|John A. Macdonald|
“It would be so much easier just to fold our hands and not make this fight, to say, I, one man, I can do nothing. I grow afraid only when I see people thinking and acting like this. We all know the story about the man who sat beside the trail too long, and then it grew over and he could never find his way again. We can never forget what has happened, but we cannot go back nor can we just sit beside the trail.”
--- (purported to be Chief Poundmaker’s deathbed words, 1886.)
“The fight” Poundmaker is referring to is the struggle to make the Canadian government live up to the terms of Treaty 6 in the face of extreme hardship on reserves. Little did he know that government perfidy would escalate and over the next 80 or so years, a campaign of culturicide would be waged against his people through a combination of neglect of treaty obligations and the residential school system. The trail for Aboriginal Canadians grew over, and finding the way forward became more and more difficult as time went by, to use Poundmaker’s metaphor.
The “Truth and Reconciliation” process is trying to make a start on hacking out the trail. Our role in this process is to listen and learn, and in the learning to find how the institutions, attitudes and legislation in this country need to change so that everyone can live with confidence, dignity and the right to happiness.
The Christian world has just been through its Lenten observations. The gist of it has been a revisit of the suffering servant theme through the story of the righteous man, Jesus, who is tortured and killed by the power structures of his day. Why have centuries of repeating this story not made us sensitive to dilemmas like those of Chief Poundmaker, his brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren? When did we lose sight of the possibility that we as Christians should intuitively align ourselves with Jesus and Poundmaker and not with the Chief Priests, Pontius Pilate and John A. Macdonald? The Canadian government conceived the culturicide plan, Christians carried it out through their residential schools. We, too, have to find the trail forward; for this, the truth must be told, repentance must be genuine, reconciliation must be given space.
The Lenten period is followed by Easter; Christ is vindicated through the resurrection and His church rejoices. Today is that day.
If only the Truth and Reconciliation process would culminate in a “resurrection morning” for the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Or, at least, a clue to finding the trail forward.
“. . . but we cannot go back nor can we just sit beside the trail.”