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Reconciliation in Action

On Residential Schools

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

Take a moment to read a poem by Dr. Cheryl Bear, First United’s Director of Community Ministry. Cheryl wrote the poem in response to the bodies of 215 children discovered in May 2021 at Kamloops Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory.

CW: residential schools, trauma, grief

take your time take days sit with the grief of these daunting days sit with her and let her weep let her crawl into bed way too early and out of bed way too late let her cancel all the shopping trips all the plans and just sit with her stroke her hair and tell her, reassure her that things will get, no are getting better even if they are only won in court battles or through shaming the government into action (shame, shame on them) all of this work was not in vain every lecture every slide every chart exposed the truth and now everyone can see it took all of us to get here, to heal to change now it will take all of us again to get there to heal to change so our grandbabies can truly be free and can have better days and lives and deaths

…words spoken on a tear soaked day, still reeling from the news and praying for our courageous and powerful Elders, our Residential School Survivors – for my late mom, my Aunties and Uncles, grandparents, for all our relations.

Sunday May 30, 2021

In peace, Cheryl (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry, First United

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

September 30 is Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a day we honour the lost children, the 150,000+ children who attended residential schools and those who have died since.

September 30 is a now federal statutory holiday and the leadership at FIRST decided to recognize it as well, to enable staff to have time to reflect, learn and deepen their own understanding.

Although the stories of unmarked graves are no longer making headlines, we recognize there are now confirmations of well over 6,000 graves across the country – surely with many more thousands to come.

Wear Orange

On Orange Shirt Day, which also takes place today, we remember those children who were taken from their families and recognize the impact it’s still having today.

Orange Shirt Day is based on the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who arrived on her first day of residential school dressed in a new orange shirt.

Her orange shirt was taken away from her and has become a symbol of how freedom, culture and self-esteem were systemically taken away from our Indigenous children and their families over generations.

On September 29, we held a community engagement event and handed out free orange shirts to community members – designed by one of our staff, Joseph Robertson (Haisla First Nation) – so that anyone in our community who wanted to wear an orange shirt today had access to one.

Our truth and reconciliation priorities

So where do we go from here? We see today as a rallying cry to focus on changing priorities and encouraging our leaders to take action.

FIRST is working toward reconciliation in action, and an important part of that is acknowledging the histories of colonization, systemic racism and the impacts of residential schools, the 60’s Scoop, and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in non-Indigenous foster care.

We advocate for the enactment of all 94 of the TRC Calls to Action and the 423 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the implementation of 231 ‘imperative changes’ called for by the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

We have signed on to an open letter to the BC Government with other members of the MMIWG2S+ Coalition calling for more protection for Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.

We encourage you in your learning journey and to educate your children in the TRC Calls to Action.

We’re committed to deepening our practice of reconciliation and the pursuit of justice, today and every day. Let’s do this together, as a community and as a nation.

Truth and Reconciliation, a Living History

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

This op-ed was originally published in The Tyee on June 14, 2021. You can find the op-ed on The Tyee’s website.

By the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne (Heiltsuk First Nation) Executive Director; Dr. Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry; and Lauren Sanders (Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo Nation of Kansas) Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain.

 

Reconciliation has been a buzzword since the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Everyone wants to know how to “walk in reconciliation” but doesn’t often want to hear the answer. Many of our Indigenous Chiefs and leaders have said Canada uses those words to distract us while they are busy carrying on with business as usual behind the scenes.

The phrase “truth and reconciliation” was chosen by residential school survivors based on the South African model. They could have just asked for truth, but instead the victims of some of the most horrendous crimes in Canada asked for reconciliation.

One of our Grand Chiefs said that everything we as Indigenous people have today, we won in the court. It’s not reconciliation if it had to be won through the courts.

The news of the 215 unmarked graves of children in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory did not surprise any Indigenous people. We all knew because we listened to the stories of the residential school survivors, and we believed them. Sadly, many in Canada did not. Now there is proof. And there will be more proof.

We also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

We are all deeply grieving. One Elder we know, a residential school survivor, ended up in the hospital with chest pains after hearing this daunting news. It has brought up memories of the trauma we have all experienced as Indigenous people directly connected to these schools.

We have been leaning into ceremony, gathering, trying our best to grieve these children — our lost babies. We need prayer, yes. But we also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

The late May confirmation of the mass grave has shocked us back into a state of realization that truth and reconciliation is not just a question of a dead history whose remains have been forgotten. There is important work that needs doing. As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in that work.

As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in the work of deconstructing the myth of “dead history” and engage with truth and reconciliation as a living history. All Canadians must listen to the truth-telling of residential school survivors and accept that the trauma of residential schools is ongoing and continues to impact Indigenous communities.

All Canadians must ask themselves who benefits from seeing residential schools as a “dead history,” and who benefits from the understanding that residential schools and truth and reconciliation is a living history.

Truth-telling is not an Indigenous-only practice. Truth-telling requires non-Indigenous people to accept the truths being told with respect, to apologize and to accept responsibility. These 215 babies now have the chance to tell the truth. The grief of Indigenous peoples helps them tell it.

For non-Indigenous people, the bodies of 215 children were unearthed from a dead history. For Indigenous people, this history was never dead — a history that all Indigenous people are currently, and have never stopped, living.

Now it is the turn of non-Indigenous people. The framework has been given. The protocol from the TRC has to be followed. Acceptance of the truth, apology and taking ownership of responsibility are the steps.

Call to Action number 58 is for “the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of Indigenous peoples. To date, the Anglican Church and the United Church have issued apologies and have both committed to the full adoption of the TRC Calls to Action, making structural and staffing changes in order to continue the work of the truth and reconciliation journey.

While the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has again issued a statement of “deep sorrow,” they continue to uphold the 2018 position of the Vatican not to offer an apology when it was requested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017.

Repentance is a core value of the Christian faith commonly understood as an expression of remorse or regret. In this sense, we believe the statement of deep sorrow from our Roman Catholic brothers in leadership. Another faithful biblical interpretation of repentance is the act of turning around in a return to right relationship — right relationships with the Creator, with each other, with the whole of creation. It is all our responsibility to continuously pursue repentance in our relationships with God and all that God has created; otherwise, absolution would be unnecessary.

As Indigenous women who are in ministry leadership, we pray that the discovery of the bodies of these children remind everyone that their legacy lives on. We pray the Pope chooses to hear the cries of the spirits of these 215 babies, change the Vatican’s previous decision, and make the apology requested by the survivors of Canadian residential schools.

 

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