Just before daybreak, on a September morning, I stand in a small circle of people around a sacred fire on Ambleside Beach in Vancouver. As the light creeps into the eastern sky, I hold hands with the stranger next to me, while listening to the calls of the ravens and gulls overhead. Reconciliation Canada has gathered us for this Sunrise Ceremony to call our ancestors, those who have passed from this earthly existence, to ask for their guidance as we move into more active reconciliation conversations and actions.
I stand here, a settler, feeling very unsettled.
I’m unsettled as our country prepares for a year celebrating the birth of a nation that was founded at such great, hurtful expense for the First Nations of this land. To be honest, as a non-indigenous Canadian on the threshold of 2017, I feel guilt and uncertainty – and I worry. The more I find myself in spaces and conversations about reconciliation in Canada, the more I worry that there is so much that I don’t yet know.
I worry that I don’t know for sure what my place is or should be in all of this. I worry that I don’t know what to do. I worry that if I step forward, I will make mistakes that may cause more hurt – which might be unforgivable. But what I truly worry about most is that all these worries will mean that I do nothing. And that would be, for me, the most unforgivable thing.
The fire ceremony comes to a close and I let go of the stranger’s hand. A little later, at a community breakfast, he approaches me to introduce himself and to tease me that I had gripped his hand so hard that it hurt! I wince – and tell him immediately that I’m so sorry. But he just laughs and takes my hand again for a moment, holds it gently, smiles, tells me he is glad that I was there, and then moves on to speak with others.
In that moment, right there, that kind stranger taught me something about how to make my own way forward towards action for reconciliation. I realized that I need to both let go and go deep; that any contribution I can make to the reconciliation movement will flow, from these same vulnerabilities that worry me.
It is a realization that I continued to explore through a workshop developed by Reconciliation Canada called Leadership Learning for Reconciliation, which posed a central question; “What does reconciliation mean for YOU?” Through the workshop, I began to understand that the greatest courage required for this work may be to genuinely look within and to get to know the weak, frightened, thoughtless parts of my own self and life – to own my shadow sides that make me cringe and that I fight to ignore rather than to acknowledge and heal.
I imagine that many of us have relationships in our lives that need reconciliation – I know for sure that I do. I’m beginning to understand that the way I think about them, the way I have or have not tried to address my damaged and hurting personal relationships, is my starting point to learn how to become better prepared, able and ready to work for broader reconciliation efforts in society. Maybe we need to reconcile what we each know as ‘mine’ before we can effectively connect together to heal histories, hurts, and troubling issues that are ‘ours’.
I believe we have to find a way to come to terms with our own worries about what we will each do for reconciliation. We need to reconcile ourselves, with all the grace we can muster, to the unavoidable challenges that are part of reconciliation efforts. We need to accept that we are bound to make mistakes in this new part of our shared journey in Canada. We cannot be sure of every step, but we need to show up anyway.
We will need courage and humility to be called on errors and to experience some pain and remorse at our own failings. We need to trust that we can ask for forgiveness and be generous in offering forgiveness to others. We need to focus on holding empathy for each other, learning from each other, trying together to find the way forward. Trying again. And again.
We won’t be able to do this alone and we will need help along the way. The most inspiring support that I’ve encountered is the immense generosity of some amazing indigenous leaders in Canada. Particularly at the two Indigenous Innovation Summits that I’ve had the privilege to attend, I’ve witnessed the authentic, generous words and actions of people like Paul Lacerte, Karen Joseph, Jessica Bolduc and Melanie Goodchild, to name just a few. They are choosing to bravely speak truths, positive and negative, and to do so with love and faith.
Truths about what has been and what now needs to be.
Love for all who try to think, speak and act differently.
Faith that we can do this thing called reconciliation.
They encourage me in very profound ways that lessen my worries and help me to step forward into the work ahead.
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