Are we done with that yet?

Not even close.

Ry Moran of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (established at the University of Manitoba to serve as an archive and continuing holding, research and service and education centre for materials around Canada's Indian Residential Schools) emphatically but without rancour asserted that it is almost offensive and certainly lacking compassion for members of majority culture to say indigenous people should just "get over it already."

Moran gave a presentation on the centre at Bethel Mennonite Church, May 20, 2015, sponsored also by MCC and KAIROS. Housed in Chancellor Hall at the U of M (an ironically colonial edifice, but a building of honour on campus, located in a serene, wooded spot along the river), the centre's tagline is "built on integrity, trust and dignity."

Moran's aspect conveys dignity and his impassioned presentation spoke of the need to establish trust between indigenous and majority peoples in Canada.

One of the ways trust was broken is that not only were the treaties not honoured by white Canadians, it was through education -- which First Nations people requested in good faith, knowing their children would need to respond to the changing world around them -- that violence was perpetuated on indigenous peoples.

"It was a direct attack on families," Moran says. Not an argument I've heard before, but one that makes sense, and, again, multiplies the sense of betrayal that the government's "educational" strategies for First Nations youth would aim at disconnecting the backbone of a communal culture.

Once he finished his presentation, the floor was open to questions and comments. The theme that quickly impressed itself on me in both the questions and Moran's responses was education.

"Education is how we got into this mess and it's how we're going to get out of it," Moran said earlier in the evening and it was driven home.

Moran's tips for how we can move toward reconciliation all revolve around education:
  • learn
  • understand
  • explore (i.e. learn more!); push against the status quo
  • recognize contributions of Aboriginal people
  • take action
  • teach others.
In other words, get educated, transform your behaviour as a result, then educate others.

"The majority of society doesn't fundamentally understand the particular challenges and concerns of indigenous people in Canada," says Moran. 

Besides understanding the generational trauma wrought on a people and the effort required to begin to heal the wounds, there is also an understanding required of what reconciliation itself is all about.

Reconciliation is both a goal and a process, says Moran. It's a journey that doesn't go in a straight path. Real change is needed, but sometimes things can get worse in the process of trying to make them better, he observed, mentioning South Africa as a place that has experienced some of the latter.

And, of course, it takes a long time.

Through it all, addressing a mostly white audience, a mostly Mennonite audience -- that is, a group that was for the most part not complicit in the government or church aspects of the residential school, but one that profited from stolen lands and certainly has pockets of self-sufficient, paternalistic people quick to voice the hurtful sentiment "why can't they just get over it?!" -- Moran was well spoken, and more importantly, gracious and hopeful. Despite having worked for the TRC for years, hearing dreadful personal testimonies of heinous treatment children received in residential schools, he spoke without bitterness or blame of the need for reconciliation. That said, he was quite clear that majority Canadian society have not yet taken ownership of our responsibility for the harm that was inflicted.

It was an audience member who insisted that the path between truth and reconciliation is not as short as the title suggests. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness must lie in between, the audience member said. We must admit our wrongdoing and truly accept our responsibility and need for change and for forgiveness before the deep and restorative work of reconciliation can really take place.

So, no, we're not done with truth and reconciliation yet. The multi-year national commission and cross-country event process may be drawing to a close next weekend, but as for reconciliation? We've only just begun.

*post likely to contain many grammatical errors. Ongoing editing to ensue. But I suspect I managed to beat Esther Epp-Thiessen (who sat next to me, scribbling in her notebook as well) to blog reflections on the event, though hers will likely be more thoughtful than mine.


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