Church leaders, parishioners and guests came together at the First United Church of Prince Rupert to break bread, break stereotypes and to encourage attendees to break their silence regarding Aboriginal reconciliation in Canada.
On Thursday evening, June 8, approximately 50 people attended to listen to United Church Moderator Rev. Jordan Cantwell and Rev. Ray Aldred, director of indigenous studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, share their knowledge and experience on not only what reconciliation means for all Canadians, but also what past wrongs need to be reconciled.
“Reconciliation is an ongoing thing for us [in the United church],” said Ray Jones, attendee and chair of the Aboriginal Ministries Council and residential school survivor. “This meeting tonight is important because we have the moderator of the church.
The moderator is the most senior elected official of the church who is responsible for giving leadership, presiding over meetings, visiting other parishes to provide guidance and serving as the spokesperson for the organization, according to the 2016 manual of the United church.
Jordan Cantwell was elected moderator in 2015. When she was asked what her priorities were and aboriginal reconciliation topped her list.
“It’s the most important work I need to be doing in my life,” she said.
In the tradition of teaching lessons through storytelling, Cantwell shared stories of her journey as moderator as a way to inform attendees on how to engage Aboriginal People in the spirit of reconciliation.
She told a story of visiting Williams Lake and having an elder and former chief speaking of what he thought was a good place to start reconciliation.
“’The first step toward reconciliation is to not avoid each other,’” she quoted.
“Sometimes the work of reconciliation is big,” she added, “sometimes it’s the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Cantwell went on to say that while there is big work to be done, reconciliation often begins with very small actions.
“It’s choosing to be in relationships with one another,” she said, “rather than simply to ‘know about’ but not know one another.”
Ray Aldred, a Cree and director of indigenous studies at the Vancouver School of Theology from the Treaty 8 territory in Alberta, spoke about how reconciliation in Canada is more than just the residential schools.
He shared examples of how loss of attachment to the land, loss of language and racism created feelings of shame and self-hate among Aboriginal People. Feelings he experienced within his own family.
“My grandfather worked on the barges in Hay River [NWT] and he told everybody he was Chinese,” he said. “He even learned some Cantonese so he could pass himself off because he experienced less racism if people thought he was Chinese.”
Aldred also spoke of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the opportunity it presented to Canadians.
“It gave Canadians the chance to listen,” he said. “To listen and feel the pain. If you don’t feel the pain, you won’t change.”
Aldred added that reconciliation cannot happen with a top down approach and requires a grassroots movement as well.
“We need to listen to one another, to tell the truth and to try and come up with a shared plan,” he said. “It’ll take a while, but I have hope.”
Aldred finished his presentation by telling a story of his seven-year-old granddaughter’s pride in being First Nations.
“I think we’re making progress.”
The United Church of Canada first apologized for the role it played in the Indian Residential Schools in 1986 and again in 1998.