One and a half years on from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s release of its 94 recommendations, the term “reconciliation” often feels like nothing more than a buzzword bandied back and forth by people of power. Even reading over the 94 recommendations (which I recommend), trying to formulate a cohesive idea of what reconciliation might look like on a personal level can prove to be a difficult task, yet another item to add to a never-ending list of things you really will get to someday. Many of us are settlers in this land, and it’s easy enough to think of our country’s abuses as bad things that happened a long time ago. If only this were true.
One only has to drive 42 kilometers west of Hamilton to find the longest-running residential school in Canada. Closed only in 1970, the Mohawk Institute Residential School is now on the premises of the Woodland Cultural Centre, a facility that “opens the doors to Southern Ontario’s First Nations past, present and future.” This was the first stop on my second day of Stronger Together 2017.
Running Aug. 15-17, Stronger Together was a collaboration between Six Nations Polytechnic and the Haldimand Tract Ecumenical Partnership. More than just a conference, it was an invitation to come and listen, not only to the injustices of the past and how they are still reverberating through the Six Nations community, but also to hear about resilience, accomplishment and hope.
Over the course of the two days I was able to attend, we heard from survivors of the Mohawk Institute Residential School and also from staff and students at Six Nations Polytechnic, the organist at the Royal Mohawk Chapel and elders of the Six Nations community. We were led through a thanksgiving address and walked through the Six Nations’ traditional consensus-based decision-making process, acting out, in ways both big and small, personal reconciliation.
On Aug. 6, 1993, then-Primate Michael Peers delivered an official apology for residential schools from the Anglican Church of Canada to the National Native Convocation in Minaki, Ont. Deeply moving and heartfelt, it’s all too easy for the rest of us (settlers) to feel like this is not just the start of reconciliation as a church, but also the end.
As not only a Christian but also a Canadian, a settler and an Anglican, reconciliation takes me to the place where I know and appreciate the differences and similarities between my community and each Indigenous community across Canada. Reconciliation needs to be as active for me as colonialism has been for them. Most importantly, reconciliation must involve listening to and believing Indigenous people about their own lived experiences and genuinely respecting them and their culture as equal to whatever I can bring to the table.
For all the books I’ve read and discussions I’ve participated in, Stronger Together was not an event I could ever deserve to have. It was a gift. I would like to take this space to thank Six Nations Polytechnic, Haldimand Tract Ecumenical Partnership, Woodland Cultural Centre, Rick Hill, Taylor Gibson, Tanis Hill and Scott Knarr, among so many others who came together and made this happen.
If you’re interested in learning more about the specifics of this community, I would highly recommend you check out some of the following resources:
- Six Nations Polytech (www.snpolytechnic.com) serves both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community with two campuses, which are connected to many local universities.
- Woodland Cultural Centre (www.woodlandculturalcentre.ca) is open daily to the public.
- Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of The Mohawks (www.mohawkchapel.ca) is the oldest church in Ontario and one of only two royal chapels in North America.
- Two Row Wampum (www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/) is a symbol of the first treaty between the Mohawk and Dutch settlers.
- The Haudenosaunee Confederacy (www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com).
- The Six Nations Reserve (http://www.sixnations.ca/).