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One Day at the TRC

A Christian Student's Experience

“Reconciliation is about restoring respectful relationships,” Truth and Reconciliation commissioner (TRC) and former MP Wilton Littlechild told a King’s University College class in March. “But more than that, it is also about strengthening the existing relationships. For this is not just an aboriginal story. It is a Canadian one.”

Days later this was played out at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton at the final of seven TRC conferences that have taken place since 2010. Thousands of people, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, thronged to the conference to tell and to hear tragic stories from victims of residential schools and the ensuing intergenerational trauma. Broken accounts of abuse, rape, addiction, suicide and violence punctuated the conference, striking to the core of many of the witnesses as evidenced by tears and wails of pain and sorrow. The resilience and courage of the Indigenous people, however, epitomized the TRC. The affirmation of Indigenous culture through song, dance, ceremony and teaching displayed the powerful willingness of Canadians to embrace a historical legacy that residential schools and the broader policy of assimilation attempted to eliminate. To quote one of the victims: “They tried to kill the Indian in the child. But they failed.” Truth.

Seeking and seeing God       

All first, second and third year students of The King’s University College, as well as many of its seniors, faculty and staff, attended the Honourary Witness Talking Circle on Friday. We saw CBC radio host Shelagh Rogers interview these witnesses, including former Governor General Michaëlle Jean. The witnesses struggled with this question — how does the heart prepare for reconciliation and how is that reconciliation played out? As one of the panelists put it, we need the “centrality of the Creator” for both truth and reconciliation. Archbishop Richard Smith reiterated this by describing what the heart needs for reconciliation: “the workings of God’s love, mercy and grace, and the listening for truth.” Truth.

Elsewhere, many victims shared stories in the model of traditional Indigenous sharing circles. These stories were a mixture of suffering and hope as residential school survivors revealed anger and sorrow, fortitude and joy. One woman proudly stated that “I still speak my native tongue. Cree.” When the speaker would fall silent a peaceful silence pervaded those full rooms. I could feel the reflective observations of people coming to terms with the gift of vulnerability the testimonies offered. Reconciliation.

Known by name       

In residential schools, indigenous people were given numbers in place of names. Not so at the TRC. At a another session, dozens of brave men and women walked onto the stage to give their stories across from commissioner Chief Justice Murray Sinclair. Some had been beaten and raped, others developed addictions by taking to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Their stories were varied, but every person who spoke in that segment gave thanks — thanks to the Creator, to the commissioners, to the people gathered there. The speakers, moreover, were not merely broken people; they were actors, poets, leaders, teachers, elders. The crowd hung on to every word. Reconciliation.

For King’s students, the day concluded with an interfaith panel on the history of colonialism and on the deeper concepts of truth and forgiveness. The discussion pivoted around a question that Roger Epp, the Christian representative, brought up: “Who is my neighbour?” The panel, which included an Indigenous spiritualist, a Sikh, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Christian, concluded that reconciliation is the responsibility of all in world where all are neighbours, connected through our very humanness.

Seeing these men and women of different faith and ethnic backgrounds interact in understanding and respect was for me a micro-scale example of what reconciliation should look like. It is fitting, then, that the theme of this event was “wisdom,” one of the seven pillars of Indigenous teaching. As the TRC hearings draw to a close next June, this embodied wisdom must set an example for the process of truth telling and reconciliation in Canada’s future.

  • Tyler was born and raised in Northwestern B.C., where he became familiar with the people and cultures of the Nisga’a, Tsimshian and Gitsxan First Nations. He attends Terrace CRC and studies in the Politics-History-Economics program at The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alta.

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