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Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

For the first time in this country's history, we will mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday.

This day does not carry with it the celebratory tone of National Indigenous Peoples' Day, which we mark each summer. June 21st is a day of joy. It's a celebration of the variety and breadth of cultures of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis from across Turtle Island (the place we know as North America). 

This is not that. 

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation shines a light on truths of this country that we have done our best to set aside, ignore, sweep under the rug, deny. This is a day for mourning. A day for lament. It is a day of prayer for the children who didn't come home, for the children who will never come home, the children still being taken from their homes.

In the tradition of the biblical prophets, we need moments like these to remind us that our grand sweeping narratives proclaiming the glory of our nation have a dark underbelly too. The prophets of old called God's people back to truth, back to compassion and justice and care, back to a vision of the world in which all had enough. 

Today, the blood and bones of children in mass graves cry out with prophetic zeal. They cry out, calling an entire nation to repent for this slaughter of the holy innocents.

I want to believe that the systems of genocide (cultural or otherwise) are somewhere in the past.

And yet, what we continue to learn is that the same underlying logic that lead to the Residential Schools is still at play in the life of our nation. Indigenous children are still disproportionately separated from their parents. The medical and foster care systems play a part. The nation's prisons have an incredibly high percentage of Indigenous inmates. And then there are the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, who are missed by their families, and haven't come home.

What we are atoning for here are not just bad apples or individual choices. The truth that we are slowly coming to acknowledge and own is that in this country, entire systems and ways of being are plagued by anti-Indigenous racism. From this, the church is not immune, and for this, we are called to repent. 

Repentance is more than an apology. True repentance means more than saying words designed to get us out of a sticky situation. In my household, when we hurt one another, we often speak of the importance of owning what we have done, fixing it with the person or people we have hurt, learning from the situation, and then moving on.

I'm not suggesting moving on as though nothing had happened.

Rather, we seek to move on in light of what has been done, how we have worked together to fix the situation, having learned new lessons along the way, and participating in active resistance to such harm in the future.

When it comes to a big issue like the one that we're talking about here—the legacy of colonialism, residential schools, systemic racism—I sometimes wonder if we move on in the right way. Do we seek simply to gloss over the truth of the situation, to put it in the past, or do we participate in active resistance in big and small ways to the harms being perpetuated?

I recently read an excerpt of an interview between Rosanna Deerchild and TRC Commissioner Murray Sinclair from the radio program Unreserved. Sinclair shares:

I did say ... at the end of the TRC report that we will not achieve reconciliation in my lifetime. We will probably not achieve it in the lifetime of my children. We may not even achieve it in the lifetime of my grandchildren.

At first the prognosis seems bleak. And indeed it is, should we not take the healing process seriously.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is but one day. It is but one action. It is one way in which—as a nation—we can respond to the invitation to collectively own the truth of our participation in the wounding and death of Indigenous people—something the TRC clearly articulates as genocide.

If we are doing it right, our participation in this day should cost us something. It should cost us, not just in our acknowledgment of what has been done wrong, but also in the way we choose to move forward.

If our faith teaches us anything, it's that justice is costly. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection remind us that while justice is costly, it's worth it. 

Senator Sinclair continues:

But if we make a concerted effort ... then eventually we will be able, some day, to wake up and, to our surprise, find that we are treating each other in a way that was intended when contact was first made."

The way we move forward is important. The invitation of this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and all the days that follow, is that we make a concerted effort to walk in a good way with our Indigenous neighbours. To grow in relationships. To learn. To be transformed. 

The way forward ought to be informed by the past. It ought to be informed by the treaties and relationships, it ought to be informed by the sacred trust and covenants entered into. It ought to be informed by promises made and promises not kept. 

The way forward requires that we come face to face with the truth, for only then can we learn from it. The way forward is rooted in relationship, a relationship in which we settler Canadians do not attempt to take control, but follow the lead of those who have tended these lands and waterways from time immemorial. At times that will be hard—to listen, to learn, to submit ourselves in humility—and yet it is what this moment requires. 

The way forward invites us into mutually transformative relationship, to solidarity with Indigenous peoples, as we recognise that our future is bound up together. 

As you prepare yourself to mark this important day, I invite you into a few possible actions:

Every Blessing, 

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Valhalla Parish Missioner