Discernment Circle announces vision for local involvement in national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund

A Discernment Circle established in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon to oversee disbursement of Catholic TRC Healing Response funds, held a prayer service on the banks of the river July 15, launching a covenant statement articulating their vision and priorities. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

UPDATE January 2023: The Indigenous Reconciliation Fund Grant Application Process for Indigenous healing and reconciliation projects is now in place for our diocese: LINK.

A Discernment Circle that has been meeting since March in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has formally announced its vision for local participation in a national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund established by the Catholic Bishops of Canada for healing and reconciliation projects.

In a celebration at Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal in Saskatoon on Friday July 15, 2022, Discernment Circle members unveiled a covenant statement that articulates the spirit, intent, and commitments of the initiative to invite and propose local reconciliation and healing projects to be supported by the national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.

Discernment Circle co-chair Dr. Gordon Martell

The covenant statement is grounded in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also references the ancient biblical concept of “right relationship” with the One God and Creator, with all peoples, with the Land and all Creation; as well as the Indigenous nehiyaw principle of miyo-wîcêhtowin, or “possessing good relations founded in relationship among people, the sacred laws, and the Creator.”

“Our covenant statement describes how we will stand together in hope and action as we speak and share, so that others may come forward as we all continue the healing journey,” said Discernment Circle co-chair Dr. Gordon Martell, superintendent of education with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.

“Launching and celebrating this vision is another step on that journey. We have great hope for the projects and initiatives that will eventually unfold because of this step,” he said.

Discernment Circle members and guests gathered for a liturgy July 15 to celebrate and launch a covenant statement articulating the Circle’s vision for supporting projects through the Catholic TRC Healing Response fund. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Covenant celebration

MaryAnne Morrison

The outdoor celebration on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River July 15 opened with a welcome and land acknowledgement by MaryAnne Morrison, a member of the Discernment Circle who also serves on the Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation, followed by a smudging ceremony and drum song by Elmer Tootoosis, and an opening prayer by Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen.

“We pray that You will continue to send your Great Holy Spirit upon the members of this Circle and all peoples, as we hear Your call to us to a true unity that also honours diversity, a true harmony that also realizes the great diversity of gifts and of spiritual ways,” said Bishop Hagemoen in his opening prayer. “We especially acknowledge the spiritual ways of the Cree and other Indigenous and Métis people that are part of this land and territory.”

Discernment Circle members Carol Zubiak and Sandra Harper (l-r) participate in the July 15 liturgy to launch the groups covenant statement. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Circle member Carol Zubiak of the diocesan Justice and Peace Commission proclaimed scripture readings from Ezekiel 11:19 and Hebrews 8:8-12. Circle member Deacon Harry Lafond of Muskeg Lake First Nation – who also provides pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Prince Albert – offered a reflection during the outdoor liturgy.

Covenant is about total commitment, Lafond said, similar to the covenant that exists in a marriage. “We are aspiring in our diocese to work towards that 100 per cent commitment for all of us… to understand how we are all related, and to move forward in a holy way, a sacred way, with God as our witness and God as our guide and God as our support system.”

Deacon Lafond added that this is about “moving forward and looking to the generations that follow us, and teaching those generations the importance of covenant… to celebrate the diversity of who we are as Canadians, who we are as Catholics, and who we are as community and family,” he added.

“It is a journey, it is not an event,” he said.

Circle members Deacon Harry Lafond and Cecile Smith (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Members of the Discernment Circle then proclaimed the covenant statement, before offering up their intercessory prayers. The event concluded with a sign of peace, a closing prayer and a blessing from the bishop, followed by a round dance and a social gathering.


We – the people of our One Creator tasked with coming together to discern and facilitate local projects and initiatives on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – enter into and commit to this Covenant, which finds its meaning in the ancient biblical concept of right relationship with the One God and Creator, with all people, with the Land and all of Creation; and in the nehiyaw principle of miyo-wîcêhtowin, or possessing good relations founded in relationship among people, the sacred laws, and the Creator.

This Covenant is also inspired by the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Under the guidance of the Great Holy Spirit, we shall seek to respect and nurture healing and right relationship between all peoples – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and to celebrate, honour, and share cultural histories and be faithful stewards of the spiritual and temporal gifts that the Creator has entrusted to us – as established by the founding treaty relationships among our peoples. 

Our motivation and meaning will also feature humility and the journey from apology to reconciliation (see Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57: 17). It will be celebrated in ceremony and ritual.

We acknowledge and commit to honour the sacredness of one another as we deal with the long discourse and journey of reconciliation. As we consider and engage in projects, we commit to the ministry of presence and accompaniment.

