The Pathways to Reconciliation Conference took place in Winnipeg 15-18 June 2016. The calendar timing was deliberate. One year had passed since Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded with calls to action for the healing of the broken relationship between Indigenous People and Non-Indigenous People.
Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci stated that reconciliation with Canada’s first peoples was the most important social issue of our nation. Over the past days we were invited to look at the unseemly side of our history. Treaties were designed to acquire land and then broken. A pass system restricted freedom of movement from reserves for over 60 years. Indian Residential Schools were replete with horror stories of physical beatings, sexual abuse, and childhood deaths. The sixties scoop seized First Nation’s children. Issues of inadequate housing, unsafe water, lower nutrition and health standards, and substandard education have not been addressed. There is a legacy of racism in Canada. The results have been addictions, family breakdowns, unemployment, crime and suicides. I confess that we Non-Indigenous Canadians have often talked about the symptoms while ignoring the pathology.
I left the conference encourages and moved by the discourse of First Peoples’ leaders like Ry Moran, Wab Kinew, and Cindy Blackstock. Please allow me to share a few of their statements:
- Reconciliation will take a lot of hard work. (Ry Moran)
- We have drunk the toxic poison of incremental equity. (Cindy Blackstock)
- There are rewards for silence. What has been lacking is collective outrage. (Cindy Blackstock)
- Reconciliation is powerful. (Wab Kinew)
- Each of us needs to take a look in the mirror and ask: “Have I done enough to foster reconciliation?” (Wab Kinew)
Jesus spoke about loving one’s neighbor and then illustrated it with the parable of a Samaritan who risked his life to help an unknown traveller. St. Paul wrote that God had entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to scattered churches in the Roman world (2 Cor. 5.16-21). This mission had personal and social consequences. The cross, for most people in the Roman Empire, meant that Jesus had been executed as a political prisoner. His mission of reconciliation, although not political in nature, had implications for the emperor and his empire.
I am left wondering how church communities can express repentance and work toward building new relationships based on mutual respect and justice. I am grateful that there are some examples of reconciliation that already exist that can help the rest of us to find our way.