“We Can Change. We Have The Will, The Power and The Spirit”

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Right now at The Forks, a place where people have been gathering since time before memory, things are happening that hold out hope for the rest of the world. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) chose this spot, where the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers meet in the prairie city of Winnipeg, to hold its first of seven National Events over the next five years. For four days this week, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit survivors of Indian Residential Schools and their families, as well as former school employees, are gathering to share their experiences with the TRC. Other Canadians are welcome as well, as the mandate of the Commission includes telling Canadians about the history of the Indian Residential Schools and the impacts it has had on Aboriginal children who were sent to the schools by the Canadian government.  Commissioner Mary Wilson says:

We can all learn from the lessons of the past, and walk toward respectful relations for the future… for the child taken, and the parent left behind.”

Wednesday night my partner and I were in the crowd of 18,000 as Buffy Sainte Marie and Blue Rodeo played an outdoor concert. The highlight for me was when Aboriginal leader and former MLA Elijah Harper addressed the crowd after a performance of “Fools Like You”, a song Blue Rodeo wrote about Mr. Harper and the Meech Lake Accord, when he stood up for his people and single-handedly blocked a vote in the Manitoba Legislature that would have bypassed public consultation on a major constitutional change  (click here for more info on this chapter of Canadian political history). Mr. Harper, a survivor of residential school himself, spoke of reconciliation, saying “We’re on a journey of hope and healing…Forgiveness is the most important thing.”

I spent more time at the Forks on Thursday morning, and was privileged to watch the Pipe Ceremony and Four Direction Drum calling.  I then spent time in the “Learning Tent” where Chief Robert Joseph, a hereditary chief of the Gwa wa enuk First Nation in British Columbia, led a healing circle. He shared his story of healing after spending 10 years at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School at Alert Bay on the central coast of British Colombia as a boy. Chief Joseph emphasized the spiritual nature of the healing that is needed, and invited everyone to become ambassadors of this reconciliation process:

It begins and ends with you, with individuals. We can change. We have the will, the power, and the spirit. We can leave here with new hope and a new vision of wellness for all people. We dare to look at a different future, a different kind of relationship. We can make every place sacred on this Turtle Island.

I have come away from this time at the TRC events humbled by the graciousness of the Aboriginal people and their leaders, and filled with hope that this continent’s First Peoples will lead the way to healing our relationships with each other and with the earth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is traveling the country for the next five years with its message of healing and forgiveness. Five years is about the time we have to dramatically change our relationship to the earth, before we have irreparably damaged our Mother.  We are doomed if we can’t change our Western/European mindset, that of the colonizer and dominator, which has got us into this sorry state of affairs. It’s this kind of thinking that says making money is more important than being good stewards of the earth. If we can adopt a more indigenous way of looking at the world which recognizes that we are part of the interconnected web of life, and all life is sacred, then there is hope. This view of the world is what I saw in action this week at the Forks. In spite of their lands and way of life being taken, in spite of their children being stolen and abused, the Original Peoples of this country are still willing to extend a hand to their colonizers and abusers and walk together towards a different future. I am humbled and awed. Meegwich, from the bottom of my heart.

Former St. Micheals Residential School Alert Bay. Photo - Iwona Kellie

More links:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

“Fools Like You” lyrics by Blue Rodeo

Photos of Buffy Sainte Marie/Blue Rodeo Concert at the Forks on ChrisD.ca

Residential Schools: The Red Lake Story

Residential Memories Unleash Tears of Anger and Forgiveness. ChristianWeek.org