The Returning to Spirit model is innovative and cutting edge in its approach to healing and reconciliation. It has been developed as a result of countless hours of conversation with Aboriginal community members, organizational leaders, delegates of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church as well as an intense ten day model creation workshop, held at Trapper’s Lake in Yellowknife, NT, in January of 2001.
How did it all start? From an impossible project!
In 1999, Bishop Denis Croteau of MacKenzie-Fort Smith Diocese asked Sr. Ann Thomson, Sister of St Ann, to find a First Nations person whom he could hire to lead healing workshops. Chief Roy Fabian recommended Marc Pizandawatc, an Algonquin First Nations man living in the North West Territories and facilitating workshops across Canada.
At one of Marc’s workshops attended by Ann, participants were asked to come up with a project dear to their hearts but which they saw as impossible. Ann’s project was to create a program that would bring reconciliation between First Nations people and the Church in the wake of the Indian Residential School (IRS) issues – a truly impossible project for her since she was white and she was Church. Hearing this, Marc declared that they could do it together. Thus the seed of RTS was planted!
Out of a conversation between Marc Pizandawatc, Paul Willie and Ann Thomson about alternate ways of resolving residential school issues, a proposal was written which spoke to the creation of a win-win situation for the Church an
d for First Nations. This proposal met with approval for funding from Bishop Denis Croteau. A partnership was created.
A Model Creation Workshop was held at Trapper’s Lake January 13 to 23, 2001 The individuals forming the Core Design Team were chosen because of their varied experience and expertise in matters involving the churches, First Nations’ traditions and culture, community development, self-awareness, personal development and empowerment. The input of the “Needs and Opportunities” group, made up entirely of First Nations persons who had been to IRS was also greatly impactful in creating this model!
The format for the Returning to Spirit (RTS) Healing and Reconciliation Program was created as follows: a 5-Day workshop attended by Church (CH) and First Nations (FN) people separately, followed some time after by a reconciliation workshop consisting of two days on communication held separately for Ch and FN people followed by a three day process when the two groups come together.
In May 2001, Marc Pizandawatc and Paul Willie piloted the FN 5-Day RTS workshop in Fort Good Hope, NT. (see picture at left: Planning a pilot in Yellowknife - Terry Villeneuve, Marc Pizandawatc, Ann Thomson, Paul Willie).
In October 2001, Marc and Ann Thomson piloted the Church workshop at Trapper’s Lake. In March 2002 the first reconciliation workshop was held at Trapper’s Lake.
The RTS program then moved South. Within a year, workshops were held in The Pas, MB, Vancouver, BC and Winnipeg, MB. RTS continued to spread. Workshops have been delivered across western Canada and into Ontario. We have had participants from all over Canada, from the States and beyond. Over 2000 persons have participated to date.
If, at the start, the emphasis was reconciliation between Church and First Nation people, the scope of RTS has expanded over the years. To reflect that, we now use the term “Non-Aboriginal” instead of “Church” and “Aboriginal” instead of “First Nation”. We are clear that the legacy of the IRS affects all people living in Canada!
The development of RTS and the training of trainers up to 2007 happened thanks to the financial contributions of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Religious Communities, the United Church, and many other corporate donors. Since 2007, the main funder of RTS has been CCIPRESS comprised of 54 Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential School Settlement.
In October of 2008 Returning to Spirit Reconciliation Inc. was incorporated as a non-for-profit, charitable organization.
We believe that the mission/mandate of RTS, of reconciling the legacy of the IRS, is happening, one workshop, one participant at a time!