“What does reconciliation look like?” Our Reconciling Circle frequently asks this question, as do people we meet. Three years of experience offer some informative insights and moved this year’s participation toward 200 participants in our diverse Treaties Recognition Week (TRW) activities.
This enquiry began in 2016, when the Government of Ontario proclaimed into law Bill 207; also know as the Treaties Recognition Week Act. The focus is education of children and youth; learning and living the implications of a couple centuries of diverse treaties and acts. But what about the adults of the province?
This query brought together a handful of Anglicans and Lutherans in Brantford, expanding to Cambridge and Hamilton. Here we agreed that racism, prejudice, and ignorance of treaty matters were laid upon us by God’s Spirit, who hovers over the continuing chaos of creation to bring life and meaning to expression in all creatures of Divine fashioning.
We are learning the first truth of reconciliation, namely, “We all are treaty people.” Whether we did or did not have ancestors present at the time when the treaties were made, we all do live today in the wake and implications of these acts between nations. Thus each reader of this report also is a treaty person; a consideration worth pondering.
We have encountered folk who deny that Indigenous peoples ever were “nations.” The implication of this bias, of course, is that, if ancient inhabitants are not regarded as nations, then treaties cannot be real or have any contemporary implications because treaties are made between nations. Bias, indeed. Dare we say bigotry? Just plain ignorance?
We perceive that there is a world of difference between a culture and a civilization. Once you have reflected on this distinction, you may be open to consider this fact of history: Millions of people occupied the Americas for numberless generations and had greater wisdom of agricultural methods than our lost ancestors who came to these immigrant shores; also wiser than contemporary corporate monocultural schemes that feed shareholders. Perhaps we do well to cast our votes for learning from Indigenous civilizations, rather than buying into corporate cultures that enslave as surely as pharaoh.
How can we believe that civilizations flourished in the New World? What other conclusion can we reach, when we accept the historical record that Meso-American residents cultivated more than five thousand varieties of corn, when Columbus mistakenly reported that he had “discovered” India and named the residents “Indians?” What other agreement can we reach, when we accept the evidence that Inca people tended some three thousand varieties of potatoes to ensure a reliable food supply during adverse conditions?
When we prepared daily readings for TRW16 and TRW17, we were aided and encouraged by the local MPP, who recently learned of his Métis ancestry. He had passed frequently before the local residential school without knowing the story of this unspoken open secret in our midst; common for many people we greet. He generously ensured that his elected colleagues each received a copy of our annual booklet, which offered an element of education for elected officials also. This practice was followed as well by the local MP with his colleagues on Parliament Hill. Such supportive relationships are cherished but cannot be assumed with each successive government.
Incidentally, one evening’s learning last year revealed that Parliament Hill is the location of one of the best kept secrets and images of reconciliation. If you are not familiar with the “Window to the Future (2008),” explore further and look at it during your next visit to Ottawa. https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1332859355145/1332859433503.
With a focus on treaties, we enlisted, Nathan Tidridge, author of The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada. This has been foundational for our learning. His formal presentation and follow-up conversations have aided us in discerning that treaties begin as are above all else commitments to relationship.
It is only with time and devious intent that these friendship agreements were twisted to subject Indigenous children to assimilation in residential schools, and Indian Agents were authorized to keep on reserves all Indigenous people who had not been granted a pass to leave for any particular reason; like prisoners in their own homes. This influence is reported to have supported introducing the dreaded apartheid policy in South Africa.
Exploring the method of treaty making, we were introduced to quahog and whelk. The shells of these two marine creatures historically were crafted with intense effort into wampum belts. Laboriously created wampums were exchanged so treaty partners can repeat shared understandings of their mutual relationship. When conflict and misunderstanding arise, the treaty parties reconvene to “polish the treaty,” which involves articulating the relationship understanding until agreement is restored to enable both parties to travel together again in a good way. So informed, we may do well to consider, “How does hierarchy undermine relationship?”
All participants in our TRW activities are offered copies of UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). Many set out on journeys of discovery, when they read the five little words that were ignored and led to the launch of Idle No More; “free, prior, and informed consent.” These words remind one of the five smooth stones that David gathered in his approach to the vision-impaired Goliath. How can these words expose our complicity in messing up the lives of so many people around this Earth?
We have been profoundly touched and challenged by the personal testimony of two survivors of the residential school system as well as by tours of the Mohawk Institute (residential school). Our working relationship with the Woodland Cultural Centre allows individual monetary gifts http://woodlandculturalcentre.ca/ to be directed to the Save the Evidence Campaign to restore this residential school, which was the first in Canada.
Experience and patient wisdom guided us through an evening at Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks http://mohawkchapel.ca/, where we learned the delicate sophistication of preparing leather medicine pouches with intricate beadwork. Of course, we also welcomed related history of “medicines” and practices for their traditional use.
An evening’s focus on the “doctrine of discovery” ushered everyone from viewing a movie into a sharing circle to offer perceptions of the destruction of Indigenous civilizations, the loss of millions of lives, the theft of previously occupied lands, and twisted thinking that turned people different than us into disposable nobodies. Of course, these faces of reconciliation direct our attention forward to the Blanket Exercise, which was developed jointly twenty years by KAIROS Canada and Indigenous representation https://www.kairoscanada.org. Indigenous leadership offers this living history experience with moving results that help to educate and address the question, "How have we managed to move in five hundred years from a rich Indigenous mosaic to the fragmentary system of contemporary reserves across Canada?"
These TRW activities enable us to explore new facets of reconciliation with participants coming from across southwestern Ontario. Joint financial support has come from the Diocese of Huron, Anglican Church of Canada, and the Eastern Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. A newly established Mennonite congregation has participated in TRW18, which may lead us into conversations about expanding the Reconciling Circle.
Our purpose as Reconciling Circle is to provide opportunities for shared learning and for building bridges ofrelationship that promote respect and reconciliation between Indigneous and non-Indigenous peoples with particular focus on Treaties Recognition Week.