National Aboriginal Day Celebration Flag (2014)

National Aboriginal Day
Celebration Flag (2014)
Image: Rushawna Keeper

For many in the church, in particular my context of The United Church of Canada, we have been engaged with looking into that mirror for approximately three decades. In this pursuit we have had to acknowledge a reflection as the bringers of culture dressed in the guise of faith and sometimes it is and has been uncomfortable. In fact, as the narrative has changed, how we understand our role in the story has changed. That shift – from explorers or divinely directed to Settler or Coloniser can lead to the temptations of Apathy and Guilt.

I think we have journeyed uncomfortably well, though perhaps not gracefully or without mistake, into the 21st century. A time in which we now open ourselves to honest – at times awkward – discussions about healing, right relations and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Though these are indeed noble and faithful pursuits – it also feels important to note that they are not … at times … necessarily embraced much beyond the church walls.

During worship this last Sunday, I was inspired by the courage of Ovide Mercredi when he offered the Reflection at Augustine United Church. As he discussed his own experience, as a reluctant leader in the Aboriginal Community, as he named and referenced his own fatigue and experience of the soul-devouring residential school experiment, he reminded us all of the generations who are waiting upon our decisions now. Decisions that plant the hoped for seeds of reconciliation and mutual healing.

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As Ovide rested from his courageous vulnerability, embraced by one dear to him, another voice was heard in that sanctuary. At the time in which the community at Augustine shares collectively individual prayer, a man offered his own hurt as an Indigenous person. And as dancer’s counter-balance to make fluid movement seem graceful, he named fatigue about the very word ‘reconciliation.’ As prayer is not a debate or even necessarily a conversation with one another but Holy Mystery, his words followed, mingled and hovered amidst Ovide’s … for him the word reminded him of the harm he had experienced and when would that end, he challenged?

I am not sure in the breadth of a blog or even in a longer musing whether bringing these two worship experiences together is possible or even required. What I am left with is the recognition that – for some – even our current attempts, as those complicit in the hurt, may simply echo our past assumptions of knowing the answer, having the solution, of being right.

I am firm supporter and believer that our stories – when honestly shared and truly heard – change lives, create new possibilities and shift worlds. After National Aboriginal Day on Sunday and the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I am left wondering how reconciliation might continue to unfold? It is one thing to witness another’s story, it is another to reciprocate with offering our very selves in return. As the church engages in apology and healing, I wonder to what extent our larger Canada is truly at a table where who we were, are now and might be is in fact lived as an intentional mutual exploration …