Menno Simons College Student Association (MSCSA)
Common Unity 2020–21: a project of the MSCSA
Every year the MSC Student Association holds an annual community event. This year, however, the pandemic does not permit such activities. Instead, the MSCSA is launching a community series where active members of the community and their work will be highlighted. Every month, individuals will submit a write-up or a video with a reflection encompassing the themes of resilience and connection.
Common Unity | January 2021
by Angela Lavallee
Angela Lavallee is an Indigenous woman, mother, grandmother, post-secondary graduate, and active community member currently residing in Winnipeg. She is a certified focus therapist and provides focus sessions to women and men who are in need of healing support. She is also the founder of Soles on Fire: a run to bring awareness, prevention, and intervention on violence against women and girls and most importantly to celebrate and honour life.
In 2015, my nine-month-old granddaughter, Zaylynn Emerald Rain, was murdered. Like so many of our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited, the loss of Zaylynn came with many forms of injustice and unanswered questions.
I am the Chairperson for the Board of Wahbung Abinoonjiiag (“the children of tomorrow”), which was established to empower children and their families to break the cycle of violence. I am also a member of Collective of Voices and currently working on the Redress Warming Hut, known as “Rainbow Butterfly”. I do my volunteer work with the support and love of her community.
Resiliency is a beautiful concept that thrives in many cultures. To survive and to recover from trauma, many individuals across the world use their connection to resilience because it is embedded in their lives. I have learned that my resiliency is more than just an after-thought to trauma and grief, it is a primary tool I use to heal and survive.
When I reflect on the death of my grand-daughter Zaylynn, healing without justice is our family’s reality. We share this experience with many families of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirited (MMIWG2S). We understand what it takes to adapt to unjust situations because, as Indigenous peoples, we are often forced to survive traumas, injustices and oppression. In the rawness of my grief, I needed to shift my journey; therefore, I enrolled in university. I did not expect that I would pour my heart and Zaylynn’s spirit into my university papers and presentations. The least of my expectations was to connect to allies who wanted to do their part in bringing awareness around MMIWG2S. I was part of building a circle that extended beyond the classroom and into the heart of the community.
An elective course for one of my majors was “Nonviolent Social Change” and our instructor was the legendary and humble Karen Ridd. She plants a seed within her classes and empowers her students to take action on a social matter of our choosing. I was not short of fellow classmates who wanted to join me in bringing awareness around the topic of MMIWG2S+. It is a heartfelt learning journey and for a few of the group members, Sanjam and Alexandria, the connection between us did not end when the school term ended. We have become more than just classmates; our mission to bring a vision to reality is the root of our relationship that creates significant change.
In early spring 2018, we participated in a nonviolent social action that was hosted at the University of Winnipeg. We collaborated with the community who lifted their hearts and spirits, and supported our image of “Redress Warming Hut”, now known as “Rainbow Butterfly”. The involvement of the community did not end on the day of action. It formed holistically and moved like the water and along the way people and spirits contributed their time, energy, and love. The influences that helped form Rainbow Butterfly were family members of MMIWG2S+, survivors, Indigenous politicians, leaders, non-profit organizations, University of Winnipeg/Menno Simons College faculty, students, professors, instructors, Indigenous architects, local metal workers, language carriers, spiritual ceremonies, and grandmothers.
Listening to truths and making sure all 231 calls for justice are implemented is the responsibility of all people, institutions, and governments. “Rainbow Butterfly” was possible because of resilience, love and community connections. However, she is also a reminder of the MMIWG2S+ who were taken from us. They all matter and should never be forgotten!
Common Unity | November 2020
by Keziah Toews
"My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon"
- Mizuta Masahide
Hi everybody! My name is Keziah Toews. I am a student and Community Liaison at Menno Simons College.
Last year, I very much enjoyed attending the fifth Common Unity event and did not expect to have switched places this year with the speakers. I am delighted to have this opportunity to provide my observations and insight. So, I want to thank the members of MSCSA for giving me this honour.
I am currently finishing up my studies in Conflict Resolution and, when I am not doing that, I do landscape photography and volunteer in Winnipeg. I enjoy volunteering for many reasons, primarily because it forces me to connect with the human side of things and out of the political, impersonal realm that I, along with many of us, are so taken by. Outside of this bubble, we get real stories about real people and often times we might hear stories of resilience. Around Winnipeg, I have learned a few lessons about resiliency from wonderful people I have worked with.
Being a resilient person does not mean that problems in life disappear.
It means that there is an understanding of how things work in life and that understanding helps the individual process their problems.
Resiliency does not 'water down' emotions.
Being resilient does not mean that a person does not feel the same levels of grief, hurt and pain. Instead, they develop the tools to better work through those feelings.
Everyone can be resilient.
Although there are biological factors that contribute to our own levels of resilience, resiliency can be achieved through one's life experiences. It does not have to take a traumatic event to do this.
Resilience does not always look like survival.
The quality of resilience is expressed in many different ways, depending on the person. For some, it may mean focusing one's energy on other things after a crisis.
Based on my volunteer experiences in Winnipeg, I thought I would share other examples of what being resilient can look like.
Resilience is working at the same rehabilitation center that helped you through your own journey.
Resilience is walking into a body positivity workshop while fighting an eating disorder.
Resilience is continually trying different medications in order to improve one's quality of life.
Resilience is losing a child and putting the needs of one's partner first.
Resilience is going through years of physical therapy to mend one's body after a suicide attempt.
Resilience is a terminally-ill child doing their best to seem happy so their parents 'will feel better'.
Resilience is using a suicide helpline as a last effort to connect with somebody else.
Resilience is taking the time to thank each and every person who helped locate a spouse's remains after a week-long search.
Resilience is trying to find a sense of security after spending a lifetime being constantly uprooted.
I believe that the human condition is incredibly complex and beautiful and that the quality of resilience shows this off. Each of us has the capacity to build resilience and to display resilience in ways that highlight the best of what it is to be human. My hope is that by telling these short stories of resilience from within our city the deeper parts of ourselves would be inspired to connect with each other a little more and to appreciate the potential that is the human condition.