I have no right to write this. (But of course the person who pens a sentence like this invariably carries on.) I’m white, male, assuredly unaware of some of my deeper prejudices. When mentally fatigued, I can fall into the simplistic stereotyping of the culture I was raised in. Too, I can romanticize Aboriginal cultures, that like all cultures carry dark and light. I can sentimentalize the issue of reconciliation through a kind of self-involved guilt and thereby distance myself and hide from doing the real work. I can placate myself by loving the idea of restorative justice without learning it from the inside, without it hurting.
I’m talking, you’ve gathered, about the Aboriginal “problem,” which is of course is not an Aboriginal problem but a Canadian problem. Because once again at this time of year, we are offered reminders: in a little over a week, it will be National Aboriginal History Month; June 21st will mark National Aboriginal Day; and today we’re at the tail end of Aboriginal Awareness Week.
At the thought of all these observances, the spirit wilts a bit, in that their very existence is proof, or at the very least, a reminder, that we have a long way to go. A long way, that is, toward fully understanding our disastrous colonial past and fully appreciating the history of the land upon which we live, and the many cultures of all the Aboriginal peoples we live with.
It’s true, as one non-Aboriginal commentator stated, that we’ve all been impoverished by our tragic history. But it’s also an abstraction—and a misdirection. It’s like someone who is young, saying they are suffering the burden of mortality. It’s like, well, as Christian Wiman observed, when Wallace Stevens wrote, in his wonderful poem, “Sunday Morning” (a staggeringly great poem by the way) that, “Death is the mother of beauty,” he was no doubt perfectly healthy.
What am I saying? Consider: Of our city’s homeless population, 46 percent are Aboriginal (2012 Edmonton Homeless Count). When we remember that Edmonton’s Aboriginal population is around six percent, it’s rather obvious where the weight of impoverishment has fallen. If these were “white” numbers, we would be using the term epidemic.
Still, I don’t want to deny that there has been progress. Progress is the awareness that “we have all been impoverished.” The Truth and Reconciliation Conferences that have been held across Canada (the seventh and final conference was held in Edmonton—Treaty Six territory—this past March) have done much to educate, and I think, engender some active compassion in those of us who are distant from that history. (I was able to attend Hobbema’s TRC)
More importantly, they have given voice to survivors of residential schools. There is power in truth. Many said that speaking aloud their experience, and being listened to, was healthy, empowering.
Aboriginal Ministry Council member, Dean Shingoose, said at the outset of the TRC hearings, that good can come out of this if we continue in the theme of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing (the true theme of the gospel, as opposed to what was grievously taught).
This is, of course, how we must proceed. Now that the hearings are over it’s imperative that we carry the spirit forward. While the numbers are disheartening, it’s critical to remember that it’s most often in open engagement, in the presence of love and dignity, in the singular encounter of two hearts, where truth can move toward reconciliation—where healing can happen.
“Awareness and celebration” weeks, months, days, are vitally important, they are training ground. But we know too that the reconciliation and restoration of even one life has the concentric power that goes beyond these events. No doubt, sometime in the course of our daily lives, our hearts will be called upon; just so, we may undergo our own truth, reconciliation and healing.