The Aboriginal Awareness Group (AAG) was started in 2012 and is an approved social action of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto. Originally it had half of its membership from First and half from the aboriginal community of Toronto. In 2013, the Aboriginal members of the committee felt that the focus of the group should be on the congregation of First Toronto, so they dropped off the group but stayed as advisors. We held a membership drive in the fall and other members from First joined AAG. We now have approximately 10 hardworking members.
Mission of AAG
To learn about Aboriginal spirituality, to better understand the social justice issues of importance to Aboriginal peoples, and to be supportive through social justice initiatives that are consistent with our faith's principles.
- Embark on a process of education that will enlighten and enlist our congregation in future actions or projects.
- Identify and invite speakers or facilitators from the Aboriginal community to partner with First in a series of post-service Sunday Awareness Workshops covering, but not limited to, the following possible areas of concern:
- Residential Schools
- Suicides and other Social Issues
- Aboriginal Rights (e.g. the Ring of Fire issue?)
- Land Claims
- Deepen the congregation's awareness of Aboriginal cultural and spirituality through, through for example, Aboriginal drum circles, singers, stories and speakers to increase the awareness of the congregation.
- As a result of the learning gained from the Awareness Workshops, recommend to the congregational action plans that could be undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal groups, agencies and individuals.
- Provide information to the congregation regarding opportunities in the community to deepen their understand and awareness of Aboriginal issues. For example, the weekly teach-ins organized by Toronto Council Fire at the Native Cultural Centre and demonstrations organized by Idle No More.
There have been a number of activities that AAG organized and participated in. Every member of the group was actively involved in attending various community events. We publicized those gatherings initially in Horizons, our monthly newsletter and later in First Light, our weekly newsletter:
- A series of workshops focussing on the Treaty Relationship with First Nations in Canada. Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux was the first presenter.
- A film series from films provided by the National Film Board. We provided an Aboriginal wise woman to reflect on the themes of the films in a discussion with the congregation following the film.
- Attendance and support to the PowWow, Native Men's Residence (NaMeRes) PowWow that is organized every year. The agency is located near Toronto First. We encourage people to come out to support the annual PowWow and preferably to go as a group.
- Develop a continuing mutual relationship with NaMeRes and organize volunteer activities for members of the congregation at NaMeRes.
The major focus for 2015/2016 is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and other related writings. We will provide an opportunity for people to become acquainted with six significant areas through a participatory workshop in November.
In February 2016 the theme of the month was Reconciliation and we assisted Shawn Newton in helping to examine further aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its implications for our congregation. See the summary of the month's Reconciliation-themed events.
We provided an opportunity for people to become acquainted with four significant themes around the TRC through a participatory workshop in November, 2015. In preparation for that workshop we posted theme summaries, Q&A’s and suggested readings before the workshop for interested peoples’ reference beforehand. Each theme was addressed by a break-out group which reported back to the plenary with their three top recommendations on the topic. The workshop also featured an aboriginal meal and was attended by 45 people, the most that have ever attended an AAG function. It was considered a great success.
June is National First Nations Month and June 19 is National First Nations Day. We will be offering special programming to commemorate these important dates.
We continue to expand our outreach through volunteers and volunteering.