Guest Blog: Duluth’s “Living Our Resiliency” Symposium an Opportunity for Healing and Change for City’s Native Peoples

Christina Woods
Christina Woods

On March 7, the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth and Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) held an event called “Living our Resiliency Symposium,” that brought together the city’s Indigenous people and people from the mostly white religious communities to discuss the historical and ongoing trauma that exists in Native American communities. Event Coordinator Christina Woods (Anishinaabe) was invited to write a guest blog to share about the event and follow up. It offers a powerful model for us to consider replicating in the metro area.

“As a life-long Catholic, I was certain my moral grounding through Catholicism was the compass I could rely on to guide all my decisions,” said a community leader who attended the Living Our Resiliency Symposium. “But now, my eyes are open.”

The March event brought together 100 members of the Duluth community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to view and discuss the Sheldon Wolfchild documentary, Doctrine of Discovery. The documentary is making its way into many communities through Christian faith venues. I believe these opportunities are to enlighten non-Indigenous people about the systemic oppression that has followed Indigenous peoples around the world. For us, it was important to use the documentary to help reveal eye-opening issues that plague the Indigenous community in Duluth.

The Symposium was unique in many ways. It was led by Indigenous elders and leaders. The parallel development model was used as a means to include religious leaders to participate in this important dialog.

By design, the Symposium was an effort to bring together Duluth’s leaders to plan an event that would bring us together to work on issues in our community. The planning included Indigenous leaders, elders and health care professionals and religious leaders from 10 churches in Duluth. The planning group was a place to open up about trauma and expose the religious leaders to the barriers and behaviors that continue to perpetuate oppression for Indigenous people in Duluth.

The documentary would lay the ground work to develop understanding of the long historical record of oppression which affects all of our thinking.

As an Indigenous-led project, the Symposium goals were determined by the leaders and elders. The structure of the evening event provided a safe experience for the Indigenous participants to express deep feelings and build community among the Indigenous attendees. In order to accomplish this, the Symposium was split into two viewing experiences. The evening began with the community participants sharing a blessed meal (again Indigenous led). The Indigenous participants and non-Indigenous participants then moved into separate venues to view the documentary and discuss it. We all came back together for the last 30 minutes.

This last half hour was an opportunity for the Indigenous participants to tell the non-Indigenous participants what they want for support to make changes in Duluth. The two main messages were: Culture is not something we do just for fun, it is our lifeline! Secondly, when you see us trying to make change for our community, step up and help us. It was POWERFUL!

Change is already happening! St. Louis County Social Workers are seeking to smudge during the work day.  Through the Symposium, connections are being made to better organize the effort, bring allies to the table and broaden understanding. Relationships are highlighted in meaningful ways to institute change.  Listening tables to actively create policy change at the city and county level and continued exposure to how trauma effects people are a few examples of the momentum created by the Symposium. Many of the participating churches are leading efforts within their own congregations to work on promoting the understanding of topics like privilege, bias, prejudice and racism. This work is invaluable towards understanding the reparations needed to heal a community.

The next steps include another viewing of the documentary, classes to teach about historic trauma, trainings for community organizations, offering Indigenous cultural experiences and teaching (bead work, storytelling, etc.), and a bigger space for the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth.

~Respectfully submitted by Christina Woods
Living our Resiliency Symposium” Event Coordinator
Diversity Consulting


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