control over it,” says Courchene, who invites the public to join him for prayers and a sacred fire at Turtle Lodge on Sunday.
Day plans to spend time Sunday visiting elders and attending a sacred fire near his home in Elliot Lake, Ont.
“I’ll take the time to ask that people will offer some quiet reflection and think about missing and murdered women and think about young people, think about our nation and our whole relationship with Canada.”
Every prayer matters
Join in the National Day of Prayer and Mindfulness, 9 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 6.
For more information, check out turtlelodge.org