Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Days Three and Four

Day Three, rain and more rain, all day, and the large commissioner’s tent deserted because of the sogginess and the sharing circle moved into a room at the theatre building at the Forks.

The miserable weather affected attendance and some pieces of the event had to be cancelled. I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or just the underlying sombre nature of the event itself lending perspective, but I didn’t hear a single complaint about it, however. I was struck by this, it seemed so unusual. The only one who mentioned the rain, in fact, was a woman in the sharing circle, and she said she was thankful because it was adding tears to the sorrow of memories. And, said another, “we have many tears to shed.”

I was happy that H. could take some time from work and come with me. I would describe to him when I came home what I was seeing and hearing these days, but it’s different actually experiencing it together. We spent several hours witnessing the sharing circle, and also watched a new play by Ian Ross called “Fabric of the Sky.” The play was about a man who had not been a good father to his son because of his residential school experiences. Then as he finally opened up about it,  the gap between him and his son began to close.

The point of the play could hardly be missed and so it felt a little didactic, but still, it was well done, and the point does need emphasizing. We’d heard so much of that in the stories: as children finally learn and began to understand what their parents have gone through, they begin to understand and even forgive the ways in which they have also been damaged by their parents’ lack of love and other behaviours.

Day Four — today — and a lovely day, clear and sunny. I returned to the Forks for a few more hours of listening, this time to some conversation in the interfaith tent: “signs of reconciliation and reflecting on our experiences.” There were more than a few interesting moments here.

One of the participants in the panel discussion was a Japanese man who had been involved in the redress movement in his community. In the discussion that followed, an aboriginal man who is also the head of a B.C. native fisherman’s association, apologized for how his people had gotten — cheaply — boats and other material goods that were confiscated from Japanese fishermen when they were interned in the second world war.

Another man, Jim Dumont, a teacher of traditional native ways, said to the church representatives, “If it [the Indian residential school past] doesn’t make you angry, there’s something wrong with you…. I always felt, coming towards the interfaith tent, there wasn’t enough fervour. It’s like you want to sedate us.”

Mid-afternoon was the start of a traditional powwow, and it’s still going on, and will be until the closing ceremonies and fireworks later this evening. For me, it was time to get home and give my rain and sun soaked flowerbeds some attention. But I did hear Governor General Michaelle Jean speak encouraging words (she’s taken a particular interest in this issue), and also Commissioner Murray Sinclair give Her Excellency his report of what had transpired these days. More than 25,000 people participated in the various events, he said, some dozens spoke their stories publicly, and more than 1,000 gave video statements in private, all of which will be gathered for the national research centre that will follow the TRC’s work.

Justice Sinclair now talked about the weather, how fitting it had been. The opening day with sunshine, and “then Mother Earth cleansing us with wind and rain while telling our sorrow and stories” and now the sunshine again, for the final celebration. He also remarked on the eagle that appeared as the opening prayers were spoken that afternoon, circling overhead, a sacred sign that “our words have been taken to the Creator.” You must realize that it’s a rare thing to see an eagle in the city. I’m sure Justice Sinclair is right; this was no coincidence.

4 thoughts on “Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Days Three and Four

  1. Dora, thank you so much for attending the bulk of the TRC event and for so generously sharing your experiences on your blog with readers like me. I was only able to be there for part of the opening session and was reassured when I saw you from a distance taking notes, hoping I’d be able to follow the event through your postings. Which I did. And what you wrote was great.

    I was moved especially by your reflections on that “gnat-in-your-ear” exchange (or perhaps “angelic visitation?”) between you and the aboriginal woman who asked, “Where are the Mennonites?,” followed by a reference to there being abuse at schools there too, then naming names, etc. Lindor Reynolds also mentioned Mennonite schools in one of her columns last week, and I wondered about that. So perhaps this woman’s question could be a nudge for you as a historian/gifted writer to do a research article on this for the Mennonite media and beyond?

    Also, I loved those concluding comments by Justice Sinclair. The reference to the blessing/fittingness of the weather with that hot brilliant opening day sunshine, followed by torrential wind & rain during the sharing circles (sort of like the stones crying out!), and then ending with sunshine again. And most of all, that image of the eagle circling overhead during the prayers, indicating that “our words have been taken to the Creator.”

    Amazing images which brought to mind the reference in Romans re the whole of creation literally yearning/groaning/weeping for the redemption/healing of all God’s children — which was also being sought at the TRC. And the eagle also reminded me of another bird, the dove circling over Jesus’ head at his baptism with the voice from heaven pronouncing a blessing on a beloved child (healer & peace-maker extraordinaire) with whom God was well-pleased …

    We know of course, that the journey which followed that blessing wasn’t easy. Nor will it be easy to heal the great rifts which exist among aborignal peoples and those of us who came much later and took over their land, negating culture. But it seems like some important beginning steps have been taken and if each of us makes a personal commitment to not only listen to the stories but to work towards reconciliation and healing among us (as we were urged to do at the opening ceremonies), there’s hope for a much better future for the next generations of Canadians.

    So let’s sign up and join that healing journey. Leona

  2. Thanks for these good words and reflections, Dora. I have not found time or creative space to process all that I saw and experienced at the Forks last week…. yet.
    Your summaries of both the events and your thoughts about them were helpful.
    I hope that many find their way to sites like yours and begin to sort through internal responses, fears and barriers to genuine Truth and Reconciliation.
    (I followed a link from Jess’ blog over here)

    • Thanks, all of you, Fran, Leona, Kelly, for your comments. This was one of those experiences where there was so much more than I could share; I found it difficult each post to know what to say. So what I appreciate about your stopping by, is the way the learning — and surely — change enlarges as we talk together. I have this sense of ripples growing across the country, and it feels hopeful.
      @ Fran — I’m still shocked by what you told me into another venue, that there were “No Indians allowed” signs in Kenora when you were a girl. That just isn’t that long ago!
      @ Leona — Don’t you think angels are a bit gnat-like at times. Think of all the times they just create trouble and work! 🙂
      @ Kelly — It was good to meet you last week, and I’m glad for the link to your blog as well. You’re working this stuff out in the context of daily life. .
      [To other readers, in addition to Kelly’s blog, the reference to Jess’ blog is to “The Highest Form of Hope,” which I have been reading for a while and have now also added to my blogroll.]

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