#KAIROS20 gathering galvanizes network and partners
In her keynote address during We are Unstoppable, the KAIROS youth event, author and activist Helen Knott mused on the word “kairos.”
“I think of it like Double Dutch with the two skipping ropes and you’re waiting for that moment to jump in – preparing for that moment in life,” she said.
To illustrate her point, Helen shared a story of overcoming her fear of public speaking to prepare herself for “jumping in” when called to do so. That moment came when she delivered her poem on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls at a public event in her community. Her poem eventually made its way to Parliament Hill and was used in the preface of a report to the federal government by a special committee on violence against Indigenous women.
“I think of these kairos moments,” she said. “Sometimes they seem very small, but you don’t know where it’s going to lead, and it may take years to even know that impact. And you might not even know the ripples that it causes in the minds and hearts of people that are there.”
During this kairos time, KAIROS’ network and partners converged – virtually – on October 24 for the youth event, and from October 26 to 28 for a gathering to mark 20 Years of Spirited Action for Justice, part of KAIROS’ 20th anniversary celebrations that began July 1.
Stories of kairos moments, answering “the call”, and positive impacts were common threads that were woven throughout the gathering.
Elder Barbara Dumont-Hill opened the Gathering in a good way by reflecting on a critical kairos moment in nature that serves as the foundation for growth.
“We are getting close to the end of the Trout Moon here in Algonquin Territory,” she said. “The Trout Moon represents love, hope, community, and better times to come. The water is at the right temperature and it’s the males and females coming together at the right moment for the growth of the trout and feeding many people. This foundation is so important.”
In her reflection on KAIROS’ first 20 years during the opening plenary, Ivonne Yanez spoke of the vital partnership between her organization, Acción Ecológica in Ecuador, and KAIROS.
“We see that organizations of the north are not empathetic enough or do not understand the situation in the south,” she said. “Fortunately, with KAIROS it’s the complete opposite. There has always been a very intimate relationship in all the paths we have taken together…. In 2003, with KAIROS, we published a small book called No more looting and destruction: We the Peoples of the South are Ecological Creditors. It was important at that time because Acción Ecológica and KAIROS were working together to talk about the environmental debt in the world. It was very symbolic that KAIROS, coming from Canada, was coming together with us to work on this idea. We were also recognizing that the industrialized countries of the north, in this case, Canada, owed something to a country like Ecuador. It would not have been possible to walk together without the help of [the late KAIROS employee] John Dillon.”
Sister Priscilla Solomon, who is Ojibway and a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie, spoke of symbols on the kairos journey and of being on the right path, “living Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.”
She shared a story about the KAIROS Indigenous Rights Circle (KIRC) meeting in North Bay in 2011 that for her “became a turning point in the relationship.”
She said that members of the KAIROS board and staff presented to KIRC KAIROS’ campaign for the year and a five-year plan. This caused dissatisfaction and unease among KIRC members. The concern was that they were being asked to rubber stamp a plan that the board had prepared.
“After a lot of discussion, I realized what we were trying to say was: we needed KAIROS to work with Indigenous people, not for us,” said Sister Priscilla. “That was a real shift in consciousness. It was a kairos moment because the staff and board members present really heard that message and recognized that change was needed. The meeting put us on a new path. A small committee was established to strategize on how to educate the board and the staff about developing a new kind of relationship with the Indigenous people.”
Lee Cormie, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s College and the Toronto School of Theology, followed with an overview of the last 20 years of social justice during formidable external opposition. He concluded with:
“We learn from Indigenous peoples, especially to see more clearly that the story of resurrection and birth renewal is unfolding again in our time – this time on planetary, perhaps even cosmic scales. KAIROS and lay communities and movements join them [Indigenous peoples] in rich legacies and continue to grow in their capacities to nurture insight, solidarity, hope and faith, which sustains us all against such great odds.”
The panelists offered opportunities for rich reflection by responders, Georgine Kengne Djeutane, who is Economist and Programme Coordinator for African Gender and Extractive Alliance (WoMin) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Joe Gunn, Director, Centre Oblat – A Voice for Justice.
