The above title is one of the many hash tags being used on Twitter to promote and report on the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, which I am attending. The TRC works with the mandate to bear witness to the stories told by survivors of the residential schools in Canada. In sum, residential schools were established by churches under contract with the government, which had the expressed purpose of assimilating the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The TRC recorded countless instances of abuse – sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual – perpetuated on children taken by force from their parents and “raised” by an institution. A conservative estimate of the number of children (not to mention their families) affected by this atrocity is 150, 000. As can be imagined, the blunt effect of this ripples across society in generations of indigenous peoples, and will do so for some time to come. This afternoon I had occasion to participate in a march that was meant to honour the survivors of this tragic history, to mourn its victims, and to pray that reconciliation might come from the courageous truth telling that has happened over the course of the TRC.
I spoke with a few survivors during the walk. Their experiences were varied, but one gentleman, who has done some work with the process commented that all of the victims share at the very least the traumatic experience of being taken from home. Even those who had positive experiences (not common by all accounts, but not altogether absent), still faced the hardship of such a rupture and then going through trying and difficult experiences without the love of family and the support of cultural and spiritual practices that had sustained their families for generations.
I heard a survivor speak yesterday about his horrific experience. His courage in sharing a memory that must pain him in its recollection was remarkable. More remarkable still was his lack of malice directed at the church, whose symbols have now become cyphers for sexual abuse. Moreover, he even spoke of hope as he thought upon the indigenous children now reaching adulthood – children who have not grown up in residential schools, and so know the kind of love that a parent gives. This generation, he noted, are learning their ancestral languages, soaking up their culture, and practicing their ceremonies. If they are doing so well, he said, imagine how their children will shine!
I tasted something of his optimism at a Kairos conference happening alongside of the TRC, in which some young indigenous adults made presentations. I experience them as people whose minds are on fire, and whose hearts are both tender and fierce. Their presentations demonstrate that justice is dripping from their fingers and the words from their lips are seeping with respectful righteousness. They can sniff out pretension, privilege and entitlement, and have eagle eyes that spot inequality while on the fly. Some might call them idealists; I call them prophets. These will lead us into reconciliation and teach us the path of peace, if we care to listen