Chief Wilton Littlechild, Justice Murray Sinclair and Marie Wilson, members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, take part in a 2015 press conference in Ottawa. CNS photo/Blair Gable, Reuters

New book a guide on reconciliation path

  • February 21, 2021

A sneak peak at a forthcoming guide to reconciliation between Indigenous Canadians and the rest of us has Toronto Catholic District School Board Indigenous education central resource teacher Frank Pio excited about the good it might do in high school classrooms.

“It’s not just a little outside help, it’s actually quite needed,” Pio told The Catholic Register after sampling a chapter, some artwork and a few of the exercises in Listening to Indigenous Voices. 

The new book from Catholic publisher Novalis won’t actually be available until around Easter, but Pio can hardly wait to get his hands on it.

“I really believe, honestly and really strongly, that Indigenous culture has a place in our educational system and throughout Canada,” Pio said. “It’s about time that we bring together the faith and the content.”

Pulled together by the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice, Listening to Indigenous Voices is intended to be much more than just a book. It’s a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which spent five years, between 2010 and 2015, examining the legacy of residential schools. 

Rather than just more reading material, the book is intended as a guide to aid a process of dialogue and learning together. Designed for use in parishes, schools, community centres, religious and non-religious contexts, Listening to Indigenous Voices is supposed to get people talking and thinking about how to repair the relationship between Canada’s original people and the majority descended from immigrants, said Jesuit Centre executive director Mark Hathaway.

“Really, we’re all treaty people,” he said. “If you go back and really look at the history of it, there were agreements to share the land. I think it’s very fair to say, by and large, those of us who are not Indigenous haven’t lived up to those agreements.”

For this project, the Jesuit Forum wanted to reach out beyond the Catholic context, but Hathaway is certain the guide will resonate in parishes.

“For most Christians it would be a very normal thing to pray the Our Father. We say, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ ... It has to do with loosening the threads of past mistakes. It’s not just saying, ‘Please forgive me.’ It’s actually about trying to undo, trying to right the past mistakes. If we talk about reconciliation or forgiveness, I think this is at the heart of the Christian faith.”

Any parish might use the guide to set up and guide discussion groups who would meet online, or post-COVID in the church, said Hathaway. Ideally, a discussion group of up to a dozen would include two or three Indigenous people, but the book itself contains all the Indigenous voices necessary to get the conversation rolling.

Hathaway has particular hope that the guide will catch on in high schools and among undergraduates at universities.

“I see a lot of interest among people in their early 20s to know these things. I think there’s a lot of hope there about the younger generation,” he said. “Getting this into high schools and universities is really important, because I think they will make a change with it.”

At Canada’s largest Catholic school board, Pio hears from teachers all the time looking for a way to engage students in a faith context on Indigenous issues.

“They’re all willing to listen. It’s how do you create that pedagogy of listening — of listening to a dialogue or listening in a context that has so much misinformation about who the Indigenous people are and with regard to how they’ve been treated in historical contexts,” Pio said. “It should be done in a circle where you face each other and you see each other.”

Hathaway understands that many people hesitate when it comes to reconciliation because they have little or no contact with Indigenous people.

“If we’re not coming into contact with our Indigenous neighbours, maybe that says something too,” he said. “Part of that might just be that discomfort some of us feel precisely because we know there’s been injustice.”

Whether it’s a parish youth group, a Catholic high school class or a Catholic college course, finding ways to confront our past and see the reality of Indigenous-settler relations today can set up a different future, said Hathaway.

“It’s about how to find ways to try to relate to each other that’s fair and just and respectful and loving. Ultimately, it’s about love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

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