Could reconciliation be moving from baby steps to strides?

, , Comments Off on Could reconciliation be moving from baby steps to strides?

While reconciliation is a process that cannot happen in a week, one gets the feeling that Canada is moving in the right direction.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 4, 2022.

OTTAWA—Watching Justin Trudeau in Williams Lake and Indigenous leaders in Rome last week was compelling.

For the first time in the history of Canada, it feels as though we have a real chance at reconciliation.

That is not to say that all will be satisfied with papal promises. The Catholic Church has been notoriously slow on all fronts. First, the promise of a $25-million compensation package has been languishing for 16 years. Second, sexual predators parading as priests have been protected by the hierarchy for years.

Even with all the roadblocks, all the leaders at the Vatican gatherings expressed real hope that the differences with the Catholic Church could be bridged.

The same message of reconciliation came during the prime minister’s visit to Williams Lake.

Chief Willie Sellars lauded the prime minister’s presence with eloquence, suggesting he finally felt like a leader in his community and in Canada.

Many chiefs, especially in British Columbia, believe that the colonial reach of the Crown in taking over their lands and subsuming their cultures precludes any attachment to Canada.

The pain of Indigenous Elders was reflected last week in the telling of their stories.

It is understandable that bitterness influences the perspective of young leaders who had seen their cultures and languages annihilated by government policies taking their parents and grandparents from their homes and buried dead children in unmarked graves.

Instead, we witnessed hope for the future.

Hope from Chief Sellars of Williams Lake that he and his tribal partners would work with governments to identify the anonymous burial grounds and heal the families. They plan to commemorate these atrocities by forgiving but not forgetting.

With a focus on education, language, and reconciliation, the Indigenous leadership is ready to move forward, working with governments for solutions.

Governments have to be ready to do their part, and that includes the government of Vatican City.

Indigenous leaders visited the Vatican museums and witnessed some of their own artifacts that were stolen or traded out of their possession, only to end up in a foreign museum in a foreign land.

But those same leaders expressed an interest in working with the Vatican museum on a co-management agreement that could see some artifacts repatriated to their territories while others remained in Rome for all to see.

In Rome and Williams Lake, there was a sense of conciliation in the words of leaders on both sides.

But words alone are not enough. The Vatican has a responsibility to follow through with specific actions. That will not nullify the Catholic Church’s participation in the government-licensed residential schools. But it will underscore that truth and acknowledgement are the first steps toward healing.

The painful stories of those elders that were heard in Rome and Williams Lake will not be forgotten. But there is a way to move beyond that, with educated young people free to speak their languages and embrace their cultures.

From 30-year-old Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron, to 46-yer-old Natan Obed of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, to Williams Lake Chief Willie Sellars, all are leaders.

While all Canadians can view this leadership with optimism, when it comes to the colonial powers or the Catholic Church, one can also expect some skepticism.

When Trudeau spoke of his early experiences with his father, getting a first-hand look into the world of pain caused by residential schools at a young age, he was animated and genuine.

And when Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller spoke about the journey for healing, he too appeared committed to the process and not simply mouthing the words that people expected to hear.

While reconciliation is a process that cannot happen in a week, one gets the feeling that Canada is moving in the right direction.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.