“There is no reconciliation without compassion and understanding. You can’t reconcile with me if you don’t know who I am, my story and the story of my people,” said Cam Agowissa at Interface, an event to empower youth to live out their faith in the community. His comment struck home for me and for other young Anglicans. More than 30 youth attended the event at the St. James Cathedral Centre on Sept. 26 to learn about residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Focusing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was timely as both the federal government and the Anglican Church of Canada begin to implement the recommendations made in the TRC report. “I think it’s important that youth be a part of the conversation about reconciliation, so we can make connections between living out our faith and taking action on this issue in our communities,” said the Rev. Christian Harvey, joint organizer of the event and the youth social justice coordinator for Trent-Durham.
Mr. Agowissa, an Anishinaabe cultural teacher, began the morning with a smudging ceremony and gave traditional teachings on First Nations history and culture. Youth participants were excited to learn from his teachings about the spiritual and cultural way of life for First Nations people.
“When Cam told the stories of his people, I was really moved by the depth of his spirituality and what he said about all religions being based in the belief of a higher power. We call it God and Jesus, he calls it Creator,” said Lydia Keesmaat-Walsh, 17.
In the afternoon, National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald drew connections between scripture and First Nations teachings. “First Nations people see many traditional teachings of the four directions and the medicine wheel in the Bible,” he said.
Along with sharing their rich cultural traditions, both speakers told of the painful history of residential schools. Mr. Agowissa explained how residential schools were designed to assimilate First Nations children through what the TRC calls a “cultural genocide.” He spoke with emotion as he explained how family structures were broken when children were taken from their families and placed in residential schools. In the afternoon, Bishop MacDonald stunned participants by noting that 20 to 50 per cent of children who went to residential school died, through malnutrition, disease or abuse.
Yet we were not left numb by these facts. Youth were encouraged to be leaders in the reconciliation process; we were urged to learn more about First Nations culture and get involved in the process of reconciliation.
Ms. Keesmaat-Walsh said she left the event feeling inspired. “When the first settlers came here, they hurt the aboriginal people who lived here, and the Europeans continued to hurt them for years and years,” she said. “They never said, ‘I’m sorry, let me try to make it better.’ Now it’s our responsibility, not only as Christians but, as Cam would say, as fellow spirits, to say, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you. What can I do to make it better?’” It is advice we can all follow in living out our faith and in making reconciliation a reality.