Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wisdom, Truth and Reconciliation (Day 1)

Seven flames in the logo represent the seven sacred teachings:
love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, truth and wisdom
(on the volunteer t-shirt, which also says "It Matters to Me.")
"In order to educate the [Aboriginal]children properly we must separate them from their families. Some people may say that this is hard but if we want to civilize them we must do that."
-- Hector Langevin, 
Public Works Minister of Canada, 1883

Wisdom. There wasn't much of it around when it comes to Canada's dealings with our First Nations sisters and brothers in the past. But Wisdom is the theme of the final leg of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which is taking place here in Edmonton for the next three days.

I'm attending sessions at the Commission hosted at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton (on Treaty 6 Lands) not just as a volunteer, but as a Canadian who has grown up with First Nations friends. My friends' families were affected by the Indian Residential Schools which took aboriginal children as young as five years of age from their parents in an effort to turn them into Canadians according to the misguided colonial (and often racist) version of what it meant to be Canadian. The stories told by many residential school survivors about loneliness, abuse, neglect and the destruction of their families and culture are devastating -- and something all Canadians need to understand. Too many of our First Nations brothers and sisters have had a very, very, very bad rap since the first schools were opened well over a hundred years ago (the last one closed in 1996), and many of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are suffering now because of the pain their parents and grandparents still carry.

These days of Truth and Reconciliation are a step in the long journey toward healing. Today, thousands of people converged to begin four days of sharing stories, listening to and supporting one another, and offering or working toward forgiveness. There were many moving moments, and I'd like to share a few impressions/experiences from the point of view of one who stands in solidarity and support...

...waiting for my daughters outside the conference centre with a survivor named Ted as he had a smoke. He told me that if his residential school had been anything like the private sports academy up the road, there would be plenty of First Nations NHL players. "We were every bit as athletic, and there were lots of us in the junior leagues, but by the time we came of age, we had too many problems from the past following us." Ted has come a long way in his healing -- it was clear in the way he talked with me,  the light in his eyes, and the number of people who lit up when they saw him and came to greet him...

... chuckling with a man from Onion Lake when he asked my daughter for help to turn off his cell phone. Seems we both need teens to help us understand technology...

... the heartbeat of the drums during the Grand Entry procession...

... weeping with the man from Onion Lake as an Honour Song was sung for Residential School Survivors...

... a panel of five youth sharing their hopes for reconciliation and the change it can bring to relationships between all Canadians...

... a young non-aboriginal woman expressing the shame she felt when she first heard about Indian Residential schools, and her complicit shock and silence... for which many of us feel bad...

... Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, encouraging First Nations and other youth listening to the youth panel discussions to discover the answers to four important questions:
Where do I come from? (Discover your creation stories and the meaning of your name/clan)
Where am I going? (Discover relationship with the Spirit world that will welcome you one day)
Why am I here? (Discover what am I called to do for family and community) and
Who am I? (Discover and take my rightful place in creation with both pride and humility)...

... having the privilege of hearing the sharing of five survivors and intergenerational survivors who courageously told stories of how the Residential School experience affected them and their loved ones...

... sharing the moments above with my daughters and halls full of people who want to see healing in our country...

If you are interested in the TRC but unable to attend, some of the proceedings are being broadcast live -- click here for daytime broadcasts. To learn more about events in Edmonton, check here. And to learn more about the Residential School experience in Canada, here's a link to an interim report called They Came for the Children.

I'll be moodling more on this subject over the next three days...

Click here to see Day 2...
Click here to see Day 3...
Click here to see Day 4...

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