Calls to action and the mountain before us: Stories of hope and challenge
The Anishinaabe people have a saying: “I want to be a kind man.” That is what Indigenous teachings are all about, says Justice Murray Sinclair – “as are yours”, addressing the crowd at a CMU event who one can assume to be largely of Christian, specifically Mennonite, affiliation.
“If you are a kind person, there is nothing you can’t do, nothing that can happen to you that you can’t overcome because others will be kind to you and help you.”
You believe it when the Canadian senator says that. He has had challenges in life, as, sadly, do most of the Indigenous people of Canada due to the violence perpetuated on their people by majority culture. He has heard more than his fair share of heartbreaking stories of pain and grief and suffering, as a lawyer, a judge, and a TRC Commissioner. He has reason to be angry, and bitter – and tired.
But the senator exuded a calm and gentle presence as he addressed a crowd at CMU gathered to hear “stories of hope and challenge” on the TRC.
He had more than one key, though.
Education is another key. And not just education as in learning about history or even learning about other cultures through formal classroom teaching. “We need to change the way we teach children about what it means to be citizens, to know community, what community is.”
We need to relearn what it takes to live together.
“Reconciliation turns on one simple concept: I want to be your friend and I want you to be mine... so when something goes wrong we can fix it together.”
We need more than a kindness that is driven by pity or paternalism, but from a genuine experience of and care for another person. Not a blinkered kindness that will respond to the need of the person in front of them but refuse to support change to the systems that contributed to the need existing in the first place.
We need to believe reconciliation should happen – and that we have to begin the work of building it.
“You’re part of a system that needs change,” says Sinclair. You can be the nicest person, but if you’re part of “a system founded upon principles that are wrong, you need to change the system.”
There were no specifics for that daunting task.
Event host and peace professor Wendy Kroeker had us repeat together: “Reconciliation should happen. We have to do better.”
However, Sinclair had already given us our assignment. He spoke hopefully in the face of the mountain climb: What can we do? “Whatever it is you can do.”
Even systemic change starts in small ways.
“Whatever you can do is an improvement over doing nothing and its an improvement over doing the wrong thing (the same thing we’ve been doing).”
We have a lot to learn. Luckily, the first lesson sounds a bit like kindergarten: Start with kindness. Will you be my friend?