Alison Lefebvre is a credentialed (ordained) EMCC minister currently serving as part of the Indigenous Settler Relations Working Group convened by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
He sat steady, arms folded and resting across his strong body. Still as a stone, his eyes were fixed on the woman telling her story in the front of the room. I was struck by a sense of his strength. His strength and the steady trail of tears running down his cheek. We had all been attending to the soft spoken woman at the front of the room, telling her story in a voice that was filled with tenderness and void of any trace of self pity. She dabbed at her eyes, directed mostly toward the floor, and simply relayed the experience of her small, sweet, child self. I squirmed; it was difficult to watch her. The moment was, I knew, sacred so I sat in it with deep heartache, in awe of her courage.
I was attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Edmonton, the last of seven events held across the country to gather stories from the survivors of Canada’s residential school system. Almost 7000 stories were gathered and thousands of others came to bear holy witness to this long buried history, this “founding injustice of Canada.” (Taiaiake Alfred)
I was one of those witnesses.
For four days I heard the stories about the 100 years of impact the schools had upon the lives, the families, the communities of indigenous peoples in Canada. The TRC published a final report in 2015, along with 94 Calls to Action, inviting Canadians to work together to heal and to find new ways, better ways, to move forward together. The invitation requires overcoming our historical blindness and asking hard questions about the foundation of this country we call home.
So often we think this isn’t our story. We weren’t there, we didn’t do it and it has nothing to do with us. We think it’s all in the past and people need to move on. We want to see ourselves as the good guys; I want to see myself as the good guy. But I came to realize that this is my story too. My whole life has been shaped by it. My privilege is rooted in it. The church finds its foundation in it. As I sat and listened to these children, now adults, I was confronted with postures and attitudes I had never before been challenged to address. I came face to face with my own biases, prejudices and racism.
Reconciliation has become a word fraught with problems. As followers of the Way of Jesus, we assume we understand what it means. It is a relationship word; a restorative word. It’s deeply related to the word “justice,” a term in scripture that is thick with an invitation to engage with and be transformed by the the character and nature of God, moving in the world looking like him and loving as he does. Paul captures it this way in Galatians 5:
"You…were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”
Many of us didn’t know. We were unaware of the existence and impact of Indian Residential Schools. We know now.