Cavalry United Church donates quilt honoring residential school victims as a step towards reconciliation

(L to R) Liz Settee, Alex Jurorio, Nora Vedress and Gail pose in front of the Journey Home Quilt at the unveiling at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Thursday night. -- Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald.

The creators of a quilt currently on display in the Grace Campbell Gallery are hoping their work can help spark conversations around reconciliation and encourage education around the impacts of the residential school legacy.

On Thursday evening, a ceremony was held at the John M. Cuelenaere Library to thank the United Calvary Church for their donation of “The Journey Home”, and Gail Kenzle-Taylor and Karen Erickson for creating the quilt in honour of the children that attended residential schools and those that never made it home.

Erickson created the panel on the quilt that depicts two siblings who were finally set free after being grimly discovered at a residential school.

“The children who are shown holding hands were torn apart from each other, but now reunited as they make their way back home,” said Kenzle-Taylor. “Karen included beautiful imagery such as a moon and feathers to represent the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people joining together to guide the two siblings home.”

During Thursday’s ceremony, Library Director Alex Juorio said the donation is one step taken towards reconciliation.

“We’re not going to do truth and reconciliation overnight; we’re not going to fix the history that has happened overnight. We’re going to do it in increments and this quilt, I think, will be one of those increments,” he said.

Calvary United Church Reverend Nora Vedress explained that Kenzle-Erickson came to her last spring with the quilt that she wished to donate to the church, but after some discussion the two felt that hanging it in the church wasn’t the right decision.

Together, they came up with the idea to bring in Elder Liz Settee for her advice on where the quilt’s permanent home should be.

“Liz was actually the one who suggested donating to the library because there is power and meaning and intention through gifting,” said Vedress. “We can keep it and it could feed us, but we wanted to be able to gift this work and the message and the meaning behind it to the wider community and to the beauty in Prince Albert, so that people coming here would look and would see the name of the church and would know that we are aware and we are sorry and do what we can do to heal and get better.”

“When she [Vedress] first asked me, this was kind of my very first thought because a lot of people come through the library and there is a lot of information here. There are still people that are somewhat naïve about the residential schools and so having this might peak their interest,” said Settee. “I know there’s a lot of talk preaching reconciliation throughout not only Prince Albert, but in the school division, they’re doing their piece for it. So, kids go home and talk to their parents and grandparents [and] there’s a place where they can come and learn about it and read about it.”

Juorio said as people walk through the art displays and end at the quilt, they will read the dedication and the explanation of the symbolism behind it, creating an opportunity for some much-needed dialogue.

“They’ll think about it, and I’ve already seen it happen… I know it works,” he said. “I know it will happen and it will educate people and we’ll move forward as partners, as we should, and address the wrongs of the past and think about how to go into the future.”

Vedress was brought to tears as she touched on the Calvary United Church’s involvement with residential schools and how the church is doing whatever it can to work towards reconciliation.

“Calvary is a United Church. The United Church had 15 residential schools that we inherited from the Presbyterian Church and we are very aware of the hurt that our church did to people and we carry a great deal of guilt and shame with that,” she said.

Vedress added that she hopes the donation of the quilt can be used to learn and grow.

“That’s the heart and the spirit that the gift was made [with]”.

—with files from Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald