- BC Games
Celebrating a new way forward
"Let's find a way to belong to this time and place together,” said Chief Robert Joseph, the visionary who created the Walk for Reconciliation to take place this Sunday. “Our future and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today." These powerful words resonated with me as I sat in a circle with other Suzuki Elders last month. We had gathered with Aboriginal Elders, survivors of residential schools, for two days of dialogue in a Reconciliation Canada workshop. Chief Joseph, hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, and former executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, has been working for reconciliation for 17 years. The goal is to break the silence, to take down the walls of racism and hatred, and develop new healthy relationships between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians that we might work together to overcome past injustice and weave a stronger and more vibrant social fabric.
These were two intense and moving days. In preparation, I read everything I could get my hands on about residential schools and the effects of colonialism. I was shocked to learn that of the 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children who attended the government-funded, church-run residential schools over 120 years, more than half died there. Many were sexually and physically abused and beaten for speaking their mother tongue. How was it possible that I'd had such little knowledge of these schools, the last one of which closed in 1996? I shared with a friend that I was worried I might just weep for two days. She assured me that I would weep for two days and that would be okay.
We began by listening, listening to each other’s stories so we might come to see each other as human beings deserving of respect and compassion. We spoke of our own suffering, and regret and hope. Chief Joseph, who instills optimism with his very presence, talked about his visit to Israel where he sat down with leaders to talk peace. A young Israeli man asked him if he really believed that reconciliation was possible in his country. “It begins with you and me,” he answered, and looking at the man’s young child, he added, "we do it for the young ones, that they might have a better life."
Several other Bowen Islanders have been involved in this reconciliation process. Tamara Pearl, who took on a leadership role in the dialogues, told me that for her it was “a life-changing experience.” Chief Joseph has created a way for everyone to get involved. He has planned a Walk for Reconciliation this Sunday, September 22, to take place in downtown Vancouver. He sees the Reconciliation Walk not as the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but as the beginning of a social movement that holds the power to transform how Canadians and people from the rest of the world work together. The act of gathering, walking and sharing our stories can help us create a new way forward, to achieve resilient, sustainable communities. “Send a message to the world,”Chief Joseph told us: “Canadians care about the world and each other.”
The opening ceremony begins at 9 a.m. at Queen Elizabeth Plaza (on W. Georgia Street at Hamilton) with a keynote speech by Dr. Bernice A. King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. The walk begins at 10 a.m. and finishes at 11 a.m. at Northside, False Creek. Nicola Murray is organizing a Bowen team. You can register online at http://reconciliationcanada.ca/participate/walk-for-reconciliation/ or just show up.
This promises to be a truly historic event. See you on the 7:30 a.m. ferry this Sunday. Reconciliation begins with you and me.
Pauline Le Bel