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Indigenous engagement co-ordinator commissioned at St. John the Evangelist

Kimberly Johnson-Breen
By on February 1, 2023

St. John the Evangelist in Ottawa commissioned Kimberly Johnson-Breen as its first Indigenous engagement co-ordinator on Jan. 8.

At the closing of the Sunday Eucharist service, the Rev. Canon Gary van der Meer said that the parish had recognized that they value and seek the gifts that an Indigenous engagement co-ordinator could bring as “someone who will lead and teach, guide, focus and encourage us in our experience, in our knowledge and in our actions.”

In the time since Breen-Johnson joined the parish, she “has been offering gifts of leadership already, helping our community to move in concrete ways, including the care and reserving of medicines kept here in this church, smudging prior to worship services and conversations with respect and warmth with the people on the street In front of our building and within our community,” van der Meer said.  

This led the parish to discern that she had the “gifts, compassion and calling to be St. John’s Indigenous engagement co-ordinator.”  

He presented Breen-Johnson with a basket to keep and carry traditional medicines, and she gave van der Meer a pair of moccasins for their journey walking along side one another.

Breen-Johnson then told the congregation a bit about her own journey growing up in the United States as the daughter of a Cherokee (Tsalagi) father and English-Irish mother. 

“I am fortunate to have known my Tsalagi family and my aunts that are my ancestors now. I knew my great grandfather. He was a medicine man, and my grandfather would take me to his house and tell me to sit down and watch him as people came to him,” she said. “I am blessed to have heard from my great grandmother the stories of our ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears. I was with her when she would hunt and when she would tell me what was in her raisin pies,” she said. 

Breen-Johnson said that she heard her Tsalagi language spoken, but she was not encouraged to speak it herself except in private, just as her family only observed ceremonies privately “to keep them sacred and to keep them from being disrupted,” she explained. “So now, I’m trying to capture that Tsalagi language again and learn about my own nation.”

With hundreds of Indigenous groups in the U.S. and hundreds more in Canada, Breen-Johnson said she was keenly aware that there will always be more to learn.

She mentioned exploring what terms such as “connection to the land” mean to different Indigenous groups, as well as learning more about cultural teachings, such as smudging and sacred medicines and the seven grandfather teachings. She also mentioned the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noting that it is the responsibility of individuals and communities to educate themselves with the resources that are available. 

“I want us to become strong allies and strong helpers,” she said, but reminded her listeners that they must respect Indigenous people and ask how to help or be an ally. “We don’t make the choices,’ she said. 

“We have a lot of learning to do, for a lifetime, and I am looking forward to what Creator is going to do for us.” She noted that there will be a Kairos Blanket exercise at St. John’s on April 22.

The commissioning was followed by a beautiful peace prayer sung by Haudenosaunee singer Merlin Homer with the St. John’s choir and followed by a ceremony led by Louella Tobias, a traditional knowledge keeper from the Delaware Nation.

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