We promise and commit to nurture right relationship through sharing, respect, love for each other and the Creator. We will accept each other’s visions and beliefs. We will assist the Church family to understand itself and move forward in reconciliation. We will invest in relationships with each other and engage in meaningful conversations with each other and with the Church.

We also seek to contribute to establishing Indigenous theological and ceremonial foundations in the Church, and to an enculturation between Catholic and Indigenous ritual and spirituality.  We also seek to foster reclamation of Indigenous culture, language, and identity.

We stand together in hope and action as we speak and share so that others may come forward as we all continue the healing journey.

– Discernment Circle for Catholic TRC Healing Response, Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon

Elmer Tootoosis participated in the prayer service July 15 at Queen’s House, Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Bishop Mark Hagemoen greets Elder Irene Sharp, a member of the Discernment Circle, at the July 15 celebration. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

RELATED: Covenant Statement – PDF version

RELATED:  Canadian Catholic bishops establish Indigenous Reconciliation Fund – Article

RELATED: Bishop Mark Hagemoen announces five-year Catholic TRC Healing Fund goal of $1.25 million to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors and their communities as part of the national $30-million commitment – Letter from Bishop Hagemoen – PDF

RELATED:  Catholic TRC Healing Response – Information and Online Giving

RELATED: Program for Papal Visit Announced – Article

RELATED: Papal Visit 2022 – Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation – Online Giving

Overview of the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund:

Catholic dioceses across Canada, in their continuing journey of seeking reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, have voluntarily committed to contributing $30 million over five years in new funding to facilitate further reconciliation efforts.  The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has committed $1.25 million over 5 years as part of the Canada-wide effort, and has already begun fundraising and financing initiatives (Catholic TRC Healing Response at dscf.ca/trc), notes Bishop Mark Hagemoen.

The national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund is an arms-length, federally-incorporated not-for-profit registered charity with its own independent national Board of Directors, initially comprised of four Indigenous members.

The purpose of the Fund is to:

  • Independently approve funding requests from Diocesan/Regional Reconciliation Committees that are consistent with the Fund’s granting guidelines;
  • Independently manage the receipt of funds and send monies directly to support approved reconciliation projects and initiatives; and
  • Independently, annually report to dioceses and the public on the flow of money into the Fund and out in support of approved projects.

Indigenous Reconciliation Fund General Criteria & Granting Guidelines:

The national Fund has established General Criteria and Granting Guidelines to assist Diocesan/Regional Reconciliation Committees (or their equivalent) in their local engagement of and discernment with Indigenous groups.

The Indigenous Reconciliation Fund’s Board of Directors will review all grant applications and disburse funds to projects and initiatives that meet the guidelines and are within the budget of the monies contributed to the national Fund by a diocese or region.

Among other details, the General Criteria and Granting Guidelines for the Fund state that all Indigenous Reconciliation Fund grants are to be made in support of local projects and initiatives related to:

  • Healing and reconciliation for communities and families
  • Culture and language revitalization
  • Education and community building
  • Dialogues involving Indigenous Elders, spiritual leaders and youth with focus on Indigenous spirituality and culture.

Discerning Local Needs: Diocesan/Regional Reconciliation Committees

The intention for the national Fund is to have local dioceses work with local Indigenous groups and organizations to identify priorities and meaningful reconciliation work to be funded by the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.

To this end, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon established the “Discernment Circle” of Indigenous representatives and leaders which has been meeting since March 2022. It includes 13 First Nations members and 2 Métis members as well as non-Indigenous representatives. The group includes Elders, Residential School Survivors and the children of Survivors, as well as local educators and community leaders.

In addition to co-chairs Gordon Martell and CeCeBaptiste, Discernment Circle members are:  Shirley Arcand, Kelly Cardinal, Honey Constant, Dolores Greyeyes-Sand, Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Sandra Harper, Gilbert Kewstep, Deacon Harry Lafond, Deacon Dan Lamoureaux, Lyndon Linklater, MaryAnne Morrison, Myron Rogal, Irene Sharp, Delores Smallchild, Roddy Stone, and Carol Zubiak.

The diocesan Discernment Circle has been discussing and discerning reconciliation initiatives that will have a meaningful local impact.  Under the terms of the national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund, dioceses can recommend funding these local initiatives to the extent of the funds the diocese has contributed to the Fund.

Work-to-date of the Discernment Circle has included:

  • Reviewing and discussing funding principles and themes;
  • Discussion and development of a “Statement of Covenant”;
  • Review and reflection on the apology of Pope Francis given to the Indigenous delegation to the Vatican on April 1, 2022;
  • Discussion of possible general project categories.