Until last Sunday I’d never done this kind of thing before.
By 3:45am I was driving through rainy blackness heading to the Sunrise Ceremony on Victoria Island, in the middle of the Ottawa river. The ceremony would mark the beginning of the close for the six-year-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission examining the effects of Indian residential schools on Aboriginal peoples and culture.
I stood amongst 200 or so souls, shivering under unsettled skies, feeling awkward. I wondered about my right to be at such an important event, wondering if I was taking up someone else’s space, mildly terrified I would do or say the wrong thing, feeling the weight of my ignorance. I needn’t have worried. Almost immediately a woman gathered me under her red umbrella, included. I watched and listened as the lighting of the sacred fire unfolded, but my role wasn’t an entirely passive one. As I would learn over the following days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, through my presence and attention I was being called as a witness to the past and a bearer of knowledge into the future. Because we can never un-know what we know, we must move forward.
A few hours later I caught the shuttle from Ottawa’s City Hall to Gatineau to join in the Walk for Reconciliation. The walk was:
…designed to transform and renew the very essence of relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. It sounds so simple, but just the act of gathering and walking and sharing our stories can join us all in a shared commitment to creating a new way forward in our relationships with each other. Our future depends on being able to simply get along, respecting each other for the unique gifts we bring.”1
I didn’t expect the walk to be magically transformative and it wasn’t. My goal was to show up, stand up, and begin to wake up to the legacy of Indian residential schools and the Canadian government’s assimilation policies. I’m tired of my own ignorance and of feeling useless in the face of the inevitable racist cloud that forms whenever the “Indian subject” arises. I don’t wish to pontificate, but it’s important to be able to explain my point of view and separate fact from fiction.
So last week I walked knowing it marked the beginning of a journey and not the end. It was a small, tangible action I could take in the face of such massive devastation.
Watch TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson speak about the purpose of the Commission and why it’s about Canadian history and not Aboriginal history.