An offering is seen at the site of the former Brandon Indian Residential School. CNS photo/Shannon VanRaes, Reuters

Leah Perrault: Moving forward by doing what you can

By 
  • September 10, 2021

I have been listening to people within my (Catholic) faith community wrestle in a deeper way with Truth and Reconciliation this summer. The reckoning has been too long coming. Saskatchewan columnist Doug Cuthandrecently wrote that Canadians may be waking up to face our collective residential school history.  I hope he’s right. And I hope that the same will be said of the Catholic Church in this season.

One of the things emerging from the conversation resonates: uncertainty in the midst of overwhelm. Feeling frozen by the size of the task before us. Being just one person in a massive Church. Not wanting to offend — by saying the wrong thing, or by staying silent. Shame or embarrassment about what we did not know or have failed to do. These are all normal responses, but they keep us from doing the work of reconciling with one another.

My former colleague, Dianne Anderson, is a prison chaplain and a Métis elder at St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon. I have had the privilege of sitting with her in the midst of overwhelm too many times to count — mine and hers. We have walked together through her supporting inmates through trials, through the deaths of our loved ones and through lots of messy church work.

The very first time, Dianne took me to the prison to meet some of the men she was supporting and I sat on the concrete floor talking through a slot in the door to a man my age who was awaiting trial for murder. When we left, I whispered to her through my tears from the passenger seat in her van, “The only reason I was sitting on that side of the door was because I won the birth lottery. How can the world be so cruel?” Dianne listened to my grief and my fear, and then she told me that the men didn’t need my guilt: “They need you — and everyone else — to give whatever you’ve got to make the world more healed.”

No one of us can do all the things that need to be done to accomplish truth and reconciliation, but all of us can — and must — do what we can. For more than 20 years, I have had opportunities to learn about, practice, make mistakes and try again in responding to this call. And every social justice mentor has reminded me that the overwhelm is a part of the story. Injustice thrives on indifference, on giving up, on the inertia of the status quo.

So, what can we do? One thing. And then another.

If truth and reconciliation is  new for you, one of the best things you can do is to remember that others have been walking this path for a long time. Reverence those who have gone before you on this journey. Read books by Indigenous authors. Seek out art by Indigenous artists. Get familiar with the 94 Calls to Action. Listen to Indigenous radio shows or podcasts. Do the work of learning, just a little bit at a time.

If you’re a student, or are in a position to be one (even part-time), seek out classes that teach Indigenous history, literature or spirituality. Look for learning opportunities taught by Indigenous instructors in a formal learning setting or in the community. Set aside time to take one of the free online courses offered through the University of Alberta or Athabasca University.

If you’re working, be a voice for finding ways to advance the Calls to Action in your workplace, company or sector. Wherever possible follow the lead of Indigenous colleagues. (If you don’t have any Indigenous colleagues, ask why.) Build relationships with Indigenous people and communities over time. Pay attention to the barriers which might be removed for reconciliation to happen at work.

At church, be a prophetic voice for our leaders to do more and to do better in responding to the work of truth and reconciliation. Pray for healing for everyone involved in residential schools. Donate to a collection for reparations, according to your ability. Host a Blanket Exercise.

Wherever you are, get to know and learn from Indigenous neighbours. Listen. Use your voice to have important conversations. Learn from your mistakes. Do the work of allowing your own wounds to be healed. When you get tired or unsure, rest awhile. Wait and watch. And then get up again, find someone to connect with and do what you can. The only way forward is through, together, one step at a time.

(Perrault works in health care in Saskatchewan and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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