Bridges: Dan MacQuarrie recalls earlier days while looking at a photo of Neskonlith’s Mary Thomas and his spouse Edna.

Bringing people together

Workshop: ‘No blame’ look at indigenous history. Dan MacQuarrie was 16 when he vowed to dedicate his life to social justice.

Dan MacQuarrie was 16 when he vowed to dedicate his life to social justice.

That goal continues to this day, with the promotion of a unique workshop upcoming in Salmon Arm.

At age 16 MacQuarrie was living in Kaslo. He remembers vividly when, following the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, the Canadian government decided all Canadians of Japanese heritage would be sent to internment camps.

Eight hundred were to come to Kaslo.

At the local legion, a letter from the Canadian government was read out, telling of the plan and stating that the incoming people were all Canadian residents who had done nothing wrong, so should be treated accordingly.

MacQuarrie’s uncle, like a second father, was at that meeting. Some of the people present threatened to kill the newcomers, but he spoke out against them.

In response, “they physically threw him out of the hall,” remembers MacQuarrie.

His uncle was not deterred and continued to support the newcomers.

“They made the town,” MacQuarrie recalls, adding that the town of 500 more than doubled overnight, resulting in more teachers and more opportunities for everyone.

Although it was a harsh reality for those Canadians forcibly moved, for MacQuarrie and his family, he says it eventually became “a beautiful experience.”

In 1964, MacQuarrie became a United Church minister and, in 1966, he and his spouse Edna moved to Salmon Arm.

Around that time, he remembers lawyer Don McTavish noticed police were jailing First Nations people for minor offences.

McTavish formed a Mika-Nika club, the symbol being indigenous and non-indigenous people holding hands together. MacQuarrie and Edna joined.

He remembers them meeting every week from September to spring and then, in spring, late elder Mary Thomas would take them on field trips. She would teach them about plants and their uses, as well as the stories and beliefs of her culture.

Five years later, MacQuarrie moved to Vancouver with the ministry, but moved back again in 1988.

He quotes the reply of Harold Thomas, Mary’s son, when MacQuarrie asked him how he could be so kind to white people after all they had done to his people.

He said, “I’m unable to love myself if I don’t love my enemies first.”

MacQuarrie adds: “From my point of view, indigenous people have been practising Christianity while the rest of us have been just talking about it.”

Last year, following Edna’s death in 2013, MacQuarrie formed the MacQuarrie Institute, an organization with the aim of ‘building Canada a second time.’

MacQuarrie says his goals are “to address the injustices done to indigenous and poor people all over the world, to tell the whole truth about everything and to do something about the environment and Mother Earth.”

His idea for addressing the injustices done starts with “getting to know the indigenous people and finding out what they know.”

The goal is to listen, he says. “I’m not telling anybody how to do anything.”

In keeping with this philosopy, he was excited when he heard a workshop for social workers led by Kathi Camilleri, who has been facilitating healing workshops on Canada’s residential schools and policy of assimilation for years, was coming to Salmon Arm. He contacted her to see if she would lead one for others during her visit.

She would, and is. The Building Bridges Through Understanding the Village will take place Monday, Nov. 16, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at First United Church. It’s $20, including lunch, and everyone is welcome. For tickets, go to Wearabouts or the First United Church.


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