As a Mennonite, I am aware of my denomination’s privileged reputation in the Waterloo region. The good work of present-day organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, combined with a historical commitment to nonviolence, have contributed to the perception of Mennonites as leaders for social good.
Though much of this reputation is well-deserved, it is easy to forget about all of the ways that Mennonites have contributed to the historical injustices of colonialism in the Waterloo Region.
This is probably why we never hear about how Mennonite settlers to the Waterloo Region contributed significantly to the decimation of the Mississauga people, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Nation that occupied Southern Ontario when the first Mennonite settlers arrived.
It doesn’t come up in church that our rapid agricultural development lead to the disappearance of traditional planting flats and hunting parks, in spite of government treaties protecting Indigenous rights to use these lands.
My Mennonite elders never told me the story of how the indiscriminate sale of alcohol to the Mississaugas by Mennonites severely disrupted the social fabric of Indigenous life. In Sunday school class, no one mentioned that the Mississaugas were forced out of Waterloo Township around 1840 as a result of a Mennonite-backed petition.
Although the historical relationship between Mennonites and the Mississaugas is complex and supposedly initially mutually beneficial, somewhere along the way, the Mississaugas and other Indigenous groups in the area, were not included as equal partners in the development of the region.
Today, I am seeing Mennonites beginning to take steps towards revitalizing this relationship by attending Truth and Reconciliation Commission events, organizing learning retreats at Six Nations, and generally learning about colonialism and listening to Indigenous peoples. We still have much to learn.
Come join in an act of decolonization by joining the congregation of Mannheim Mennonite Church on Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 pm for a Blanket Exercise Workshop lead by local Ojibwe women Shannon Pride and Akiesha Absolon from White Owl Native Ancestry Association.
The Blanket Exercise is a teaching tool to share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. People of all denominations and faiths are welcome to participate. Please bring your own blanket or towel. A voluntary offering will be collected for the “Save the Evidence Campaign.”
Here are some helpful links for your information:
The Facebook Event:
The Blanket Exercise:
White Owl Native Ancestry:
Save the Evidence Campaign:
If you can give or need a ride, you can sign up here:
Meg Harder is a visual artist living in Kitchener. She also works as a Sr. Library Assistant at Kitchener Public Library where she coordinates events and resources to promote learning about local Indigenous history. She attends Mannheim Mennonite Church. You can view her artwork at megharder.carbonmade.com