Thousands of people marched for reconciliation. Following the truth and reconciliation hearings recently, a huge throng of Canadians gathered to walk in solidarity to show support for the workings of the commission set up to hear the stories of residential school survivors.
They filled the streets of downtown Vancouver. Images showed seas of people joined together by the idea of the horrors of the residential school era, and the hope for its reconciliation, walking, singing and drumming in the rain. This was more than a celebration. It was a unifying moment in a time when national unity on any issue is practically nonexistent.
This was no mere political or social awareness march, rather a clarion call to our Canadian consciousness. This was the body politic of Canada saying, “We recognize the wound that festers in our national psyche and we want healing.” This was the Canada we proclaim as the true north, strong and free, standing as one and working for reconciliation. Victims. Survivors. Neighbours. Canada.
Usually it takes a war to bring people into common thought and action. Ironically, residential schools were part of a war to eliminate the “Indian problem” and allow Canada access to the resources on the land native people occupied. So, in the end, it was still a war that inspired all those people to march together. Only in this case, the war was never recognized until it ended.
When the last residential school closed its doors, the struggle became the effort to inform.
It wasn’t all that long ago that no one spoke of them. It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of such a horrific chapter in our history was even considered possible much less probable. Nowadays, the topic is in the open and Canadians have been flooding to the idea of the need for reconciliation.
Certainly, there are lamenters and dissenters who say that native people should just get over it. Others say they aren’t to blame for what happened long ago, and yet others who say it’s not possible that everyone was abused in residential school. Well, the truth is that native people don’t want people to feel guilty nor do they discount anyone’s feelings on the subject.
Instead, their aim, through the process of informing and leading the march toward reconciliation, is to simply allow the story to be told and heard. That’s all. When people allow themselves to hear a story, they open themselves up to the possibility of accepting it, they open themselves up to the possibility of the teachings within it.
When all those people gathered to march in the rain, it was solidarity in action. That was only made possible by the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the courage of the survivors to share their stories. People have been touched. They’ve been affected mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Their whole beings have been stirred by the experience of hearing and accepting.
I was not there but I have friends who were. The story they tell is of songs and prayers made more powerful by the shared energy of those thousands of people. The story they tell is of a total lack of separation, of the feeling of community in a horde of strangers. The story they tell is of reconciliation palpable, real and empowering.
Native issues are indeed, Canadian issues.