Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Anniversary of Canada’s Apology and Re-Righting History

Monday marked the fourth anniversary of when our prime minister offered Canada’s apology to residential school survivors. It was a moving and dramatic moment, and a new journey as a nation became possible for all of us.

On May 31st, at Toronto’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, I offered a few words of reflection on behalf of the historic churches involved in the residential school system.

Here’s some of what I said that evening, followed by a comment about the United Church’s recent repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. A column on that has been published today in the National Post’s Holy Post.

Do you remember where you were at 3:00 p.m. on June 11, 2008? I was with young adult leaders that afternoon, at Five Oaks Centre, one of our church’s education and retreat centres on the traditional lands of the Six Nations. They were glued to the television screen, absorbing the weightiness of the moment. Afterward, they asked good questions and wondered about what this would mean for our country.

We in The United Church of Canada are among the many who want to see the potential of that moment fulfilled, and so we are committed to the long journey of healing.

In 1986 The United Church of Canada offered words of apology for our broken relationship with the First Nations; in 1998 we added an apology focused on residential school students and their families and communities.

In our understanding, an apology is a beginning. It marks a turning that makes it possible to live into new relationship.

I wear a cross, a symbol of sacred truth among my people. I am honoured to have been entrusted with an eagle feather, which I respect as sacred in First Nations tradition. In Ontario courts (and perhaps elsewhere) an eagle feather may be used to swear an oath. I am honoured to carry it as a symbol of my commitment to walking the path of truth and reconciliation.

The eagle feather a symbol of the sacred and of truth. The particular beauty of the eagle feather I hold comes not only from the eagle and its Creator, but also from the one who gave me this feather.

Last October at the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Halifax, Lottie Mae Johnson, on behalf of the TRC Survivors’ Committee, gave each of the church leaders there an eagle feather—and a tearful hug. It was an act of remarkable grace and courage and generosity.

Lottie Mae lives in Eskasoni, the largest Mi’Kmaq community in the Maritimes. She is a survivor of the Shubenacadie Residential School and travels throughout the Atlantic region supporting survivors and urging more gatherings for truth and reconciliation.

Her grace, courage, and generosity are extraordinary—and yet they are typical of what we have witnessed on this journey.

And that brings me back to today’s article in the National Post. The grace, courage, and generosity that Lottie Mae exemplifies is what we will all need to bring to this moment of our national story if we are to write/right the next chapter in the direction of God’s ways, in the peace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.