Every so often you get the chance to hear a speaker who moves you past simple information transmission to a new understanding and transformation. Perhaps it’s their ability to connect with an audience, tell stories, share their intellect and brilliance, or apply whatever they are talking about to you and your life. Whatever the case, when you get those chances, not even a snow storm can keep you from going to hear them speak.
This past Monday, as most Winnipeggers stayed indoors to avoid the fresh 30cm of late season snow, hundreds packed Marpeck Commons on the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) campus to hear the Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair share about reconciliation and his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
I have heard Sinclair speak quite a few times, even before he became a Canadian Senator in 2016. And again, he didn’t disappoint. With over 30 years experience in Canada’s legal system as a lawyer and a judge, he brings so much insight into discourses on justice, especially how it relates to Indigenous people in Canada.
Sinclair came to CMU to share stories and encourage us in our reconciliation efforts. He shared his own personal story and the history of his grandparents who attended residential school. He described the kinds of atrocities over 150,000 thousand children had to live through. As one of the commissioners of the TRC, he has investigated and listened to thousands of stories of Canada’s Indian Residential School survivors.
Canada’s legacy of assimilation, colonialism, and cultural genocide has had lasting implications for us today. All we need to do is listen to the news and we will hear the disparity and racism that is very much alive in our society between settler and Indigenous peoples. Many of us must also check some of our own stereotypes about Indigenous people. That, in and of itself, is quite telling.
With the completion of the TRC came many reports and, most importantly, 94 calls to action for Canadians and our institutions. These calls are a path to reconciliation and a guide for us to live up to our part of our treaty relationships. Although hopeful, Sinclair believes it will take a few more generations for this to really take root. But it begins somewhere.
If we have already been convinced that reconciliation is a path that we, as individuals and a country, should walk, the natural question is to ask what it is we can do to make it happen. We may quickly feel overwhelmed with the task that lies before us, and it may lead us to believe that it is hopeless. But hope isn't always as illusive as we may think.
We have a tendency to assume that we need to take on the weight of a nation and that everything rests on us. But let’s not bite off more than we can chew. Sinclair reminded us that anything we do is actually better than nothing, so no matter how small we start, it is still a start that will contribute to something larger.
So what was one of the key elements to reconciliation according to Sinclair? One might assume political activism, demonstrations, boycotting. Not even close. He encouraged us to start with something quite simple: kindness.
When it comes down to it, if we want to begin to reconcile broken relationships, what is required is for us to seek to become friends. And after thinking about it, it makes so much sense. The reason we are in the messes we are when it comes to broken relationships is because we choose to put ourselves first and to see the other person as less than human.
The message of Jesus is not much different when it comes to how we are to deal with our neighbours. We are to love them. We are to care for those that we might even consider our enemies. And so, when it comes to Indigenous people, we must first and foremost ask whether or not we are willing to be kind and friendly to our Indigenous neighbours.
If the answer to this is “no,” then we need to deal with it. Why not? What is it about Indigenous people, culture, traditions, or customs that makes us disengage? We need to do some serious self reflection and learning to make sure we have a complete and accurate picture of our history and the state of Indigenous communities today.
And if our answer is even slightly “yes,” then all we need to do is to make up our minds to be kind to one another. It sounds like such a Sunday School answer, but the decision to love and be kind will naturally lead us to reconciliation because it leads us into relationship. There can be no reconciliation without genuine relationship. And in all cases where I have seen reconciliation between Indigenous and settler people, there has always been friendship.
Be kind. Be loving. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If we set our minds to doing this, even for those who seem so different from us, things will change in this country, guaranteed. Sinclair encouraged us and said that things will change, not necessarily because we think they should, but because we believe they will.
When we will for something to happen, we work towards it, believing in the hope that we will experience reconciliation in our time. And even if we don't see it on a national scale, we will see it in our lives. And we will be enriched because of it.
So let's get started.