For three mornings, I sat in the churches' Listening Circle — a part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Hearings
, which were held in Edmonton in March. This sacred space was for survivors who specifically wanted churches to hear what had happened to them. Eight survivors, a denominational representative and a facilitator gathered in the Circle. Every day, nearly 200 people surrounded them to bear witness. What we heard here and in the main hall were stories about a reign of terror on First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples lasting 130 years — about seven generations.
The truth is out; reconciliation is the next step. Teaching the real history of Canada to school students, congregations and new immigrants is part of it. Making personal and political change is another. I spoke with a Dene child-care worker who told me that she’s a hockey mom. “Our 40-year-old arena is falling apart. We have to drive our kids to games in communities that have good arenas built by oil and gas companies.” She asked, “If the government really wants healthy, active children, isn’t it sensible to invest in recreation for everyone?”
There is much to tell about this last national TRC event, which was held at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre. Imagine an atmosphere of kindness. Picture peoples coming together in conversations small or large, with the fragrance of sweet grass permeating the air. Envision the snowy Saskatchewan River Valley just below the Sacred Fire. Imagine sadness being received with love. The word “grace” keeps coming to mind.
Rev. Maggie McLeod, the executive minister of the Aboriginal Ministries Circle of the General Council, Moderator Rt. Rev. Gary Paterson and Very Rev. Bill Phipps made the United Church's official statement to the commission. This included the 1998 Apology
, given specifically to Indian Residential School (IRS) students who attended United Church schools, and to their families and communities. I was glad when United Church members were asked to stand in solidarity with this statement.
When the Alberta government promised to revamp the social studies curriculum to include the Treaties and history of Residential Schools, I thought of Very Reverend Elder Stan McKay, who was the United Church's moderator between 1992 and 1994. That was his message as he travelled Canada: education is key.
“Emotional” hardly describes what it was like to be at the TRC event. You can imagine that by the final day, people were ready for a celebration of courage. I wrote previously about the planned birthday celebration on the final day, because kids didn’t celebrate birthdays in IRS. Edmonton-area church people baked more than 3,000 cupcakes. People throughout Alberta made birthday cards, and we gave out thousands. The most sought-after were the ones made by children. As Metis children played "Happy Birthday" on fiddles, people sang the song in Plains Cree, Dene, Inuktitut, Blackfoot, French and English. It was surprisingly fun.
May these IRS stories, so long in the tomb, move into the light and transform Canada into one that honours the Treaties, the testimonies and children of today. The work of Easter has begun. Hallelujah!
This was Part Two of Carolyn Pogue's reflection on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings, which were held in Edmonton in March.
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