We are all one – Namwayut
by Diana Ellis
a : make friendly after estrangement; heal/settle (quarrel) etc; harmonize, make compatible; purify (a consecrated place etc) after profanation or desecration
[Concise Oxford Dictionary]
There is a move afoot in this land, led by Gwawaenuk First Nation Chief Robert Joseph, his daughters Karen and Shelley and others, in an organization called Reconciliation Canada. Working separately from, but in relation to, the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, their vision is “to promote reconciliation by engaging Canadians in dialogue that revitalizes the relationships between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians in order to build resilience.” Chief Joseph says “Let’s find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future and the well-being of all our children, rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”
In late August, a group of Suzuki Elders and Aboriginal Elders spent two days together – in large and small dialogue circles – listening to each other tell their stories. “We all have stories to tell about trauma and personal hurts,” were the opening words from Reconciliation Canada facilitator Karen Joseph. Those words set the inclusive caring tone for our work together. I will tell you that her words surprised me – I had assumed we Suzuki Elders were there mostly to respectfully listen to, witness, and learn from the stories of Elder experiences of Indian Residential Schools. Indeed, that happened. But to put my own story out there? How to even compare?! We soon understood it was not about comparison. Inviting (and permitting) everyone to tell our life stories brought all of us into the reconciliation circle – a gesture of grace and brilliance.
“Reconciliation begins with me” was one piece of homework – we were to identify four concrete actions to move forward our personal life reconciliation plan. Out of that came questions asked and answered in dyads: “What are the sources of resilience in your culture? What does reconciliation mean to you?” With the room buzzing, we then moved into small groups to plan for a future of reconciliation between Aboriginal and other Canadians. “What can we do as individuals…what can we do as a community?”
Finally, the flip charts listed thoughts and actions that were personal, political and philosophical. “Know yourself; be aware; develop a First Nations perspective/lens and use it – keep it front of mind; together-remove the barriers that have served to separate, and invite each other to our meetings and events; work together to tell the true (Aboriginal) history of this region – get the Park Board to put up storyboards on today’s beaches, streams and parkland (there was a time “before Stanley Park!”); incorporate storytelling as a way to educate and link the generations; question everything.” And- “listen; keep the air clear; show compassion; apologize; let go; walk the new way forward.”
In reading this over, I worry that it sounds simplistic and overly rosy. Does it gloss over the depth of the Indian Residential School experience expressed to us? I don’t know how to put into words the experience of hearing those stories, except to say that the whole time spent listening and talking together was transformative. And, in reflection, perhaps the way forward is, in fact, straightforward. Tell the truth. Listen. Acknowledge. Take responsibility for our own actions. Respect each other. Walk together. There’s big work to be done in this land, especially when it comes to the environment we share. A reconciled relationship between Aboriginal people and other Canadians will empower that work. We are in this together, and “’Namwayut” – we are all one.
(With thanks to Miles Richardson for encouraging the Suzuki Elders to link with Reconciliation Canada, and to staff and members of the Indian Residential School Survivor Society who also brought their wisdom and support to the dialogue workshop.)