New British Columbia Based Cooperation Circle Builds Bridges of Unity

25 January 2019, 10:37 AM
A group of people standing together posing for a picture.

SMA Board Members participated in a "Blanket Exercise" as part of their reconciliation efforts with First Nations people. 

We are excited to welcome a new Cooperation Circle, Squamish Multifaith Association, to our URI North America family!

In the town of Squamish, British Columbia, in the middle of a video call, two board of director members from URI's newest Cooperation Circle Squamish Multifaith Association (SMA) began enthusiastically discussing a potential event to celebrate the UN's World Interfaith Harmony Week. In an instant, ideas sparked: Who could we bring on board? How could we work together? They joyfully rattled off logistics with passion and purpose.

A minute later, they refocused on the question at hand, but not without excitement in their voice and an eagerness to get to work on their next interfaith bridge building event. Of all they shared during the interview for this piece, it was this encounter that brought to life the breath and heart of SMA, echoing the answers they gave to all the other questions.

The Squamish Multifaith Association became a formal organization in 2011 with a mission to "build bridges of understanding, respect, and support among diverse people of faith through education, dialogue, service and implementation of the Golden Rule." Since all the major religions have a form of The Golden Rule (“Treat others and the planet as you would like to be treated”), this is the foundation of SMA’s values.

With these principles in mind, SMA organizes large annual events such as The Unity in Diversity Dinner, which gathers members from a variety of religious affiliations for a dinner centered around a topic of common ground, and Multicultural Day, held every July 1st (Canada Day) at Squamish Nations’ Totem Hall, which aims to reconcile relations with the Indigenous community. This event was one of the initial activities that spurred the genesis of SMA: it was through working on events like these that members realized they could accomplish more if they became a formal organization.

People sit in a canoe on a lake with mountains in the background.

A ceremonial canoe journey up the Mamquam Blind Channel to the Stawamus Village site was included in last year's Multicultural Day at Totem Hall. 

This realization continues to spur on the organization today. The Squamish Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints partners with SMA to host the annual BC Thanksgiving Food Drive feeding thousands across British Columbia every fall. Through this collaboration, church leader Byron Peacock became a member of the SMA board of directors. Fellow board member Geraldine Guilfoyle, described this as one example of how in the work they do “friendships are deepening as time goes on, contributing to this constant moving forward [for our community].”

Peacock is grateful for the reach that being part of SMA provides for his congregation. He noted, "Our [different] faiths are all very interested in getting things done. Coming together magnifies our faith, voices, and the good work we are trying to do within our community far beyond what our own branch can do. It gives us the ability to more easily live out the ideals of our faith."

Guilfoyle, a member of the Baha'i faith, also described her spiritual practice as a key component of her participation in interfaith work. “The recognition of the oneness of religion sort of behooves us to be involved in multifaith work whenever and wherever we can … multifaith [work] helps provide the tapestry of different members of the one human family walking together towards building basically a divine civilization here on earth … The betterment of the world is achieved through people coming together from different faith groups.”

People sit at a long table smiling and stapling flyers.

Volunteers prepare bags and flyers for the annual BC Thanksgiving Food Drive. 

Propelled by this idea of unity through diversity, SMA is also committed to clearly acknowledging the wounds of the past. Peacock shared about this underlying layer of their work. "We have eyes wide open about how differences in religion have not always fueled the kind of good that we are trying to do now,” he said. “There's virtue in itself to bridge building and transparently discussing historical wrongs at the same time that we try to reach for the common good now and in the future.”

Their community is home to the Squamish Nation, and a dark past exists between religious organizations and the Indigenous, specifically in regards to residential schools. Known for inhumane practices, these government endorsed religious schools aimed to strip Indigenous children of their culture and assimilate them to a Euro-Canadian one. Thus, another initiative SMA is involved with is called the “blanket exercise”, inspired by The National Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. These blanket exercises are focused on experiential learning, educating students on the ways the Indigenous have been treated in their nation. As the history comes alive for the these students, a more compassionate mindset bursts forth.

“We've tried to be honest about the ways different cultures have experienced the intersection of different faiths and at the same time try to build bridges now that are based upon truth, reconciliation, and efforts to do better, to know one other better, and to work for a better world than the one that came before,” Peacock remarked.

In repairing these relationships, SMA is adamant about how faith groups can learn from one another, and are consistently looking for ways to continue to grow in diversity as a community. It’s with this motivation that they are eager to connect with other URI Cooperation Circles. As Guilfoyle put it, “It's kind of a no brainer, if there is a multifaith association, then I have to be part of it!"

Welcome Squamish Multifaith Association! We at URI are looking forward to all the bridges we’ll build together!

Cooperation Circles Involved