Sunday, May 30, 2015

We arrived in Ottawa Saturday night, not knowing what to expect of these full days to come of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Closing Events. Little did I know that it would be such a pivotal event in my life, pushing me into a new way of seeing the world and our country of Canada.

I'll share a few memorable moments and words from our first day.

We found our way to the start of the 8km Walk for Reconciliation and joined the crowd in listening to speakers and honoured guests welcoming us and commenting on the TRC. In English, French, Ojibwe and Cree, they shared their journeys and hopes for this new chapter in Canada's life together. 

One indigenous leader talked about the First Nations' response to the trauma and pain of the residential school legacy. "We need to name it, claim it, let it go, and replace it with something new - this creative work of replacing what has been let go is something that all of us here need to work at together," gesturing to the gathered crowd. I looked around and found myself surprised to notice that this was probably the first time in my life that I was in such a mixed group of indigenous and non-indigenous neighbours. The reality of our segregated society hit me.

As I was reflecting on the sadness of how neighbours had come to this development of separate societies living side by side, another indigenous leader asserted, "Anishinaabe people have been here thousands of years, we must not let the events of recent years define us." Immediately I was humbled by the recentness of this conflict. It's true. Our indigenous hosts have been through a lot, but they are still in their land that they have been living in sustainably for thousands of years. The smallness of our troubles in comparison to their great history and cultures gave me hope. How beautiful our communities could be if we made space for the sturdiness of history to guide us together!

An indigenous elder then came to the podium. Wearing his traditional regalia, he shared his journey as a survivor of the residential school system. Anticipating a heart-wrenching account as I'd heard at other events, I was surprised to hear his experience of self-discovery. "I have worked hard to find out who I am," he explained in French and Cree, "and I have come far. From our dark history, the sun has been found. It took me so long to say I love you to me, you, the world. But now I can say with confidence, I love you." The next and final speaker added to this story of restoration and healing, calling for reconciliation which will be the "healing of the spirits of our nations." Amen!

We began to walk.
For the two hours, around 7000 people calmly walked through the streets of downtown Gatineau and Ottawa, drawing the attention of passersby. Along the way, pushing Rohan in the stroller, we met people from across the country, from many different nations and religious traditions, and even a few international representatives. Rohan even got out a few times to walk too! As we walked, we talked to each other. Conversations revolved around reconciliation, visions of how our society could be different, stories from survivors, and the hope that we had for how the TRC report could move us forward as a new community. Walking past Parliament Hill, conspicuously uninvolved in the event, I heard talk turn to our need for political action for reconciliation, united across party lines and at both local and national levels. Even when silent, my thoughts stayed with themes of living together with our indigenous neighbours in new ways. This two-hour collective meditation on reconciliation and living in the right way was a powerful act. I knew God was walking with us. (For a video made by organizers Kairos Canada, with a cameo appearance by Rohan, check out:

When we arrived at Ottawa City Hall, musicians and speakers continued the day as people mingled on the lawn. A tipi was set up and Rohan crawled towards it. Inside two elders were welcoming guests, offering chances for smudging and conversation. Rohan  and I went inside and he immediately made friends with the grandmothers and grandfathers inside. How precious for him to be a part of this, I thought. For him, there are no boundaries between us and he has smiles for everyone. What do I and our generation need to do to allow him to continue living in this way, with love for all?

As our group was waiting for others to meet up and head back to Ottawa Mennonite Church, who was hosting us, I watched CBC radio host and University of Manitoba administrator, Wab Kinew, charm the crowd. He was giving a "shout out" to each of the nations present, calling out the names of indigenous nations from across the country who responded with cheers when he called their names.   It was a glimpse of how our country could be: joyous in our diversity and our gathering together. Celebrating, honouring, and sharing our rich cultures with each other. What a vision of reconciliation! 



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