An organization that works toward ending poverty and achieving a better world has recognized a young Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta employee for the reconciliation work she does with indigenous peoples.
The Alberta Council for Global Cooperation named Allison Goerzen to its annual Top 30 Under 30 list of young people who are creating a more just and sustainable world. The 2017 list was announced at the beginning of February in a special magazine the Council published.
Goerzen, 24, who works at MCC Alberta as the indigenous neighbours coordinator and peace programs assistant, said it feels “a little overwhelming” to be included on the list. “I know there are a lot of young, inspiring people that are doing good things for the world,” she said. “My whole office here at MCC Alberta [is full of them].”
The Council’s list recognizes young people who are working at one or more of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Canada adopted the goals in September 2015 and is committed to achieving them by 2030.
The goals include ending hunger, achieving gender equality and taking urgent action to combat climate change. Goerzen was recognized for her work on the 10th goal: “Reduce inequality within and among countries.”
Her work as indigenous neighbours coordinator includes educating church and school groups about Canada’s history and legacy of persecuting indigenous groups, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, which aim to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation.
One approach Goerzen uses is the Blanket Exercise, an interactive, educational tool by Kairos Canada that invites participants to experience Canadian history from indigenous perspectives.
“By supporting [people] to learn about the history of indigenous peoples and to understand inter-generational trauma, I hope to encourage a shift in perceptions and a more equitable future for indigenous peoples,” she told the Council magazine.
Originally from Didsbury, Alta., where she attended Bergthal Mennonite Church, Goerzen has worked for MCC Alberta in Calgary for the past year-and-a-half. Her interest in the work of reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada was sparked when she was a student with Outtatown, Canadian Mennonite University’s one-year discipleship school.
She spent the second half of the year in South Africa, where she learned about the country’s history with apartheid. “I began to see parallels to Canadian history and the ways indigenous peoples have been subordinated,” Goerzen told the magazine. “I learned so much about myself and the world in that year. When I came back, I knew my work had to matter and I wanted to focus my efforts locally—within my own community.”
When asked by the magazine what change she would like to see in the world by 2030, she responded that she would like all Canadian cities and towns to be safe places for all women. “This would mean, for example, ensuring it is safe for women to walk home at night, eliminating rape culture, creating equality for women within religious groups, and supporting freedom of fertility choices without discrimination,” she said.
Goerzen’s passion for women’s health and well-being has led her to become a certified yoga instructor. She uses yoga as a tool for discovering awareness, positive well-being and resiliency. “Yoga’s all about being present, being mindful and then honouring who you were created to be,” Goerzen told Canadian Mennonite. “[As we learn] that our mind and our body and our spirit are all connected, we start to listen and then make better choices for our overall well-being.”
In a letter published in the Council magazine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the 30 young people included on the list: “To the Top 30 Under 30, congratulations on your incredible work; you are truly deserving of our admiration.”
Goerzen, who currently attends Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, hopes that ultimately the list inspires people to make a difference. “That’s something the Top 30 Under 30 stories display,” she said. “People have taken what they’re passionate about and found a way to use it in a really good way.”