WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
This photo shows the front of the bentwood box into which were placed numerous 'gestures of reconciliation' offered during the March 27-30 Truth and Reconciliation national event.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event based its procedural style around the idea of speaking one's truth in order to begin a journey of healing such that the survivor is able to arrive at a place of peace and set one's spirit free from emotional pain.
In a Catholic understanding, the sacrament of Reconciliation corresponds closely to these speaking acts that occurred at the TRC. We understand the matter and form of Reconciliation as being made up primarily of words, and to this end, part of the process that we encountered at the TRC had some correlation to the speaking, the naming, the words.
The very act of speaking out and confessing a story of abuse wielded a certain powerful effect on listener, hearer and other participants. The sharing circles at the TRC, at once intimate for those participating within it, and also those seated on the edges listening, was emotionally moving for many.
Beyond the tears, there were many shaking heads, or many that were bowed low during the telling.
While for many, these stories were emotional, educational or raised them to a level of awareness or anger, there is also something else. Over and over, amidst the emotional tales we heard, "I cannot accept your apology/What does your apology mean when it does not come from the person who hurt me?/Do you know that this is where I learned to hate?"
During one particular story, running through the now familiar pattern of abuse, alienation, addiction and finally therapy and stabilization, the teller began weeping heavily. All at once, one was overwhelmed by the feeling that we, the listeners, were intruding on a very private moment.
In some cases, the tellers were people who had moved on, changed their lives, dispensed with substance abuse and at the TRC were re-living every single wound. It was hard to hear and perhaps necessary.
It was grotesque to watch someone break down, but it was terrifically beautiful. We are so fascinated by other people's wounds, we like to watch them bleed. We, as a generation and as a modern society, have aggressively accessed a kind of beauty in other people's pain.
It's almost reality TV writ large here as we look on at the shame and the hurt someone has had to endure. It makes it all the more worrisome to then leave and walk through the line of vendors selling native arts and crafts.
The worry here is that, even though there is power and healing in placing words publicly upon an issue or a wound, in the public partaking, we were conjoined to a further exploitation of this person's already-abused history. This rises not only because of an emotive response, but also more so because of intellectual wonderment at the futility of the sharing of truth.
Without knowing how the TRC will move forward or not being aware of what concrete plans have been set in place for the aftermath, it is easy to have many questions regarding the viability of a large-scale event such as this in terms of moving toward reconciliation.
Arguably, all that has happened has been that the system and the institution have found a way to proffer reconciliation without moving towards it.
What has happened to the First Nations in Canada is institutionalised violence. Generations displaced, violated, exploited and now, through what increasingly felt like the fallacy of speaking truth to be reconciled, put on display.
The entire TRC process also showcased capitalism at its best – a mass of consumers, a rash of sponsors, logos, t-shirts, uniform schema for the day's events. We have become a society that participates in significant emotion by rote, and Pope Francis is correct to remind us of how anesthetized we have become.
The controlled staging of an event like the TRC reinforced how well the system makes us indifferent, apathetic, mindless consumers. Whilst a certain release may have been achieved for those who were brave enough to tell their story, we must also consider the flip side of this coin.
The survivors are put on display, exploited in their stories of exploitation. Can there be healing when the system refuses to change, when it controlled even the source and model through which the "reconciliation" begins?
(Anupama Ranawana researches religion and politics at the University of Aberdeen and is also an MDiv student at Newman Theological College.)