Celebrating the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

A star blanket with the four sacred plants and the hand drum.


On September 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we chose to bring into our liturgical celebration elements of the culture and ritual of our indigenous brothers and sisters as a way of honouring their traditions. It was also a way of showing our sorrow and acknowledgment of the denigration of these traditions by our ancestors and members of our church.

We wanted to find healing and reconciliation. We wanted to show our desire to stand with them in their struggles for recognition of the wrongs of the past and the pain that they have suffered.  Yet we know that racism and effects of colonialism exist to this day. So, as we acknowledged the traditional homelands on which our chapel stands, we asked the Great Spirit to allow us to show our indigenous sisters and brothers that we support them in their ongoing struggle for a just and respectful relationship with all the peoples of Canada.

Orange adorned the chapel ambo and walls, and many of the Sisters wore orange as a reminder of the suffering and disrespect indigenous children suffered in Residential Schools. In front of the altar, we draped a star blanket that holds deep meaning and traditions linked to indigenous culture, birth, life and death, and symbolizes peace. Placed on the blanket were the four sacred plants – tobacco, sweet grass, cedar and sage.

Ann Boniferro, Director of Pastoral Liturgy & Music, plays the traditional hand drum.

Our Liturgy began with the playing of a traditional hand drum, followed by a smudging as our Penitential rite. Although we had all four sacred plants on the star blanket, we used only sage, a woman’s plant, for our smudging. Sage is the plant used to prepare people for ceremonies and teachings.  It has a special service of releasing what is troubling the mind and removing negative energy.

As we reflected on our need for healing and reconciliation, we prayed: 

Creator, we thank you for the gifts you have given to us in the many plants we use for healing.  Send your Spirit into this smoke to dispel all negative stereotypes, feelings and attitudes we may have had towards people different from ourselves, in colour, culture, or religion.  Cleanse us even now of the unconscious negative feelings towards others that may still be in our hearts and replace these with the energy of this sage as it brings cleansing, protection and blessing into this space.

Then the smoke of the sage was spread around the chapel for smudging.

After the Liturgy of the Word from Isaiah 58:9b-12; Psalm 33 and John 17:20-26, a recording of a drumming song, played by three women from the Four Directions Centre at Queen’s University here in Kingston, accompanied our reflection on what we had heard and experienced. We prayed the Eucharistic prayer for Reconciliation and, in the final blessings, we turned to each of the four directions. As we did so, we prayed for the dawning of a new day for all indigenous people in the Americas, north and south, as they struggle for justice and equality, and for the healing of the earth itself and all relationships.

As we left the chapel, we heard again the drumming song. A fitting ending to a call to deep reflection and transformation.

Sister Una Byrne spreading the smoke of the sage around the chapel.
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