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Moving reconciliation into practice: Mi’kmaq, Acadian communities share culture, history at Grand Pré peace circles

The four co-leaders of the weekly Peace Circle held at the National Historic Site at Grand Preé are Anika Lirette, Tammy Mudge, Melanie LeBlanc and Kayla Mansfield-Brown.
The four co-leaders of the weekly Peace Circle held at the National Historic Site at Grand Preé are Anika Lirette, Tammy Mudge, Melanie LeBlanc and Kayla Mansfield-Brown. - Paul Pickrem

GRAND PRÉ, NS - Organizers of a weekly Peace Circle held in the Valley are hoping to promote dialogue and reconciliation by sharing traditional Mi'kmaq and Acadian songs and spiritual teachings with the public.

Peace Circles were held every Saturday during July and continue until Aug. 25 at the National Historic Site at Grand Pré.

Event organizer Anika Lirette is the artistic director at the national historic site. Along with fellow Acadian, Melanie LeBlanc, and Kayla Mansfield-Brown, a Mi’kmaq advocate, as well as Tammy Mudge, from Glooscap First Nation, teamed up to create the format for the peace circles. Each week, the focus is on one of the traditional seven teachings of Mi'kmaq spirituality, which is illustrated by telling stories about an animal.

Lirette said she wanted to do something more to strengthen the relationship between Acadian and Mi'kmaq peoples after a pow wow at the site last year.

"I wanted to start a grassroots initiative, so we don't just meet once every summer and expect that we are in close relations. Relationships need to be built," she said. "Mi'kmaq and Acadians do not live together today, and yet, we have in common the history of Grand Pré. So, I wanted to create a dialogue and to integrate as many people as possible into that dialogue."

The theme of a peace circle held Aug. 4 was humility and the animal was the wolf. 

The program opened with the singing of the Mi'kmaq Honour Song, led by two drummers. Then, the participants, who were from across the valley and even some visitors to the site from France, were taught the Mi'kmaq word of the week.

Acadian singer, Melanie LéBlanc, led the group in a song she wrote about the theme of unity, with the words, "All is one. No one is alone." The song is consistent with the idea of gathering in a circle.

"No one person is more important than the other in a circle. Everybody can see each other equally. And, the circle is important to the teachings of Mi'kmaq spirituality. They believe that everything that goes around comes around," Lirette said.

"We didn't want it to be like you are in class. No, you are participating in something. We are creating a safe place for learning and exchange.”

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Wendy Stubbert is a trauma counsellor who lives in the Valley. She participates in the Peace Circles every week.

"It's really important that we move reconciliation from a philosophy and a catchphrase or a hashtag and move it into practical, tangible relationship building. Peace circles provide that initial step of being introduced to our local indigenous culture,” she said in an interview.

She said Canadians will never experience the potential of our nation until we go back and begin to process the trauma experienced by First Nations people, Acadians and Black Canadians, in person to person relational reconciliation, hearing the stories, honouring the stories, and owning our part in the stories.

“Reconciliation is not a political, corporate or national responsibility. Reconciliation is a personal responsibility, leading to action,” she said.

Each person in the circle was passed a rattle stick and given the opportunity to share a story or reflect on the theme of humility and the wolf if they wanted to. The Peace Circle ended with a traditional dance and the singing of the Mi’kmaq Friendship Song.

Kayla Mansfield-Brown is optimistic about the potential for reconciliation in Peace Circles.

“I think that, through these conversations and through these initiatives, we are seeing what could potentially happen when we choose to come together as people and see each other as people, not the differences that exist between us,” she said.

Go online: Information about Peace Circles is available at info@visitgrandpre.ca .

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