Older postsAnciens articles | Newer postsArticles récents  

 — March 13, 200813 mars 2008
 

Remembering the Childrenby the Rev. Dr. Jan Bigland-Pritchard,
Director of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism

It all began in the middle of the night, sometime in December. The previous day I had email to say that very senior aboriginal and church leaders were going to cross the country together to promote the work of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was exciting. The TRC struck me as a courageous way to help heal this wound in our national soul.

My heart sank, however, when I read the proposed itinerary. No mention of Saskatchewan. “How typical”, I thought, the chip on my prairie-girl shoulder well in place. I thought: it doesn’t matter to those people ‘down east’ that Saskatchewan has a very large native population, that many residential schools were located here. With a fatalistic sigh, I went to bed.

And woke up in the middle of the night. There was no question: I had to write to the organizers and urge them to come to Saskatchewan. A few minutes on the internet brought up the email address. I wrote at once, urging our case and offering the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism as the local partner.

How could I make such a commitment in the middle of the night, with no hesitation and no consultation? It was simple: the amazing PCE network. 24 years of building inter-church partnerships paid off. The PCE‘s Restorative Justice Committee usually just do one workshop in November, but 2007 was different. Our focus was the continuing racial divide in our region. The question we asked was how can we, as native and non-native people, walk together to heal our communities? It was clear that this would not be a one-off event, but a process. We began to seek aboriginal partners and found them. There was a growing sense that God was taking us somewhere, well out of our comfort zones. The stage was set.

On January 11 we got word that the national tour, impressed by the strength of our invitation, was coming to Saskatoon on March 9. Hastily the Restorative Justice committee assembled, and others were invited on board — including Ethel Ahenakew of the Saskatoon Native Ministry, Alan Jacques, who ministers on the Dakota Whitecap First Nation, Mary Ann Assailly, of the Anglican diocesan outreach network.

We were excited. Someone asked how many people will come. I said I wasn’t sure, but we should prepare for up to 400. There was incredulous laughter. (We are used to disappointment.) But we persuaded ourselves to think big, and got to work — especially Carol Zubiak our chair, and Carol Penner, our office manager. We were delighted when FaithLife Financial stepped up to the plate and gave us $1,000 to help.

Four churches ran residential schools on behalf of the federal government — Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United. Their local church leaders were enthusiastic about the March 9 visit, and promoted the event among their people. Chief Lawrence Joseph, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, flew to Ottawa to check out the national launch of the tour. That convinced him that the churches were sincere. He agreed to speak in Saskatoon, and promoted the event with Saskatchewan native leaders.

Invitations went out far and wide — oh the wonders of email. The press releases went out. We held our breath.

Then the phone began to ring. The computer went crazy. Media said they were coming. By the week of the tour, we were arranging overflow seating and urging the Western Development Museum to squeeze in more seats and stand by with extra food.

On the day we counted 471 going past the registration desk. People were streaming in, white and native, old and young. There was a line-up of those wanting to smudge. The perfume of sweetgrass filled the air. People sat at round and long, tables, filling the hall. Expectant and a little nervous.

On stage the national tour’s display featured a young native boy’s face, with a very institutional haircut. His face appeared on the podium as well. When Ted Quewezance, residential school survivor and head of the survivor’s society, stood at the podium and told his story. I felt I was time travelling, for Ted — a man in his fifties or sixties — bore an uncanny resemblance to that little boy.

Each church leader spoke well, with words of clear apology for a very serious wrong. Chief Joseph had called it a ‘holocaust’. The uncomfortable truth, new to me, was that many children never came home from those residential schools. Many died or disappeared. We must remember. There is so much that most non-native people don’t know.

The program ran long, but the audience stayed with it. There were tissues placed on each table. They were needed. Many were touched — the audience, the museum serving staff, the media people, the local sound technician. A young Métis prison worked shared her sense of delight about the event. A school survivor in her sixties told me about the great sense of lightness and peace that had come upon her as the afternoon unfolded.

We finished with a meal and a round dance. When I went to the microphone and asked “Who’s ready for some singing and dancing?” there were whoops and shouts and applause. As ‘Young Thunder’ drummed and sang, a circle of people formed, holding hands, dancing around the edge of the hall. Native and white together, moving to the drum, a ring reaching not just once around the hall, but in places two lines thick. A moment of declaration. A moment of hope.

People asked me, “Are you coming back next year?” The question was about whether the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when it shapes its itinerary for the major city events, will remember to come to Saskatchewan. We need them to come.

At the PCE, we’ll be standing by for the phone call.

• For background on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission go to www.residentialschoolssettlement.ca
• The tour website is www.rememberingthechildren.ca
A Most Holy Day – The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reflects on the Saskatoon stop of the tour.

Posted: March 13, 2008 • Permanent link: ecu.net/?p=436
Categories: NewsIn this article: Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Transmis : 13 mars 2008 • Lien permanente : ecu.net/?p=436
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission


  Older postsAnciens articles | Newer postsArticles récents