Founded seven years ago in the aftermath of the acrimonious Grand River land dispute in Caledonia, Ont. Nations
Uniting is a hub for healing where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples come together in search of a common understanding. Inside the renovated former manse of three United
Church congregations, there is an emphasis on learning to
live together as settlers and First Nations people.
Healing between nations is as important as the inner healing
of individual people because it is not only residential school
survivors who are struggling. So, too, are Indigenous youth.
The suicide epidemic in many communities and alcohol-related
deaths are mere symptoms of the loss of culture that has come
with colonialism. “Our youth aren’t sure where they belong
because they weren’t taught our culture,” says Johns. “Everyone
wants to know and get back to the culture.” To fill this need,
Nations Uniting offers opportunities to learn traditional teachings and ceremonies, often bringing in
Elders to pass on cultural knowledge.
It’s working. Bomberry is rediscovering her culture, and two of her adult children are learning, too. “They have a pride
in who they are that people of my generation never had,” she says. “It’s pretty
Julie McGonegal is a writer in Barrie,
Ont. with a passion for reconciliation
Sherlene Bomberry believes that stories can heal us. As a young child, she experienced the intergen- erational trauma of residential schools: drinking and
fighting ripped apart her home life. After a stint in foster care,
Bomberry was enrolled at the Mohawk Institute Residential
School in Brantford, Ont. There she endured torment and
abuse that she internalized for years. “Repression makes you
sick. Those toxic secrets need to be told. And toxins come out
in tears. If you talk about it, you release your trauma.”
Bomberry, 61, now shares her story in the survivors’ circle
at Nations Uniting, an outreach ministry for the Six Nations
of the Grand River and surrounding area in Ohsweken, Ont.
With each act of sharing, comes more healing, she says.
Survivors like Bomberry appreciate the warm and welcoming space at Nations Uniting. “Just coming here makes them
feel good because of the homey atmosphere. They feel very
comfortable here. That helps them bring out what is within,”
says Rhonda Johns, the ministry’s Program Coordinator.
The survivors’ circle began seven years ago in prepara-
tion for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.
It continues to fill a need now that the formal process is over.
“People are hungry for healing right now,” says Johns. “Our
communities are so broken.”
Rather than prescribing a path to recovery, Nations Uniting
takes direction from its members. “We ask them, ‘What do
you need to be healed? What do you want
to learn?’ They tell me what they want
and we try to provide it,” Johns explains.
Mission & Service funding covers Johns’
salary. With other United Church support Nations Uniting runs a gamut of
programs, such as social gatherings,
workshops, retreats, and sharing circles
that allow Indigenous people to resolve
conflicts and discuss important issues.
What unites all these efforts is a quest for
spiritual recovery and reconciliation.
5 SUPPORT TO LOCAL MINISTRIES
Storytelling is way one
Nations Uniting helps an
Left to right: Rhonda Johns,
Nations Uniting Program
Coordinator, and the Rev.
Vicky Aldersley, minister of