September 30 has been designated as an observed ‘National Day for Truth & Reconciliation.’
In the face of historic and present injustices toward and among Indigenous Peoples in the lands of Canada, this is a day to bring forward reflection, to recognize wrongs, to hear the silenced voices and encourage bridge-building, peace-making and healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people between and among us as individuals and institutions. The Catholic Church has been, and continues to be, a part of Canadian culture for Indigenous peoples, people of settler descent and the newly immigrated. Here we present to you four voices from people who are actively involved in seeking Truth & Reconciliation with Catholic and Indigenous Peoples: Julia and Adam Kozak, Fr. Cristino Bouvette and Maria Lucas.
Maria Lucas, Black-Métis and a lawyer called to the Ontario Bar
“On this first step of my journey, I have wanted to make space for memory.” This formed part of Pope Francis’ address at Maskwacis during his visit to Canada in July 2022, a visit that Pope Francis referred to as a “penitential pilgrimage.” September 30 is an opportunity to make space for memory. This means being intentional in learning about the history and legacy of residential schools and about the Indigenous-Crown relationship that contextualised them. Pope Francis in his address at Maskwacis emphasized the importance of making “space for memory” when he commented “it is right to remember, because forgetfulness leads to indifference and, as has been said, ‘the opposite of love is not hatred, it’s indifference… and the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Indifference to the history and present circumstances of Indigenous peoples in Canada risks continued harm for all of Canadian society. In my view, indifference fuels an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy that prevents the building of the relationships that are necessary to bring about reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (“TRC”) defined reconciliation as being “about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.” The TRC went on to state that in order for this to happen, “there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” In other words, as a first step, we must make space for memory and become aware of our past so that we can build a mutually respectful relationship with one another.
Reconciliation is not easy; the hardship of it is reflected in the Cross. For Catholics, Christ on the Cross is the ultimate symbol of reconciliation. Christ, through His suffering and death on the Cross, reconciled us back to the Father. In doing so, He showed us that suffering and death leads to new life. We should all look to this central aspect of our faith as we seek to build a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples. As Pope Francis emphasized, our own efforts in doing so are not enough, “we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter.” It all begins by making space for memory.
Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Catholic priest in the Diocese of Calgary of mixed Cree-Métis and Italian descent. National Liturgical Coordinator for the Papal Visit to Canada.
Reconciliation is possible. I have taken to using that phrase often whenever I am afforded the opportunity to either publicly present on this important topic or even just in casual conversation. If we do not start from the fundamental belief that something is possible, there is either no point to starting – or worse – it was perceived as an exercise in futility from the first instance. The call for reconciliation costs everyone involved. For Indigenous people, it can often re-open wounds from which they were hiding or had hoped they had sufficiently left to heal. Engaging or re-engaging in conversations, activities, testimonies or encounters at the service of reconciliation demands a vulnerability that always costs something. Why incur that cost if we do not believe that the hoped for outcome – reconciliation – was not likely or possible?
Reconciliation also costs non-Indigenous peoples in these lands as well. Many reading that statement would automatically feel uncomfortable because it is almost as though they have been trained to suppose they are to feel nothing but guilt and shame for a past for which they are not responsible and already condemned for a future they do not intend. We must also address the vulnerability that this creates for those who sincerely do desire to see reconciliation, healing, harmony and peace among ALL peoples in this place we now call Canada. The willingness to listen, learn and make room for the other, not as the victim of a past crime, but as a brother or sister in the human race, that costs something from the one who engages it and that ought to be acknowledged and affirmed.
Reconciliation is not only possible, but it must be believed to be possible. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, it is the reason we believe Christ became one of us in the first place: that we might be reconciled to the Father, our Creator-God, but also that we might be reconciled to one another in Him. Reconciliation is possible.
Adam and Julia Kozak, Married couple involved in the arts and bridge-building between cultures with a special focus on Indigenous and Catholic people. Julia is a member of the Nisga’a First Nation.
The penitential pilgrimage visit by Pope Francis in July of 2022 was an important moment for Canada. For many non-indigenous Canadians, it brought to the forefront the horrible injustices and reality of painful knots which have afflicted people of Indigenous cultures on these lands for centuries. These knots included the idea and implementation of Indian Residential Schools. The knots of suppression of language, of culture and of dignity for people as individuals from a long-established tradition of being. Many of these knots in Canada gained momentum through systematic collaboration of some members of government, policing and church communities. In the face of bad ideas and indignities committed, many good women and men resisted the ways of dehumanization along the way.
What was brought to power by systematic means was implemented in grassroot measures.
Thankfully, people of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous background have, and are continuing to, point to the truth of these knots across these lands. There is the call by the Spirit to participate as an un-doer of knots in our every day grassroots efforts. In recognizing wrongs and being present to peace-making and healing from the grassroots every day practices, we have great hope of undoing the knots which have entangled us as a country.
There is much work to be done in the mercy and promise of the Lord for reconciliation. Thankfully, we have witnessed how some school and church communities are reaching out, asking questions, seeking answers and listening to the stories in efforts to better understand where the path forward is leading us all to reconciliation and healing.
There are thousands of more voices to be heard, and even though looking at the many knots to be undone can be daunting, don’t give up! There may be missteps along the way, but don’t give up! There may be great frustration and unwarranted criticism, but don’t give up!
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!