Last week, in Iraqi Kurdistan, I watched the live streaming of the Alberta National Event of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) . These conversations have happened across Canada at various venues for the last 4 years. It has been a time for the indigenous people of Canada to tell their stories of what churches, with the blessing of the government, laid on them for over one hundred years in residential and day schools.. This TRC in Edmonton, Alberta is to be the last official time for people, indigenous and non-indigenous to come together to tell the stories and to listen to the stories and to commit to continue to work on undoing the racism and colonialism that was central to the actions.
I was not able to be at this gathering, although I did have the privilege in June 2010 to attend the first TRC in Winnipeg, Manitoba. However, I felt a little like a part of me was there.
In December 2013 I was at a meeting of the Winnipeg Branch of the Student Christian Movement. This group is committed to working on standing in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters. That morning my friend Brad Langendoen came up with a proposal. He had a dream of walking from Winnipeg to the Edmonton TRC. He was inspired by the 1600 kilometer journey that several Cree teens hiked between Quebec and Ottawa last year, drawing public attention to justice issues. He envisioned this walk to be a time of reflection , lament and connection with the land for the walkers from Christian backgrounds. Over the next weeks, as we discussed this plan we realised that the logistics of walking that distance did not seem possible so the walk was narrowed down to 520 kilometers.
On March 8th 3 walkers set out from a midway point between Winnipeg and Edmonton. One of these walkers was my son-in-law Laurens Thiessen van Esch. One more person joined them after a few days and others walked for a short time during the 3 week trek over the Canadian prairies on into the hills of Alberta.
Two of the walkers; Laurens Thiessen van Esch and Ann Heinrichs
The 4 walkers on the flat prairie highway.
Even though I was on team with Christian Peacemaker Teams Iraqi Kurdistan while the TRC was happening, I did feel somewhat jealous. If I had been in Canada, I would have gladly joined them in the walk. But I was not, so I did take on the limited challenge of fasting from lunch for a week. I did feel the hunger pangs a little bit. Some thoughts I had when they set in:
-I thought about the children who experienced much harsher hunger pangs for weeks and months on end in the schools that did not give them enough food to survive
- I thought about the children who ran away to try to get home and how hungry they must have been.
- I thought about the hunger pangs of those who are homeless due to the situation of generational trauma from the residential schools and/ or who do not have enough money for all the basic needs. And I had the privilege of making the choice to skip a meal.
In his proposal Brad, L continued, "Although the primary outcome of this trip might be to hear and honour Residential School survivors, I believe a trip like this would undoubtably have a transformative affect on each of the walkers – though to what affect remains to be seen. For Christians, this walk provides an opportunity to contemplate a responsibility we have to our collective history as we quite literally take some significant steps towards truth and reconciliation."
The formal TRC gatherings are over, the Honour Walk by four walkers is over. But the work is not done. We need to continue to do the hard work of unravelling the knots of colonialsm and racism one tangle at a time.
(Photos taken gratefully from the Honour Walk website)