Day one of this first national gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began at 5:19 a.m. yesterday with the lighting of the Sacred Fire at sunrise here at The Forks in Winnipeg. It was a moving and generous ceremony whereby a crowd of us—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal together—gathered ’round to participate fully in it all, including a water ceremony and teachings about water, “the veins of Mother Earth.” The teachings spoke powerfully to connections between the health of our souls and our relationships with one another and with the Earth.
TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair brought the ceremony to a close by reminding us that it wasn’t so long ago that conducting such a ceremony would have been against the law—that arrests would have been made. He then spoke about the importance of prayer: that praying itself is more important than the words with which we pray. He closed by leading us in a prayer that’s precious to him and his family. We joined him in saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.…”
At breakfast afterward I thanked him for his leadership and for his wise words about the nature of prayer. I also thanked him for leading us in Jesus’ prayer. As he said, “It’s a good prayer.” His leadership—and that of Commissioners Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild—are grounding this work of truth and reconciliation by attending first to the need for strong spiritual roots.
Following breakfast we entered into more Spirit-filled, prayerful experience through a traditional Pipe Ceremony where again prayerful words and drum rhythms represented the spiritual longing and intent of all who are gathered here from the four sacred directions: East, South, West, and North.
I had the humble honour of speaking at the Opening Welcome with Commissioners, First Nations, and government and church leaders, referring to my own prayers for generations of children and parents robbed of the most basic gifts of loving family life and human dignity due to the Indian residential school system. In my next blog, I’ll share these words with you.
As we moved into a church-offered lunch for residential school survivors, I had the great privilege of meeting a number of survivors, including three women who had travelled for two and a half days by bus from James Bay. They and their family members attended residential school, and I listened as they described their journey from pain into healing and wholeness, and to their hope that other members of their family will be able to enter into this healing process. They are Anglican, and I asked how they would feel about me including them and their family members in my prayers. They were pleased by my offer, and when I read this morning’s Globe and Mail I learned that a reporter was listening in on our conversation.
My afternoon was deeply blessed by sitting in the Commissioners’ Tent, listening to the first Sharing Circle of this week. Throughout these days, the TRC Commissioners have made a commitment to be in this tent to listen to the stories of survivors. Yesterday, the Rev. James Scott, our General Council Officer: Residential Schools, was the face of the churches in that circle, offering a moving response to stories shared. In a separate blog, I’ll share with you some of what Jamie said. He spoke so well for us all.
In the meantime, thank you for joining your prayers to those being lifted here at The Forks.
I have a strong sense that you and I are together in this effort of prayer and action for the sake of truth and reconciliation—not only in these early days, but also in our commitments to participate, community by community, in the days, months, and years to come.
And speaking of participation, the All Native Circle Conference and the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario are providing great leadership to this gathering. Sixty United Church volunteers are offering a great many services here, including about 20 who have been specially trained to listen to survivors. They are serving in shifts in the Listening Tent, which sits near the Interfaith Tent. One of those volunteers, serving as a chaplain in the Interfaith Tent, provided me with a much-needed listening ear at the end of a very long day yesterday. I give thanks that I too am held by listening and by prayer. May we all hold one another. There is abundance in community!
You can check out the website of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for more information about all that’s happening here this week and beyond. (It’s always good for our prayers to be well-informed.)
How are you connected to God’s work of healing soul and community in the aftermath of residential schools?