In late May, people from all over the land made their way – by foot, rail, car, plane and in spirit – to Ottawa for the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. To witness the seven national events of the TRC has been a journey of learning, deepening, wrestling and expanding in my heart and consciousness. More broadly, the revelation of the truth of our nation’s past has wrought profound change in families, communities and our country. It is a new day for all of us.
Joining the throngs of people congregating for the Walk for Reconciliation in Ottawa were residential school survivors and their families, our National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, our Primate Fred Hiltz, many Anglicans and ecumenical partners from across the country, elders, infants, ordinary citizens and justice workers. Together we became a vibrant and turbulent river of hope streaming towards and engulfing our nation’s capital.
As Canadians, we cannot stay the same after this. As a country, we have to grow in recognizing and respecting our First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. They are us.
Above the heads of hundreds of people amassed in Ottawa, the eagles arrived to accompany us on this mission for truth and reconciliation, bringing the message that we have work to do and are blessed by our Creator in this work. Strength, resiliency, respect and courage permeated the gathering-places: hotels, city hall, parks, restaurants and churches. People from more than 15 countries listened to the findings of the Commission. It was an irrefutable victory in the eyes of some; for others, another water-drop on the stone. For me, it was calling us into a new way of being Church together in Canada.
When considering where we go from here, I turn a listening ear and heart to some of my elders. From Commissioner Murray Sinclair: “We cannot permit discomfort to prevent us from doing the work of reconciliation. Reconciliation will not be easy. We share a future; we are bound together. The first important step to making it happen is to believe that reconciliation should happen. The beauty of it will ultimately fall upon our children’s children.”
Commissioner Marie Wilson challenges us to take inspiration from any of the stellar TRC Honorary Witnesses, people of prominence in our nation’s culture and politics. She says, “Be provoked to consider, if they think it is important, I should too.” Her deep conviction and commitment to reconciliation, which is an example of courage to us all, comes from her spiritual director’s words early on in this TRC process. He reminded her that the root of the word “witness” comes from “martyr” – to face the risk of discomfort, fatigue, rejection, danger and outrage, and bear witness anyway. She says that in reconciliation, “we have to go far beyond our reach. A start is not a finish.”
Chief Robert Joseph, one of the wise and courageous truth-tellers who initiated the TRC in Canada, moved the hearts of the gathered crowd with his kindness, his deep solidarity with the hurting, and his fierce commitment to social change and cultural respect in our country. He is a prophet for our times.
“We’ve never been to this moment before,” he said. “In the last 17 years, there has been a narrative in this land that we’ve never heard before this publicly. What I’m hoping, as we develop this deeper understanding between ourselves, is that we will shift: we will elevate the conversations of reconciliation to engage more and more Canadians, as we speak our truth. Don’t leave this gathering angry, broken, or indifferent. Commit to reconciliation with your family, your community, other families and other communities. For those of you who put your hands together, pray that Creator will have his hand on your heart and the hearts of others, and help us. We can never go back to the way things have been. There is a new promise in this land. All of us can be free, all of us can have hope, all children will have the opportunities to dream dreams. We don’t have to change the world. We have to change ourselves. Find peace within. We need to embrace each other, then we can walk together. Create optimism in yourself so together we can lift each other up.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, speaking on behalf of the churches who were partners in the residential schools, shared words of apology, humility and gratitude. He spoke of wounds so deep that healing could not happen; of children, vulnerable and far from home, terribly abused and neglected; of the grace and generosity of teachers and others whose kindness offered respite from pain and humiliation. Then, in a move both courageous and spiritfilled, and in response to the recommendations of the TRC, he called all of us to recognize indigenous spiritual traditions in their own right.