This week (as I write this on June 4th) the big national news story in Canada has NOT been the fact that Jeopardy contestants have no comprehension of Canadian geography (as amusing as that always is). No the big news story this week was the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event and the release of the summary of their final report.
There are certain things that have the potential to be nation shaping, events and times that change who and how we are as Canadians. The TRC process is one of those times.
How will we rebuild a broken relationship? How will we work toward reconciliation? Will we have the courage as Canadians to hear the truth of what was done in our name (and ostensibly in the best interests of all)?
I think many of us, if we are honest, are not surprised by the conclusions being shared. I think some of the details are worse than we had imagined or feared (such as the suggestion that a Canadian soldier in World War II had the same chance of dying as a child in a residential school). I think that the starkness of the conclusion that the residential school system constituted cultural genocide might shock us – hopefully to action. I also think that many Canadians want to do something to help rebuild and reconcile. But we are not at all sure what to do.
Then again we have taken the first few, tentative, steps. Well maybe they weren't tentative, at the time they felt like huge leaps. But in the face of what we now know they were just a bare start. Almost 30 years ago at the 31st General Council, the Rt. Rev. Robert Smith offered words of apology on behalf of the United Church (you can read the apology here http://www.united-church.ca/beliefs/policies/1986/a651). Since then we as a denomination have apologized for our role in the Residential School system (almost 10 years before the Federal Government did the same), we created the Healing Fund to help fund activities of healing and reconciliation, we are parties to the legal settlement, we have various bodies across the country working toward living into a Right-relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. And similar things are happening in other churches and other parts of Canadian society. We have started.
But there is still so much to do. There is so much to learn. There is so much to rebuild.
It is my hope that we as Canadians are willing to engage the task that lies before us. I hope that we are able to face the truth that is being shared. I hope that we are ready to learn about the past and how that past has shaped the present. I hope we are ready to admit the lived reality of racism that continues to be a part of Canadian society. I hope that we are able to accept that despite the stated “good intentions” the project was flawed, fatally flawed. This is not a story (as we were once told) about a few instances of physical and sexual abuse. That is part of a larger story of neglect and racism and, as the Chief Justice of Canada has stated, cultural genocide.
As a church I think/hope/believe that we have something to add to this conversation. As a faith community we talk about issues of confession and repentance and reconciliation. As a faith community our church was part of the problem. But we can also be a part of the rebuilding. We can learn and share. We can listen. We can proclaim that both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples are created in God's image. We can pray, and let God move our prayers to actions.
This can change who we are as Canadians. God help us take the chance, God help us grow into a place of reconciliation, of rebuilt relationships, of a place that is closer to being the Kingdom for which we wait.