Non-indigenous people need to work through their own feelings of guilt and shame in order to make true reconciliation attempts, says Melanie Delva, reconciliation animator for the Anglican Church of Canada.
Those feelings “either paralyze us completely or can cause us to act in ways that may not be healthy or helpful,” she said. “We need to move beyond guilt.”
There is a lot to feel guilty about, Delva acknowledged. “I was paralyzed by guilt and shame for quite some time, but one of the things that my elders have been teaching me is that guilt and shame are not places from which reconciliation can come.” (Delva was adopted into the Grizzly Clan of the Lytton Band of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation.)
Delva was speaking to more than 120 clergy and lay people at Moving Forward with Reconciliation, a day-long workshop hosted by the All My Relations Working Group of the diocese of Ottawa at Christ Church Bells Corners May 26.
As archivist for the Anglican diocese of New Westminster and the provincial synod of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, Delva was active for 12 years in a pilot project involving the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and some church entities, which managed the collection of documents related to residential schools from church archives.
During that time, she helped hundreds of survivors prove their attendance at St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, B.C. Almost all of them “told me at least part of their story of being incarcerated in the schools,” she said.
Delva noted that some people often say they have no reason to feel guilty about the residential schools since they had nothing to do with abuses that occurred there. But, she said, while “we don’t have to take on the guilt of generations before us…we need to bring attention to the systems of oppression they were part of and that are still here today.”
In response to a question from a workshop participant, Delva said there were “certainly” non-Indigenous people who spoke out against abuses in the residential school system. “Many of them were young female teachers. Some of them were shamed into silence; some were fired,” she said. “I often say there were good people in the evil system.”
Apart from Delva’s talk, the workshop included breakout sessions of small groups discussing issues such as developing resources, creating a welcoming church, reconciliation as a spiritual practice and working for positive change for the Inuit ministry in Ottawa.
Before giving the opening prayer, Algonquin elder Barbara Dumont-Hill told the gathering that while Canada isn’t the best country in the world, it has the potential to be the best. “A lot of people think we’re well on the road to reconciliation, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” she said. “The Canadian government took land from us and gave it your families so you could prosper, while people like us would die in poverty.”
Working group co-chair Debbie Grisdale said she hoped the workshop provided participants with an opportunity to build capacity, ideas, enthusiasm and a commitment to the reconciliation journey.
“We hope that you will leave here today with a greater understanding of reconciliation and that you will listen with the ear of your heart to the stories you hear,” she told the gathering. “You may feel pushed out of your comfort zones and be somewhat unsettled at what you learn, and that is all a good thing.”
A highlight of the workshop was a “Standing Stones” worship service in the spacious garden area of the church, preceded by a smudging ceremony led by Dumont-Hill and Indigenous drummer Daniel Spiritwolf.
Created by Archdeacon Travis Enright of the Anglican diocese of Edmonton, the “Standing Stones” liturgy blends Christian and Indigenous spiritual traditions. The celebrant for the service was the Rev. Ryan Boivin, associate incumbent of the parishes of St. Paul’s, Hazeldean-Kanata; St. John the Baptist, Richmond; and Christ Church, Ashton.