The Returning to Spirit model is designed to restore spirit and healing, and shift the conversation between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals from blame and resentment to hope and opportunity.
It began with discussions between Chief Roy Fabian, the Chief for Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Bishop Denis Croteau and Sister Ann Thomas. How could the church best contribute to healing? Chief Fabian recommended conversations with Marc Pizandawatc, an Algonquin First Nations man facilitating healing workshops among Aboriginals in the Northwest Territories.
The seed for reconciliation workshops was planted at one of Marc’s workshops. Participants were asked to create a project held dear but seeming impossible. Sister Ann suggested a program to reconcile First Nations people and the Church in the wake of the divisions caused by Indian Residential Schools.
A workshop design team was formed through church funding, and members having varied experience and expertise in First Nations’ traditions and culture, spiritual practices, community development, self-awareness, personal development and empowerment principles. A “Needs and Opportunities” group included Indian Residential School survivors. An intensive ten day model creation workshop was held at Trapper’s Lake in Yellowknife, North West Territories, 2001
Critical to the design and process was the need to reconcile within one's own biases and preconceptions before being able to really listen to the other, and be open to different ways of thinking. The model finally included 5-day separate workshops First Nations and Church delegate workshops, followed by a 5 day "reconciliation" workshop that included a communications and listening component.
The original reconciliation emphasis was between Church and First Nation people. We now use the term “Non-Aboriginal” instead of “Church”. The legacy of the Indian Residential schools affects every Canadian. Because of the massive success of the workshops, workshops have since been delivered to over 2000 participants across Western Canada and into Ontario and Quebec.