On day two of the Gathering, panelists reflected on where KAIROS is today and the transformational change that is needed to address ecological and societal degradation.
Elder and Hereditary Chief Ray Jones remembered when he witnessed an act of resistance at the Residential School he attended near Edmonton. The students rioted in protest when a popular teacher was transferred. The province tried to suppress this story of resistance, but Ray and others are helping to keep it alive.
Alma Brooks, a Maliseet Grandmother from St. Mary’s First Nation, spoke about the industrial-led devastation of Creation in New Brunswick, and acts of resistance in stopping extractive projects.
“We have a lot of allies. We’ve been working long and hard for many years educating people and I do believe that many people are beginning to see what it is our people were talking about…. There have been some successes in driving extractive industries out of our territory.”
Alma offered important advice to allies of Indigenous peoples.
“Anybody who’s advocating for equality for us is actually advocating for assimilation. We really don’t want to assimilate. We want our rights to be recognized.”
Alma also spoke about healing, something she has long advocated for, particularly a medicine lodge in her community.
“We know that our healing is wrapped up with the healing of the land and our culture.”
Zoughbi Zoughbi, Director of KAIROS’ partner, Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, addressed the difficulties of healing under occupation, and expressed hope in allyship with KAIROS, partners, and Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“I wish to have a strong bond with the First Nations people, to learn from them, to share and work together on restorative justice, land and reconciliation themes, and to collect the stories of hope,” he said. “We hope to work with KAIROS on exchange visits with the First Nations people. I think we are strengthening and marching together towards a collective understanding of land, Creation, spirituality and allyship and reconciliation – hopefully…. Healing is a long process for us. We don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder. We have ongoing traumas, but let me emphasize through our allyship I think we have experienced transformational change when we are able to walk in the shoes of other partners.”
In his address, Paul Gehrs, Assistant to the Bishop, Justice and Leadership, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and a member of KAIROS Steering Committee, spoke to the importance of gatherings for healing and transformation. He acknowledged that the people who walk with KAIROS have more gifts than we know, and that systemic racism and bias undermine this awareness. He also spoke to conversations he has had with KAIROS’ new Executive Director about her vision of 360-degree leadership, “meaning that everyone offers leadership from their own role and their own calling.”
In considering the context that generates transformation and the underlying difficulties for such change to occur, Paul offered the story of the Disciple Peter’s response when Jesus walked on water. Peter attempts to walk on the water too, and, scared by the wind, starts to sink. Jesus hauls him out of the water and asks: ye of little faith, why do you doubt?
“A disciple sitting in a boat in a storm, cold and wet and embarrassed, pondering a failed attempt to demonstrate faith, and surrounded by community,” reflected Paul. “This is one kind of moment of transformation. Peter’s action is simultaneously bold and somewhat of a failure. KAIROS is at a place where it can be bold and follow its calling to seek justice, love kindness, hold space for healing, and walk humbly with God. As KAIROS, we need to learn from our mistakes and our successes, and we are going to need help from everyone in the community to find our courage, to do our learning, to discern opportunities for spirited action for justice, and to recognize the presence of the Holy in the world.”
Responding to the three panelists were Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt, PhD candidate and Atlantic Regional Coordinator at the Bauta Family Initiative for Canadian Seed Security, and Jesson Reyes, the Managing Director of the Migrants Resource Center Canada.
The closing plenary panelists were asked to reflect on where KAIROS is going and, to envision a world in 2041 that has come into being.
Rev. Mary Fontaine, a Cree Elder and ordained in the Presbyterian Church, began the plenary in a good way by leading the attendees in a smudge prayer, the four directions prayer, and an Honour song.
Naty Atz Sunuc, who is Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, a TRC Honorary Witness and a long-time partner of KAIROS, prioritized climate justice, community wellbeing, and women’s empowerment.
