Oblates and the path of healing
IRS, Oblates and the Path of Healing and Reconciliation
We are assured by Jesus, “the truth will set you free”, but there is a long road to travel on hearing the truth and gaining our freedom. The sense is that hearing the truth is the beginning of justice working its way into the hearts and minds of people of good will. Then the work of justice begins, and the path of healing and reconciliation naturally follow.
When the news broke through about IRS children found at Tk’emlups First Nation, Canada and the world awoke from a mighty deep sleep on the subject. Oblates have been awaking to the reality of the suffering caused by residential schools going back more than thirty years now, but there is no denying we were all asleep to the untold suffering caused by residential schools in Canada for far, far too long.
For the Oblates, the 1991 apology was a beginning, followed by commitments to provide workshops and counselling as in-kind contributions to the work of reconciliation. There has been much good will through the last three decades to work at ‘healing and reconciliation’. Still, truth be told, not without resistance and inner struggle marked by strategic ways of ‘managing’ the ‘problem’.
The Oblate heart has been on a slow path of its own to hear the truth and make justice its aim. It’s as though we heard the truth and rather than to reflect deeply on the underlying issues of justice and our own systemic complicity, we saw a problem and tried to fix it.
I speak from my own experience here. Thirty years ago, I came to know the Oblate community and to enjoy prayer and the company of Oblates on my own journey through education. Attending the University of Alberta for a degree in Education, I wrote a paper for an education foundations course, on residential schools, where I defended the Oblates and the schools as necessary for the greater good of society. I received high marks for the paper – which clearly says something of the extent of blindness to truth existing at the time. I was swimming in the current of the times – blindly and rather proudly too. I’ve wept many tears since then.
I began working with the Oblates at Queen’s House in 1998, where rather quickly my conversion did unfold. The early years of the new millennium were the beginning of ongoing encounters with Indigenous women who opened my eyes and who shared faith and life with me. As a single parent of three children, and as a marginalized woman, the connection with them formed my conscience anew and woke me up to the real injustices present, my own included. The residential schools were a symbol of the web of deeper injustices in the relationships formed from the time of our arrival as settlers in these lands. The issues of peoples dispossessed of land, water, and culture; of laws that worked against Indigenous people and robbed them of dignity clearly came to light. These were a people without a voice, not unlike me. Still, I saw my complicity, the complicity of my ancestors, and yes, I daresay, the complicity of Oblates and Canadians in general. How to make amends, turn things around for the good of all? How to raise up and bring truth to light?
I followed the Oblate lead, which sometimes seemed to come from a place of strategic self-defence than of conversion of heart, though not without hope and trust of the latter in view, for myself as an Oblate Associate as much as for Oblates. In the early years of the residential school suffering of abuse coming to light, I assisted in the work of Returning to Spirit workshops. Returning to Spirit began from the providential inspiration of Oblate Bishop Denis Croteau, in search of a program for healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. He sent Sr. Ann Thompson, SSA, to find resources to develop such a program. She met Algonquin First Nations Trainer, Marc Pizandawatc, and together they built a powerful series of effective healing and reconciliation workshops for First Nations and Church people affected by residential schools. The workshops were ahead of their times and continue today under the skilled leadership of Director Lisa Raven and a team of others, not least of whom is our own Fr. François Paradis, OMI. These workshops filled me with hope and brought a great measure of healing in my own life, even as I worked to contribute to healing between Indigenous and the Church at Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre.
Will it surprise any of us to know, the church was more resistant in taking the workshops than First Nations? I wrote to Bishops and priests, asking them to send people from parishes, wanting and willing them to fill our retreat house with people to match the desire of First Nations peoples for healing. The church response – though there were heartening exceptions – were mostly heart-wrenching for me. Slow and seemingly indifferent. “What have we to do with what happened back then?” “When will they get over it?” “We did so much good for them, and they won’t hear our side of the story.” I listened and suffered and carried on with the seemingly slow work of Spirit truth unfolding.
Denial is a natural part of the grieving process I know. We have been a people in grief, whether from inflicted or self-inflicted traumas, who knows, but inside of a God who wants everyone healed, whole and in union; a Creator who wills justice and fullness of life for all.
Now, I rejoice in seeing the truth unfolding with the relief of justice in its wake. All along, the Spirit has been moving to overturn, to shake the status quo of blind indifference, and to uncover the cries of the little ones, the oppressed ones…the ‘anawim’ of Christ’s heart. I see too, that justice, healing, and reconciliation are woven together in truth-telling without the need to defend or to acclaim one’s own good will. Humble listening, hospitality, warmth, good humour and good will is the hallmark of First Nations people. Humble listening will be the beginning of healing and reconciliation and the stirring of compassion for us to work together on the road to justice for others and for ourselves. I want to listen and learn from Indigenous people. I take the lead of the Spirit at work in and through all. I hear freedom’s call breaking through the walls of resistance. The truth will indeed set us free.
By Lucie Leduc