I am writing this blog in two parts as a discipline for my own reflection and – hopefully – that might be one way that you – the Reader – might endeavour to hear truths that are – admittedly – difficult. Yet, and I would offer, are necessary to confront if there is to be healing for a wound that lays at the core of this country we call Canada.
In about 24 hours, I will be involved in a gathering at The Forks here in Winnipeg for an event called #HonourTheApology. The intention is to listen, reflect, grieve and hopefully discern action as Canadians continue to struggle to live into an apology shared with our Aboriginal friends, Brothers and Sisters in 2008 by the Government of Canada and spoken by the United Church of Canada in 1986. The hurts and assumptions, lives and families that have been shattered are often numbing when first acknowledged. This anaesthetised ailment has only been aggravated by recent revelations by Ian Mosby that in the 1940s and 1950s the Canadian government was involved with intentionally testing First Nations children and youth, in order to discern the effects of malnutrition.
It is hard for non-Aboriginal Canadians to look into a mirror that reflects the privilege we have at the expense of Aboriginal Canadians. Whether your family arrived here recently or in the distant past when Indigenous and non-Indigenous people began the dance of relations, we tell ourselves stories of a terra nova, a place defined by the bounds of a tabula rasa context, where the slate was clean. In this pristine narrative many of our forbearers arrived hoping to find reprieve from oppression, respite from poverty or liberty to embrace beliefs rejected in places that no longer felt like home. With as many reasons as there are stories, men and women, children and families have arrived on Turtle Island knowing the blessing freedom is … yet we resist confronting the illusion nothing was here prior to our own arrival … an artifice that has continued to sustain the harmful contexts our Elders created for those who were already here …
I do not know what tomorrow will hold. I do not know what resistance, joy, blessing, gift or anger might appropriately be experienced by those rallying. I do know that preaching, finger wagging and arguing cannot soften clenched hearts. We are where we are, what has been done has been done, but without hearing truths through our and others’ life-stories, we simply perpetuate a cycle where someone benefits and another suffers. As Christians, we are encouraged by a Creator who longs for us to be whole, to live life as blessing, to forgive, to repent and to return to face Holy Mystery. Tomorrow … holds only potential and I pray we are open to receiving it with Grace …
I’ve just returned from the gathering and I have been trying to figure out what to write. So much was said, prayers that called for justice, stories from Elders that rip at your heart and truth abounding about previous choices that we all must bear. I am reminded that – as a non-Aboriginal person – I benefit in so many ways from distant and local oppressions. Ultimately, I’m sitting here humbled as the cursor blinks …
Those of us from the various faith communities in Winnipeg – called ‘dignitaries’ – were asked to share greeting or words, reflections and prayers. As I listened to each person – Christian, Muslim, Japanese Canadians, Elders, & Jewish men and women – I was keenly aware of the fine balance we walk as political creatures … of moving from the politics that bind us to the politicising of events.
Now do not get me wrong, this is political. We must ask, and if we are not heard, demand that our politicians and government share information that we have already collectively agreed to provide to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Only by knowing what has been done, can we truly repent and heal. In this moment of recognition, my own story seemed to connect me in a way that further helps me accept my own complicity and the gift of choice to which I might awaken. It seemed to connect me with a universal truth that binds all non-Indigenous people.
In the mid-nineteenth century, my Relations left Mount Lebanon. It was an area that was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. This exodus – to places such as Australia, South America, America and Canada – occurred because European nations began to vie with the Ottoman Empire for control of resources, capital and wealth. My forbearers knew the yoke of oppression, lived the balance of a minority and had the ability to leave … to seek a better life … to be free.
The maternal side of my family began to arrive in Canada around 1850 onward. My Syrian Orthodox relations would become known as peddlers; we would create trade routes most would not establish; and, our history remains largely unexplored in the mainstream Protestant imagination. And it was not until 1997, after I chose to be part of The United Church of Canada (UCC), that I began to awaken to the reality that the apology – in which we continue to live into Right Relations – spoke of an invisible history. My family arrived here expecting and – generally – have attained a level of privilege and wealth, success and health.
But did they know … do they know … that the very reasons we left what was once home was now built upon the same oppression magnified in ways unimaginable upon Aboriginal peoples? That the places to which our diaspora took us first had to be ‘cleared’ and ‘sanitised’ of those who called these places home since time immemorial? How would they respond to know they had benefitted from the same colonialism that displaced them in ways that at the very least is bitter irony and – at worst – genocide?
This awakening sits heavy. And as I offered some semblance of a prayer to that effect this afternoon, I sincerely hope that in the speaking of difficult truths we move from apathy and cynicism to action and healing. Only through sharing our stories do we being to see one another as one of God’s Beloved Children.