Reconciliation is about change: TRC Commissioner addresses Lutheran convention

Liberated by God’s grace—the theme of the 15th National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)—has the potential to drive the spirit of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, Dr. Marie Wilson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) told convention delegates on Friday, July 10.

One of three commissioners on the TRC along with chair Murray Sinclair and Wilton Littlechild, Wilson invited Lutherans to continue work towards reconciliation by following the example of Indian residential school survivors.

“I think the liberation offered by God’s grace at this time in our country’s history is not our own,” she said.

“It is the liberation of grace manifested as courage and resilience in the survivors of the residential schools,” who fought through the courts to establish the TRC “in the face of a resistance from Canada and from some of the churches who did not want these truths to be so widely told and so widely known.”

In her presentation to delegates, Wilson described the work and significance of the TRC, its recommendations and the road toward reconciliation, while touching upon more spiritual aspects of the process.

Early on in her presentation, she praised the ELCIC for its “extraordinary” engagement with the TRC, despite its lack of legal obligation to do so.

“You’re not one of the parties to the settlement agreement,” Wilson said—referring to the legal settlement between survivors, the federal government and churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, and Presbyterian) who ran the residential schools that mandated the creation of the TRC.

“And yet,” she added, “you are a collective of people of faith and of citizens, and so you’ve understood what the spirit of reconciliation in our mandate talks about.”

Describing reconciliation as a process of positive change, Wilson argued that, “We can live our faith through truth to achieve change.”

One of the witnesses to that truth was her own husband Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories and a residential school survivor, who appeared onstage alongside Wilson.

Recounting the trauma he had suffered after being sent away to residential school at age nine, Kakfwi noted how he had reacted to what happened to him through denial, by choosing to “lock it away somewhere.”

“I was about 50 years old when I finally admitted that some things had happened to me, and it’s like taking a scab off of a wound deep inside you,” he said.

“It’s a painful, difficult experience, and the moment it happened to me, I realized why students had committed suicide.”

Choosing to express his feelings through music, Kakfwi performed a song he had written inspired by the residential school experience. Its lyrics described the feelings of a father who tried to hide the pain he felt inside for many years, before finally confronting the fears he held deep “in the halls of his mind.”

After detailing her experience of travelling across the country and hearing the stories of survivors, Wilson explained the 10 principles of reconciliation written by the TRC.

One principle argued for the need to recognize and respect treaty rights, which Wilson likened to a spiritual covenant such as a marriage.

“A marriage is a treaty … a contract,” she said. “It is a covenant and it has a spiritual underpinning and it must be recognized and respected. Why should Canada have the right to break its own laws?”

Moving on to the 94 calls to action made by the TRC, she highlighted a number that were particularly relevant to Lutherans.

One, for example, recommended the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation, calling on all religious denominations and faith groups to issue a statement no later than March 31, 2016 declaring how they would implement the Declaration.

Others related more to the role of Lutherans as Canadian citizens, such as pushing for the creation of a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown, the establishment by Parliament of a National Council for Reconciliation, an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report to be issued by the Prime Minister, and an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Reconciliation, Wilson said, would require the leadership and lived values of people of faith working together with secular society and all others committed to change.

In the leadup to the 150th anniversary of Canada—the country’s name, she noted, comes from the Iroquian word kanata—Wilson posed a number of stark questions to delegates.

“Will we be ready to inherit the courage and the resilience of the survivors?” Wilson asked. “Will we be ready to reconstitute our notions of our country in real and measurable ways? Will we keep the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission alive and work actively to see them implemented? Will we allow ourselves to be guided and so liberated by God’s grace?”

A brief question and answer period followed. One delegate drew parallels between Indian residential schools and modern prisons.

Another used the parable of the Good Samaritan to describe what the role of Lutherans should be in promoting healing and reconciliation. A third noted the encouraging sign that Indigenous history and the legacy of the residential schools were increasingly being taught to Canadian students.

Watch Commission Wilson’s presentation to ELCIC National Convention delegates here:

Read more about the ELCIC commitment to promote right and renewed relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples within Canada:

Almost 400 delegates, special guests, visitors and volunteers came together in Edmonton for the ELCIC’s 15th National Convention, July 9-12. News, photos and video highlights from the gathering are available on the National Convention website:
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination with 121,000 baptized members in 533 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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