Healing takes a lot of courage for an individual person to learn to forgive and to move forward from life’s hurtful experiences.
Creator, the Spiritual Being, Kisa Munito, loves all his children regardless of race and colour, and has given us gifts to use when battling each day’s daily challenges: the challenges of anger and bitterness; the loss of who we are; the sense of not belonging; the shame of the scars we wear; the lack of self-esteem; the addictions of drinking, drugs, and gambling; the violence and racism that rear their ugly heads in our daily lives; and the way society views us, and other ethnic groups, as invisible.
With so many others, we are thankful to Justice Murray Sinclair, Marie Wilson, and Willy Littlechild, who took on the tremendous responsibility of taking on the Truth Reconciliation Commission Report, which was released at Delta Ottawa in Ottawa on June 2, 2015.
The TRC was successful in bringing the legacy of residential schools from the darkness of Canadian history into the light. This has been a beginning of the journey to healing and reconciliation. The emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse experienced by residential schools survivors had a lasting impact on their lives. Indigenous children were stolen from their loving, caring homes, many taken right of of their parents’ arms. Children stolen from the close-knit relationships of their communities, the strong communities that had their own values, beliefs, rich traditions and cultures, and languages.
The legacy of removing children and placing them in residential schools has stopped with my three children and my grandchildren. They did not have to follow the footsteps of their grandpa, Nelson James, his mother, Mary Rose Martin, and 13 of her 14 children, who were forced to leave their home. The use of the residential school system has been severed; we hope and pray that history does not repeat itself in the future.
Healing began outside the Delta Ottawa on June 2, 2015, as a group of Indigenous men stood outside during a break, laughing and hugging each other. It was truly an awesome sight to witness. Such a difference following the release of the TRC report, when residential school survivors broke down. Residential schools had been closed, and yet they still felt the impact of the time they spent in those schools when they were children.
To this day, I feel very blessed to have been in the walk from Gatineau, Quebec to Ottawa’s city hall with 10,000 others from all across Canada that Sunday afternoon. Bishop Mark, our National Indigenous Bishop, was with us in the walk, as was Primate Fred Hiltz, who was gifted with a hand drum from one of the chiefs leading the walk.
There were those in the walk who asked for help, as they wanted to stop and rest along the way. They felt they were not able to complete the walk. I asked them, “What brought them out to walk? Whom are you honouring today?” They shared their stories of relatives – parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers – who had been in different residential schools, and the impacts of being in those schools; how much abuse was inflicted on them; how some relatives had committed suicide, as they were not able to live with the shame; how some died when they ran away; how physical abuse was showered on survivors and their children.
I, in turn, shared the stories of being married to a survivor and how I learned to survive being in that relationship because of the love I have for my children. I had two older sisters, Julia Head and Matilda Constant, and one older brother, Leo “Chap” Constant, who had been stolen from my parents and placed in different residential schools.
The stories told during that walk were heartbreaking. But, I also heard from others who happily stated that they were going to complete the walk and honour the memory of their loved ones, family and friends, and those who had passed away and were not able to witness this significant part of history. They received a lot of encouragement and strength by sharing their stories as we walked and talked.
In the middle of walking with 10,000 people, healing took place. It was a very humbling experience to listen to them.
At one point, we heard someone shouting and pointing to an eagle circling overhead. The sighting of the eagle told us that we were changing the face of history and changing the stories of residential schools.
We walked forward that day, as did the survivors of those residential schools. Some of the survivors who are still living today have been successful and their spirits have not been broken or destroyed. They are damaged, maybe, but not unable to learn to forgive and move forward.
The walk of 10,000 people made a difference, and it united a lot of us to work towards healing and reconciliation. There is a lot of work to be done yet towards healing. Neither the government nor the churches can tell us how to heal; they cannot give us guidelines or draw up policies to heal. The Grassroots people need to help residential school survivors to heal.
Some healing may happen in my lifetime and in my children’s time, but it will take years for the healing to be completed, as it took years for the damage to be done by residential schools. Grassroots people have the knowledge, the experience, the patience and the strength to help the healing.
Despite all the challenges faced each day, we are moving forward to a better tomorrow.
Sacred space is within each one of us: how we see others in a good way and how we treat and respect others. Healing will only happen if both Indigenous and non-Indigenous walk this journey together side by side, learn from each other, and have a better understanding of each other, using the Creator’s gifts of strength, wisdom, courage, and love.
Sylvia James is Cree from Opaskwayak, The Pas, Manitoba. She is an Elder on the Rupert’s Land Elders Circle and is involved with the urban Indigenous community of Winnipeg. If she had the chance to write a book, she would call it Degree of Life.