"We don’t seem to hear much or speak much about truth any more."

People march during the Walk for Reconciliation, at the final TRC event.
People march during the Walk for Reconciliation, part of the closing events of the TRC on Sunday, May 31, 2015, in Gatineau, QC.
Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

"We don’t seem to hear much or speak much about truth any more." That’s what a colleague said to me on my second day at work in my new role as an Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation Animator for the United Church of Canada. We were speaking about truth-telling, healing and reconciliation in relation to the legacy of residential schools. I observed that in addition to the ongoing need to talk about residential schools there are many other truths yet to be told and understood as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples walk together towards reconciliation. Truths about other aspects of our shared history and about what it’s like to live as an Indigenous person in Canada today.

I will return to the subject of those other truths but my colleague’s remark lead me to reflect back on my own truth walk to date. As I reflect, I will walk backwards in time.

Two years ago, in June 2015, I remember how good it felt to walk alongside thousands of people through the streets of Gatineau and Ottawa to mark the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). It’s interesting for me to think that that walk was called a Walk for Reconciliation. Walks for reconciliation had become a hallmark of activities supporting the TRC since Reconciliation Canada led efforts to organize a first walk for reconciliation in Vancouver on the occasion of the TRC’s BC National Event in September 2013. The title of the walk, emphasizing the aspirational goal of reconciliation rather than a walk for both truth and reconciliation, perhaps signalled a shift in what we speak about in relation to relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. I wonder whether maybe we’ve moved too quickly away from the topic of ongoing truth sharing.

Walking further back, this time to June 2010, I remember the privilege of representing the contribution of Canadian churches to Edinburgh 2010—a conference marking the centenary of the World Missionary Conference which was held in Edinburgh in 1910. The historical 1910 conference is generally regarded as having been hugely significant in the development of ecumenism and marked a transformative moment in international thinking about the subject of mission. The Canadian contribution to the anniversary event in 2010 was a chapter on the theme of Mission and Power that reflected on what the Canadian churches had learned about mission from their involvement in residential schools. (The chapter is available online.)

One of our primary conclusions in that chapter was that reconciliation is not a linear process. By this we meant that the movement to restoring right relations be it between individuals, within families, between communities, or among nations is not a step by discrete step process all the way to reconciliation. Rather, the process is more like a spiral in shape, moving from tentative sharing and truth-telling and relationship building, to more and more secure, and confident, and deeper truth-telling and relationship building as trust deepens and strengthens and as bonds of common humanity deepen and strengthen.

Our truth walk in Canada needs to continue. It’s integral to our ongoing walk for reconciliation. I do think it’s fair to say that we have taken important steps along our truth walk in the past decade or so, guided first and foremost by the thousands of courageous survivors who have come forward publicly to speak their truths about residential schools. We cannot under estimate their bravery nor the importance of what they have told us about how residential schools have shaped Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ relationship today and the ongoing consequences of that experience for Indigenous individuals, families and communities. They too had to walk backwards, to tell us the truth about residential schools, to help all of us walk forwards.

My mind travels back further to 2008. At that time, I represented The Presbyterian Church in Canada in planning the Remembering the Children Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ tour to support the TRC. Indigenous and ecumenical leaders jointly developed the tour. A key goal those of us representing churches identified for the tour, and related educational efforts, was to arrive at a place where all of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement churches’ active members would be able to say that they had heard about residential schools. We further aimed to arrive at a place where church members would be able to speak to at least a basic understanding of what the schools were about and their impact. I dare to suggest that the Settlement Agreement churches have accomplished this goal of general awareness about residential schools.

I wonder whether I’m right about how close we are to achieving the goal of ensuring church members know what could be called the basic facts about residential schools. What do others think? It would be good to reflect on how far we’ve travelled, and not yet travelled, in learning about the residential schools truth.

For, as the TRC concluded, further education work is needed to ensure the truth about residential schools becomes well known—and it will be a truth that we will need to keep telling. We will need to continue to walk backwards in order to walk forwards, to understand how our current relationships are shaped by the past: our own past experiences and relationships, as well as the past relationships of previous generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that have shaped relationships in Canada today.

I invite you to take some time to travel backwards along your own truth journeys to date as one means to see forward movement. And I’ll return to the subject of other truths we need walk back and learn about in a follow up post next week.

—Lori Ransom was recently appointed as a Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice Animator, Aboriginal Ministries Circle, The United Church of Canada.