I shed tears this weekend. They weren’t for me. They were for others, and their stories, I heard, as a participant, along with 200+ others, in the first ever Truth and Reconciliation conference between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in Victoria. The conference was titled Open Hearts, Clear Minds: A Road to Reconciliation, and took place at the First Peoples House at the University of Victoria.
The conference was aligned with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada; a commission established as part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, which was reached in 2006 and came into effect in 2007. The TRC was established in 2008 to tell Canadians about the history of Indian Residential Schools and the impacts (think negative and colonial) it had on Aboriginal children who were sent to the schools (run by the Churches) by the Canadian government; and to guide a process of reconciliation between and within Aboriginal families, communities, churches, governments and Canadians.
What it felt like
At times the weekend felt surreal to me. Listening to stories of survivors of residential school abuse and inter-generational dislocation were difficult; especially when many of the stories came from the elderly, and are still very painful (to them) to share, even 60 years later. At times I felt as though I, a settler’s child, and my Aboriginal neighbour, living only kilometres away, are in parallel universes.
Where do we go from here?
Yet, with all the pain, there was still room for joy, humour, and optimism. In one circle that I participated the question was posed where do we go from here (along the reconciliation path)? The following, 15 ways, are largely based on that circle’s conversation:
- Inspiration; offer a picture of hope for a future, together
- Vision; imagine a future that includes all cultural groups, not just the two in conflict
- Education; teach the others story, as they would like it told, in your community’s education system; the sooner/younger, the better
- Joint ceremony; to promote hope, and give rhythm to the communities working together
- Traditional customs; to nurture each community, in its own culture, way
- Dialogue; between communities; conversations transform us
- Storytelling; so people hear directly; the pain, and the joy, of the other community; listen to listen, not listen to talk
- One-on-one; taking inter-community dialogue back into ones own community, one-to-one
- Places: where people, from either community, can show up, be welcomed, and be themselves
- Invitation; to the other community to participate in your community places, and influence your community
- Inclusiveness; including the other as part of your community’s celebration
- Language; agreeing on respectful language for conversation crossing cultures and communities (witness that it was only last month that Canada finally signed onto the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)
- Leadership; capable of letting go, and passing the torch to the next generation
- Grandmothers; and grandfathers, bridging cultural divides, as only grandparents can!
- Appreciation; of the other community, and the positive things they bring, to the relationship
There were many sponsors and contributors to make this conference work; including the prime organizers, Aboriginal Neighbours, in partnership with the TRC, four Churches who ran residential schools in this region, and other concerned Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organization. Kudos to all!
I hope to share more of my experience in a future post.
Have you attended a Truth and Reconciliation event somewhere? What was your experience? What now?
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