By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from the TRC

The bentwood box was the repository for gestures of
reconciliation, including those of the Alberta-NWT Bishops
and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe Province.
 It was quite the four days. The final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in Edmonton. Interest and participation levels were very high, and, I must say, the overall feeling was quite positive and hopeful. Yes, many sad and painful stories were told about life in the Residential Schools, and they were difficult to hear. At the same time there was a sense of moving forward into a future that would see the continuation of the process of healing and reconciliation. It is not a question here of naive optimism. Everyone realizes full well that words alone are insufficient. There needs to be a broad societal commitment to learn our history and to reach out to one another in a genuine desire to foster the common good of all.

Read the gesture of reconciliation statement by the Alberta-NWT Bishops

In this regard it occurs to me that the TRC process has highlighted some important lessons for everyone to take to heart and appropriate into our lives. I am convinced that, if we do this, reconciliation can be fostered throughout the breadth of the Canadian fabric. The lessons come from the very TRC process itself as well as from aspects of Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

Father Ken Forster, Provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province,
delivered a heartfelt gesture of reconciliation on behalf
of the Oblates.
The TRC process was predicated upon listening to truth. From this very fact we have our first lesson. To listen to truth means that truth is outside of and prior to us. We respond to truth and allow it both to inform and to transform us. This is a necessary corrective to a reigning relativism, which understand truth as something subjective, to be created by the individual, and which consequently fashions a fractured society.

With respect to Aboriginal culture and spirituality, I am struck by four aspects in particular that, if accepted and applied broadly, will strengthen our life together as Canadians.

First, in Aboriginal spirituality God is not eclipsed. Each day of the TRC event began with prayer to the Creator. Oh, how I wish that we could recapture this sense across our land! In broader Canadian society we have somehow reached the point of thinking that reference to God must be relegated to the private sphere, as if God, Creator of all, would have nothing to say about how his children should live together.

Second is the comfort of our indigenous brothers and sisters with silence. It is not unusual for participants in listening circles to sit together in silence for long periods of time until one is ready to speak. In Western culture generally silence has become alien. Our heads are filled with noise, living as we do under what I have often called "the tyranny of the tweet". We need to learn once again to be comfortable with silence, so that in the stillness of our hearts we can listen to the truth of ourselves and re-discover the beauty of our identity as God's beloved children. This discovery brings unity and peace to our own lives and in turn fosters communion with others.

Third, I was touched by the profound respect for elders among the Aboriginal people. There is a ready recognition of and deep gratitude for their wisdom and witness. At a time when voices are being raised in Canada calling for the ability to euthanize the elderly and weak, we need this example of esteem and honour toward our elders.

On the opening day of the TRC, I joined Mayor Iveson, artist
Dawn Marie Marchand, and Elder Fred Campiou on a CBC panel
hosted very professionally by Mark Connelly.

Finally, an indigenous person's sense of identity is inseparably linked with belonging to a community, this being the family first of all but also the Nation of which they form a part. Their self-knowledge and self-respect arises from the history, language and culture of the people to which they belong. This contrasts rather sharply with the individualism that generally pervades Western society and that leaves a terrible amount of loneliness in its wake. This beautiful dimension of Aboriginal culture is an invitation to all of us to understand our common citizenship in this country as not a collective but a communion, in which individuals are united and honoured as sharers of a common humanity.

The TRC event, I pray, helped bring healing to many. If its lessons can be broadly learned, it can bring healing to our country as well.