Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Day Two

Day Two at the TRC event in Winnipeg (Thursday) was grey and rainy, a tempestuous contrast from the first day’s heat. It made no difference, it seemed, except that the women’s sharing circle was paused earlier than expected in the afternoon because of tornado warnings. (Fortunately, a tornado did not materialize.)

It was another full day. I began at the interfaith tent, which hosted a panel discussion on “Native traditional spiritualities in conversation with Christianity” and ended the day at “Writing Truth, Imagining Reconciliation” featuring a strong line-up of writers, including Basil Johnston, Beatrice Mosionier (In Search of April Raintree), and Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden, speaking or reading from their work.

But the heart of the event is the sharing/healing circle, so once again I sat witness as best I could, first in the tent where there was a men’s circle, and then in the tent where there was a women’s.

What I was witnessing, I realized, was not only the impact of Indian residential schools, via the sharing of survivors, but a constant ministry of community support. A painted stone (painted by children) waiting on the chair of each person in the sharing circle itself, to hold while speaking. Traditional spiritual supports like opening prayers, “blessed” water to drink for participants, the smudge, eagle feathers. And more contemporary supports, like kleenex and the blue-vested “counsellor” people constantly in attendance. (Tear-soaked tissues are not garbaged but gathered to be offered on the sacred fire later in the day.) When the telling gets especially difficult, a family member (though everyone is addressed as “relatives” in the circles) might be standing behind the speaker, hand on their shoulder. Continue reading

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Day One

I spent the day at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national event, here at the Forks in Winnipeg.┬áMy heart is full, and — to borrow the expression Marie Wilson, one of the commissioners, used — it’s also “leaking.” The day felt weighty and often emotional. I can only imagine how intense it must have been for the many survivors of the residential school system and their families in attendance.

Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, commissioner, speaking at the opening ceremonies

This event will likely be well covered by the media, so I’m not going to give any kind of journalistic play-by-play but simply a few of my own impressions and experiences.

1. Personalized

I’m attending the event in response to the call by the TRC to come and bear witness to the dreadful legacy of the residential school system in Canada, a system set up by the government and implemented through various church groups to “civilize and Christianize” native people by forcible assimilation through education. The intent, stated most bluntly, was to “take the Indian out of Indians.” Continue reading