“In the next 20 years, we want all communities to have access to wellbeing,” Naty said. “We want to protect biodiversity so that all living beings have a dignified life. We want life of equality. We want there to be access to health and food for all communities, and healthy food especially. We want women to participate at all levels…. That is what I dream of. A life free of violence for all women and all communities.”
Naty emphasized that KAIROS’ work in defending life will be important in the decades ahead.
“I hope that everything that KAIROS does in the next 20 years will be strengthened. All these issues pertain to life. It is an important mission for KAIROS.”
Naty also noted that everyone has an important role to play and that there is much to do to realize this vision.
Following Naty, gkisedtanamoogk, Knowledge Keeper and long-standing member of the KAIROS Indigenous Rights Circle emphasized alignment with Creation.
“We are more than what we are right now and have yet to realize our full capacities and potential,” he observed when thinking of where we need to be in 20 years. “When we align ourselves with Creation and to the Divineness that is within and around us, we manifest what needs to be done and should be. And the other axiom I want you to remember is that despite the challenges, struggles that brought KAIROS to this place in history, KAIROS for me exemplifies the ‘Canada’ we need to be.”
gkisedtanamoogk referred to KAIROS’ embracement of Indigenous voice, recognition of the realities of living in someone else’s homeland, and acknowledgement of the territories that were never given away.
He left us with a message of great hope: “Despite the harm, callousness, and the meanness embodied all around us, there, lying before us, is the embrace of Divine Love and the deep profundity of transformed life for everything.”
In envisioning a better future, Stacey Gomez includes workers who come to Canada from overseas as equal members of our community. Stacey is the migrant justice organizer with No One Is Illegal – Halifax/Kjipuktuk, a partner of KAIROS’ Empowering Temporary Foreign Workers During COVID-19 project.
“I would like to live in a community where migrant workers are not going hungry, where they don’t have to make the decision between eating well themselves or sending money home so their families eat well. Where they are not separated from their families. And I would like to see more community dinners, migrant worker gardens, and vibrance.”
Stacey highlighted the struggles faced by migrant workers under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program, and the important role of KAIROS’ Empowering Temporary Foreign Workers project in helping grassroots migrant rights organizations reach more migrant workers.
Jessica Steele was the final panelist to present. Jessica is a climate activist, ocean conservationist, youth engager, and member of the Primates World Relief and Development Fund youth council and KAIROS Ecological Justice Circle.
Jessica acknowledged that it is scary to think where we might be in 2041, given the current unambitious global climate targets. Our challenge now is to be hopeful, she said.
We need to follow voices of youth and Indigenous land defenders, she advised, if we have a hope of the transformational change required to stave off a dangerously warming world.
She ended with a message about the impact of the small scale.
“When things get too existential or big for me, I come back to the ideas that come out of Adrienne Murray Brown’s work around emergent strategy. She says that how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. Small actions and connections that we create here in our local communities create complex patterns that become ecosystems, that become societies, and become our world.”
What we do, even at a small scale, reverberates to large scale change, reminding us of Helen Knott’s words of the power of small actions.
Perhaps these small acts are at the heart of kairos time, and of KAIROS’ work.
In closing KAIROS Executive Director Aisha Francis challenged KAIROS to deepen its decolonization work through small impressions and pivots.
“The goal is not to move full force ahead status quo but to instrumentally make small impressions and pivots to not only the way we do the work, but the way we think about what the work IS we need to do!”
She challenged us to envision roles unfettered by racial bias.
“If we cannot together, right here and right now, envision KAIROS’ 40th Anniversary showcasing a different set of characters in the roles with a very different script, we have a problem. Our gaze is off.”
A special thanks to all the Elders, panelists, moderators, and responders of the plenary events. Emily Dwyer, Coordinator of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability, and Janet Gray, social justice advocate and former KAIROS BC-Yukon regional representative responded to the closing plenary panelists.
KAIROS20 Gathering also featured workshops highlighting KAIROS’ programs and partners.
The videos of the plenaries and workshops will be available soon. Please visit the KAIROS20 Gathering webpage.