In June I had the privilege of attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s national event in Saskatoon for 3 days. This was something I had been anticipating since returning to Canada. From the Commission’s website they state their mandate is:
“… to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools.”
In doing so they,
“… hope to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.
The Commission views reconciliation as an ongoing individual and collective process that will require participation from all those affected by the residential school experience. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis former students, their families, communities, religious groups, former Indian Residential School employees, government, and the people of Canada.”
I was asked to write about my reflections to this event for the MCC Saskatchewan blog. I could not help but reflect on some of the similarities between hearing these stories and stories from South Sudan. Below is my reflection. Or go here.
Before I came to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Saskatoon I was worried about how I would respond to the stories I heard. I had only recently returned from living and working in South Sudan where I had attempted to walk with people in their own journeys of pain, suffering, and healing. In South Sudan my partner and I were Peace and Justice Coordinators for a Catholic Diocese. We travelled to different villages meeting women’s groups, youth groups, and elders, and we would listen to their stories. Their stories were ones of loss and displacement, of rape and abuse, of struggle and hardship. We learned of the deep pain and trauma that was afflicting these communities after more than 20 years of war.
We would also hear stories of faith and hope, of wanting forgiveness and reconciliation, and of the path to healing. With these stories we would try to help them find places of peace in their daily lives. We would explore positive avenues of coping with trauma to be able to break free from the cycles of violence that kept affecting their communities.
Even as outsiders this was an extremely difficult journey for me and my husband to experience and we absorbed much pain and grief ourselves.
So I was worried about how I would respond when I came to the TRC in Saskatoon—that perhaps I was still too vulnerable. I worried that I would not be able to listen compassionately to the stories. I was worried that, because I was no longer an outsider, I would feel weighed down with the responsibility of being a witness to the atrocities that happened in a place that I called home.
As I entered the space where stories were being told I noticed that the whole room was encircled by healthcare workers. It was as if they were creating a protective barrier around the people who were speaking and those of us who were listening witnesses. The health workers were creating a space to be vulnerable. Stories were told of loss and displacement, of rape and abuse, of struggle and hardship. I listened to the deep pain and trauma that was afflicting families and communities from 7 generations of residential schools. As people struggled to share their own experiences healthcare workers quietly stood next to them, giving support for them to continue and allowing space for the tears. As listeners wept tissues were placed into our hands.
Even though much pain was shared throughout the TRC in Saskatoon, for me, there was also much comfort. I left, not only feeling relieved that I had allowed myself to attend, but also feeling lighter. The time given toward this gathering felt like a good step on the path to reconciliation. I did not feel weighed down with the responsibility of being a witness, but rather felt that the care and comfort of the space would enable me to continue in this journey of restorative justice.
I hope that I was not the only one to feel the comfort in this place of peace. I hope that I was not the only one who felt that the presence of the healthcare workers was an invitation for all of us to participate in reconciliation. I hope that others realized that there is enough love for everyone who is willing to walk together towards healing.