On Truth and Reconciliation

I don’t remember Lois and I having a lot of hard rules for our children when they were growing up. One firm rule we did have – and for the whole family – is that we tell the truth. Telling the truth is the basis of any whole and healthy relationship.

For the past three days I have been participating in the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There was a lot of truth; very hard truth. Seven generations of children abducted over the course of a hundred and twenty years; almost 150,000 children in total. Of those, as many as six thousand never came home. They died, either while housed in the schools – some of which had cemeteries but not playgrounds – or during desperate attempts to escape the horror and run away home. But so many never came home to their moms, dads, grammas and grandpas. Can you imagine?

This terrible truth – previously unknown to many of us – exposes a moral wound – which must be exposed, cared for and tended if Canadians have any hope of re-claiming the noble and honourable identity to which most of us rightly aspire. We need to “tell the truth” if we are to have any hope of achieving reconciliation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” The exposure of the terrible legacy of the residential school system has painfully presented us with what, I believe, is the most pressing moral challenge facing Canadian society today. And this is particularly true for Christians, whether our churches were direct parties to the residential school system or not. Sadly, to our great shame, Christian doctrines, traditions and worldviews were wrongly and destructively used to inflict great harm and violence upon our indigenous brothers and sisters. This truth, in itself, demands deep, considered and repentant reflection from us all.

In 2014 our synod launched a Biennial Reconciliation Initiative that challenged “our Synod Ministry Areas and their congregations, assemblies and members to seek out opportunities to deepen our understanding of indigenous rights, to participate in the ongoing work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process, and to renew relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in our varied contexts.” It was a good first step. But we have made just a small beginning and there is so much more for us to do!

In conclusion, I will share three very brief quotes from the presentation which accompanied the presentation of the TRC report and recommendations, one from each of the three very wise and inspiring Commissioners who led this process.

From Justice Murray Sinclair, “The eyes of the world and the gaze of history are upon us.” From Dr. Marie Wilson, “We cannot un-know what we now know.” And from Chief Wilton Littlechild, referencing the most important six words as taught to him by the residential school survivors, “I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you!”

Their words – and the many, many words spoken in the six year TRC process – speak for themselves. They tell the truth. And they carry seeds of reconciliation. They call for our careful and diligent attention. None are easy words; but they are faithful and holy ones. Are we listening? Are we willing to respond?