Last week I tuned in on a live stream of the Honourable Justice Sinclair’s lecture on residential schools at the University of Regina. He is a well respected figure and for good reason. Being the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the first aboriginal judge in saskatchewan, the level of wisdom and perspective that was so eloquently communicated was like nothing I had witnessed in my education. The house was packed so I sat outside the auditorium watching the lecture on my computer. As people were coming in, filling up the auditorium and then the overflow seating after, there was a real sense of anticipation in the air. I could feel as he was speaking there was a spirit of “leaning in” from all the spectators as they felt guaranteed that the recipe for a future era of reconciliation was being delivered on Sinclair’s words. A formula so elusive, so complex, and so needed, required the full attention of all of our senses. There was two areas of his talk that stood out to me: 1) His discussion on the responsibility education has to help the child answer questions about themselves. 2) Forgiveness as not essential to reconciliation.
- Identity: the following is quote is composed various statements throughout the lecture that have been abridged into one statement. “Less than 50% were abused in Residential Schools. But all were abused in some way, either emotionally or mentally. They were taught that there was no hope in maintaining their identity and that their only hope was to be part of Canadian society. The most important question we engage with in our lives is ‘where do I belong’ which is composed of four questions:
Where do I come from?
Where I am I going?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
The ability to answer those questions has been impaired by the legacy of Residential Schools. It has also impaired the ability of non-aboriginal children, the way that our school system has educated us about aboriginal people or about the history of this country.”
Sinclair really hits the nail on the head when he draws a correlation between education and developing identity. Not only did Residential Schools fail in their mission to have First Nations people abandon one identity for the other, but they they also failed in the mission of education. It’s important to always keep a critical reflective disposition as educators. We must always ask ourselves if what we’re doing is going to help our students answer those questions.
2. Forgiveness: One thing that I’ve been reflecting on in the week since the lecture was Sinclair’s statement about forgiveness not being a necessary part of reconciliation. The comment intrigued me because I always figured reconciliation and forgiveness were synonymous. Eventually, Sinclair’s comments about the statement made by a church is what helped me to realize that maybe definitions of forgiveness aren’t universal. “We admit that our priests have abused you. We acknowledge our sin. So now you must forgive us or you’ll go to hell.” Like the priests, my a understanding of forgiveness is also influenced a background of christianity, yet, my definition is starkly different from that of the priests.
Forgiveness, by definition, is never owed. When you are wronged, you are not obligated to forgive, it is your right to do what you want with the injury you’ve sustained. You can keep it or release yourself from it. However, if you want to release yourself from the injury, forgiveness is a requirement. Forgiveness is less about setting the other person free and more about setting yourself free. Forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting again, or being friends again. It is just about saying ‘I’m not going to let the hurt you caused me define who I am, or my journey from here on out’. But doing this means that you also aren’t going to let that hurt define who they are, or control their journey. Forgiveness says ‘you owe me a debt that I am waiving my right to collect on’. Consequently, forgiveness does not require the validation of the person you are forgiving, or their admission that they need it at all.
After happening upon Portraits of Reconciliation, a collection of stories of reconciliation between Hutu perpetrators and Tutsi survivors of the Rwanda genocide, I began to realize that reconciliation perhaps requires a bit more, or at least some different ingredients than forgiveness. 1) Reconciliation is less about leaving something behind, and more about moving forward towards something else. 2) Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation needs to be a two-way street, which means perpetrators do need to acknowledge wrong doing. 3) While forgiveness does not imply the restoration of trust, reconciliation likely will. 4) The success of forgiveness is sometimes measured to the degree to which one can forget the injury. Forgetting is not a luxury Reconciliation can afford.
Reconciliation and forgiveness often turn up hand-in-hand but they aren’t the same, and therefor will sometimes operate independently from each other. Sinclair emphasized the importance of reconciliation as the vehicle for moving forward. I think forgiveness is for each individual to consider, but on the systemic level we must continue to apply the principles of reconciliation.
There’s a hopeful irony when we talk about the importance of education in achieving these goals, because although education was once the tool used to try to depreciate First Nations culture, it is also the thing from which we must try and build a culture of reconciliation.