OTTERBURNE, MB – Providence is pleased to honour September 30th as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We have lowered our flag to half-mast and will put orange ribbons in employee and student mailboxes next week to help commemorate and remember our Canadian Indigenous history; to honour residential school survivors, their families, and communities.
The Government of Canada established this new federal holiday in response to one of the 94 calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It coincides with Orange Shirt Day which was started in 2013 to honour Indigenous children and educate Canadians about the effects the residential school system had on Indigenous communities.
We must be careful not to view this day as simply a “day off” from classes and work. Nor should it be considered a day to celebrate because it is really a day for reflection. We encourage you to dedicate your day, or at least part of it, to meaningful discussion about the impacts of residential schools.
I recognize this is a painful topic. When I learned about the first 215 unmarked graves found at the residential school site in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, I was travelling by car from British Columbia to Manitoba to start my position as president at Providence. Karen and I stopped along the way to see our oldest daughter and her family who live in Kamloops and were struck by the emotion of it all.
I believe the whole nation of Canada, which includes our Providence community, has felt profound sadness since the discovery of these unmarked graves across the country. We are proud to be called Canadians, but these events mar (or damage) our national history as well as our Christian heritage. And we can’t help but be affected by it all. So, I encourage you to talk to one another and share your grief. It was discussions with an Indigenous lawyer and friend that helped me to work out my sense of sorrow and come out imagining a better future for Canada and for God’s Kingdom.
Since that time, I and others at Providence have engaged in several conversations with Indigenous leaders over the past few months. We have listened and we have learned a lot.
As Christians, we have a personal responsibility towards reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). And as an institution, we also need to respond. That’s why we held an ‘Indigenous Relations and Calls to Action’ session at our Employee Orientation in August. It was led by Andrew Thunder, former alum and pastor who worked as a policy analyst for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (until 2020), and Kerry Saner-Harvey, the program coordinator of Indigenous Neighbours for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba.
This is the first of several initiatives we hope to do together as a Providence community. We will communicate opportunities as they become available.
In the meantime, let us start today to reflect on what reconciliation means and begin to ask the questions: “What can I do? How can I take action in my personal life and affect change within my own community?”
Let us also take inspiration from a recent news report I read. I learned that, at the former Kamloops Residential School, members of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation will play an honour song on September 30th. It will be played at 2:15 PT, coinciding with the number of graves that “shocked the world.”
As the strands of that song echo (or reverberate) across our land – from the West to the East –, let us remember to pray and to love and to listen and to walk together…for a better, brighter, and stronger tomorrow.