Walk for Reconciliation: A New Way Forward
On Sunday, September 22, in the wet autumn rain, I stood side by side with fellow Unitarians and people of all faiths and cultures in the first Walk for Reconciliation in Canadian history. The walk marks a new way forward in relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. An amazing 70,000 people joined in this event. Our ‘Unitarians for Reconciliation’ Team was one of over 200 teams from all walks of life showing our support for for truth-telling and healing in Canada.
A bit of background: for 150 years Canadian aboriginal children were forced to live at government-sponsored and church-run residential schools. These schools were created to destroy aboriginal cultures, language, religion and way of life, so aboriginal children would be assimilated into the dominant white Canadian society. This cruel and shameful part of Canadian history and legacy is being examined by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is holding events across the country. These events are for school survivors and intergenerational survivors to come to tell their stories, and for the rest of us to witness their brave sharing and learn about what happened in this part of our shared Canadian history. So many of the children suffered emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse. So many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis families and communities were destroyed. As a result, many are still reeling from the traumatic pain and damage that is passed on from generation to generation. Although the government officially apologized in 2008 (as have most of the churches who ran the schools), and some financial compensation was made available, the fabric of Canadian society was torn and it will take generations to heal the damage to individual families, aboriginal communities, and culture. Canada lost part of its soul through the residential school system, and will need to find ways to restore the rightful place of aboriginal peoples and cultures within our society, and rebuild relationships between us all.
The Walk for Reconciliation was part of that healing process, culminating a week of activities here in Vancouver where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was holding its sixth of seven national events. I was privileged to be able to attend some of those events. People gathered along streets, focusing their attention on the stage and the beginning line of the Walk, marked by huge banners of the medicine wheel. Imagine thousands of umbrellas of all colours held by people of all colours, standing side by side, listening to the music and inspirational words of aboriginal leaders, and the keynote speech of Rev. Dr. Bernice King (daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). She reminded us:
“When my father spoke those words, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,’ he was not speaking just about us literally, but he was speaking about children and future generations throughout the world, including right here in Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver, he was speaking about each and every one of you.”
Our ‘Unitarians for Reconciliation’ Team had 22 official members from various local congregations, and there were at least 35 Unitarians of all ages who walked with us in that day. The route took us on a 4 kilometre walk through downtown Vancouver. At one point it looped back on two adjacent overpass roads so we could wave across to those on the other side. For more, see this great video from Reconciliation Canada:
As Unitarians, we were honoured to have our participation be part of the Standing on the Side of Love movement, harnessing love’s power to end bigotry against people because of their oppression—in this case against Canadian aboriginal people. So many people came up to thank us, as people of faith, for showing our support of the reconciliation process. I look forward to joining other Unitarians and Canadians as we begin this real transformation in the relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians: to support healing, to build connections, and together to create resilient and sustainable communities for us all in this country. As Chief Dr. Robert Joseph of Reconciliation Canada said, we are walking in the spirit of ‘Nam’wiyut’: we are all one.
This post was written by Rev. Meg Roberts, co-captain of the Unitarians for Reconciliation Team, along with Samaya Oakley and Lindsay Hindle. Meg is also a part-time consulting minister to the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship on Vancouver Island. She lives in Vancouver and also explores the Spirit Arts–using the arts as tools in spiritual exploration. For more information, feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here in the United States, Indigenous Peoples Day is coming up on Monday, October 14th. Check out these 10 ways to honor Indigenous Peoples Day in your congregation or community.