I spent three days at the national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Edmonton recently. Three long days. Three hard days. Three amazing days. I am just beginning to process those days and one of the ways that I can do that is by writing about it.
I am a white person of British stock – born in England to be exact – whose family moved to Canada when I was a little girl. I am a settler that came with a family to have a better life than they could have back in England. We got that better life. I got a good education, I married a good man, I raised with him three good children. I have seen a lot of this country. I have been privileged by the colour of my skin and I know it.
I learned about ‘Indians & Eskimos” when I was in primary school and when I took my one required Canadian history subject in high school. I did not learn about residential schools. I did not learn that the Canadian government wanted to ‘civilize the savages’. I did not learn that children were forcibly taken out of their parents arms and sometimes didn’t come home for 10 years. I didn’t know that the education they received was less than adequate. I didn’t learn that children were physically punished for speaking their own language and that some of them were sexually abused by people they were supposed to trust. I didn’t learn that the church that I was growing up in had been complicit. What I did learn growing up was that you couldn’t trust an ‘Indian’. That all ‘Indians’ are drunk. That ‘Indians’ are given a free ride by the government. I learned racism and stereotype.
It was during the late ’80’s and ’90’s that I learned to unlearn much of what I had been taught. That I began to have my eyes opened to the horror of racism and in particular the horror of residential schools. I was shaken to my core and realized that I like many other Canadians and in particular Anglican Canadians had much to repent of and much to learn. I knew that it was time for me to listen and not to speak. Time for me to absorb and then figure out what I had to do.
In 1993 then Archbishop Michael Peers made this apology on behalf of all of us in the Anglican Church of Canada to the indigenous peoples of this land. We have all been on journey of healing, forgiveness, truth and reconciliation since then. I was challenged then and have been challenged since to live into this apology and to live into a way of reconciliation. I truly believe that this was a turning point for the church that I belong to. It was a turning point for my church and for me. I realized I had to pay attention and to learn. I am fortunate that because of where we used to live, Kenora, Ontario and the work I had there that I had access to some wonderful indigenous teachers who shared their stories with me.
Now we come to Edmonton and the final national event. A time for truth telling, honest listening, tear sharing, laughter, humour, honesty and oh so much more. I sat in on panels, was available at the Churches Listening Area, listened during a sharing circle, heard people give their testimony to the commissioners, ate food with people. I found hope, forgiveness and a real willingness to change the story of Canada. I also found determination that this story not be forgotten. I was reminded that there were seven generations of children who went to residential school and we shouldn’t expect 5 years of a truth and reconciliation process to fix that or for all the brokenness to just go away. I witnessed survivors children and grandchildren telling about their own resilience and their own healing. I heard about resilience of cultures, languages and people who did not give up and were not destroyed despite what past governments may have desired.
I saw our church be present, be available as listeners, volunteer and take part in conversations. I witnessed our church give its expression of reconciliation. I saw heartfelt moments of forgiveness. I saw grace being offered by those who had been hurt and grace being accepted by those whose institutions had done the hurting. I came home tired, feeling grateful, blessed beyond measure and feeling purposeful.
I am aware of how much work needs to be done. I am aware of so many relationships that need to be restored. I am aware of how much I still need to work on my own racism and privilege. I am aware of the work that my church is doing and will continue to do. I am aware that truth sharing and reconciliation making is hard but necessary. I am also aware of the people who out there who say isn’t it time for ‘them’ to get over it and that is one of the reasons why I will continue to speak out and do this work. I am committed to keeping my church’s toes to the fire and reminding them why this is important.
I am for truth sharing and reconciliation making. Are you as a Canadian? Is your church community? Is your hometown? Are we up for it?