Talking Reconciliation was an event of a writers’ festival in Winnipeg. The speakers were Rosanna Deerchild (an indigenous poet), Senator Murray Sinclair (former head of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – TRC), and Shelagh Rogers (CBC journalist and honorary TRC witness.
Rosanna Deerchild opened the event with a reading of her poetry. The words were beautiful; the themes were brutal as she related her mother’s experiences in a Catholic Indian Residential School. “There is no word in my language for what they did.” “My body cannot forget.” “Whose sins should I confess? Mine? Or theirs?” The poet struggled to control her tears. Her mother, sitting in front of us, was proudly attentive displaying no emotions.
The three presenters went on to participate in a panel discussion. I was moved by Murray Sinclair’s description of a young man at a residential school. He was denied the use of his language, he could not be called by his birth name, and he lost the teachings and customs of his culture. As an adult, he gave his testimony at a TRC hearing. He told the commissioners: “I do not want to go to the Christian heaven.” He asked Murray Sinclair to assist him in gaining official excommunication from the church.
Shelagh Rogers told the audience that her role as a witness changed her feelings toward Canada. She added: “The longest journey is from the head to the heart.”
Sinclair shared his experience at a youth event associated with the TRC. An adolescent Metis woman stated that she was ashamed of her white side after listening to the stories of residential school survivors. Sinclair had responded that reconciliation is not about creating shame or anger. It is a movement that requires us to recognize the truth and move forward in new ways with conversations that build relationships. He added that reconciliation is always a tough conversation in which we must be attentive to and encourage any signs of positive change.
The news of the past week has drawn attention once again to racial divisions and enmity in the USA. Here in Canada we are challenged to confess that we have avoided the truth and that we need to begin new conversations that build relationships with indigenous people. Personally, I will attend church today with a strong sense of shame that indigenous children and adults were so badly hurt by the settler culture in Canada. I will ask myself why Christians are often compliant rather than prophetic in our actions and words.