WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Archbishop Richard Smith speaks on a panel at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission March 28. Listening are Chief Robert Joseph, hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, and Edmonton artist Sylvie Nadeau.
Testimonies of residential school survivors given at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton witness to the central place of God the Creator in aboriginal spirituality, Archbishop Richard Smith said March 28.
That openness to the Creator allows the heart to be moved, and healing and reconciliation to take place, the archbishop said at a TRC session.
Hearts are moved, “not only as we listen to the stories, but also as we listen to the tears,” Smith told a large crowd in the TRC event’s main assembly hall.
“The tears to me are powerfully eloquent of a very deep pain. It’s only when we are able to listen to and receive that message, to take it within ourselves, that the heart is moved to reach out to another.”
The residential school survivors who testified at the event “refuse to eclipse God. God is the first reference point. God is the ground, the centre, the originating principle of all things in their lives,” the archbishop said.
Another important feature of the TRC event was the willingness to listen to truth, he said. The truth that God is the creator means that we are limited and needy creatures. “We need one another. We make mistakes. We’re all wounded.”
The experience of solidarity that awareness creates opens us up to one another and creates pathways to reconciliation, he said.
Much of what faith traditions would bring to the discussion at the TRC “is already on display in the telling of the stories, the hearing of the truth, the very dynamics of what’s happening in this event,” Smith said.
The archbishop told the session that he was moved by the questions children posed to him when he held a press conference at Edmonton’s Ben Calf Robe School Feb. 28.
The discussions about residential schools have been principally about adults, he said. But when children posed questions about why children were taken from their homes to go to residential schools and why they were not allowed to talk with their sisters while attending the schools, it drove home to him that those events occurred in the lives of children.
“It helped me and all of us realize very deeply that when these events occurred in their lives, they were children with their vulnerabilities, with their fears, with their bewilderment.”
Smith also said his participation in the TRC made it evident that such a process could be valuable in bringing reconciliation on a wide variety of questions that society faces.
“It is only when truth is spoken, when truth is heard, when truth is received that we can move forward in reconciliation.”
The archbishop returned to the TRC the following day to make “a gesture of reconciliation” on behalf of the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Smith read the bishops’ statement of apology released Feb. 28 and placed a copy of the statement into the bentwood box where similar gifts were deposited by a wide variety of groups over the four days of the national event.