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April and Betty: a shared path for peace.

Due to Betty Gigisi's work as a peacekeeper in Solomon Islands (SOLS) both during the Civil War and as a Chief Exhumation Officer as part of the Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) process that followed, she was invited to visit Canada and participate as a delegate in meetings around global T&R. In SOLS, Betty had wanted to ensure that women's voices would be part of the process, and it was her courageous words and actions that ensured Melanesian women had a meaningful role, something that she continues to advocate for to this day.

One of the most rewarding components of PPP's work is in hosting guests from the South Pacific when they come to Canada. The exchange and learning goes both ways as illustrated by the following travelogue prepared by Betty's host April Ingham, Executive Director of PPP. Betty arrived on Canada's west coast following 2 1/2 grueling days of travel from the Solomon Islands. That was after four months of planning and preparations, and a week and a half late due to the inevitable issues with entry visas. It was Betty's first visit to Canada.

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Day 1 That first evening we seem to talk forever about women, peace, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada and some of what Betty went through in the Solomon Islands. She was surprised to learn about what had happened to Canada's indigenous peoples: about the effects of residential schools, laws and other policies designed to colonize and destroy the indigenous peoples of this land.

Day 2 We visited Pearson College of the Pacific, a United World College dedicated to excellence in education, peace and international friendship. Here we participated in discussions with faculty about reconciliation, how to make this real and integrated into the college in a meaningful way. We had much to learn and to share, but in essence felt that as a start "The history needed to be rooted to this place, to the original Coast Salish peoples of this land and their ancestors. Through a deepening of relationship can come recognition and respect."

What a trooper Betty is! Despite the cold, wet, stormy weather and the strange new diet, she has not complained. She has been staying as a guest on the campus of Pearson College, spending any free time she has with students from all over the world. The students are endearing and call her Auntie.

Day 3 We continued exploring the ever-present theme of reconciliation by attending a T&R meeting at the University of Victoria at the First Peoples Ceremonial House there. Appropriately the day started with elders of the land. Betty was able to meet our respected elder and PPP's guiding influence Songhees First National Matron, Joan Morris, and her close friend Dr. Nancy Turner. Together with Betty, they rang the eternal bell of healing. A number of academics and professors spoke about how to integrate Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, reports and education curriculum into the University.

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Day 6 Today we feasted at my house with fresh locally grown vegetables and wild elk meat from my son's hunt. It was a wonderful meal from the bountiful lands of British Columbia. I proudly shared the produce of my gardens, fresh chicken eggs and grand wisdom about composting with hens. Betty humbly put my knowledge to shame as she described working her own large food and cash crop gardens, assisting her daughter with a flock of 5,000 hens, and helping with her four grandchildren.

Day 8 It's Betty's birthday today. She is the same age as me--we're so different but similar. We attend a traditional pit cook on a local beach, participating in a tour by JB Williams to learn about the medicinal and nutritional benefits of the region's wild foods, and how to harvest them respectfully. After the nature walk with JB, it became increasingly stormy and rainy. Back in base camp, an uncomplaining Betty is draped in coats and we warm up under blowing tarps and tents with the rain dropping all around us. She said the rain reminded her of home without the cold, of course.

On the beach was a blazing fire unaffected by the rain, with local clams being smoked at fireside on skewers and salmon being smoked and baked on a rack leaning close to the fire. Beside the fire was a sandy, steaming pit full of cooking veggies from nearby lands and farms. We were welcomed by Coast Salish Elder Earl Claxton Jr. and shared food and stories. It was Betty's first time eating a pink fish (a salmon), and she loved it.

Driving the highway so much that day, one could not help but notice the red dresses, red shirts, and sweaters hanging by the roadside. Beside these clothes were signs that proclaimed attention, justice and solidarity for Canada's lost, murdered and missing indigenous women. Betty had her photo taken there in respect for those women while we reflected upon the violence that faces far too many women and our own experiences of this.

Day 10 We are preparing to leave for Ottawa. Betty spends time refining her presentations and shares more about her own story, remembering the people that work for peace and the challenging, risky consequences they continue to face for taking a courageous stand. Reconciliation is a process, such has been our mutual learning thus far.

Day 11 We fly across much of this vast country to Canada's capital, Ottawa, Ontario. Betty has been travelling for two weeks now, over 15,000 kilometres. She delights in the red and yellow colors of Ottawa's trees with their leaves in full autumn splendor. "They are like flowers to me." She expresses how she never in her life thought she would come to Canada and how happy she is to be here.

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Day 12 We participated in the workshop "Memory, Truth and Reconciliation in South-East Asia". The room was full of people who shared passion, anger at systems, exploring difficult histories sometimes interconnected in focused, wide-ranging presentations and discussions. T&R in Timor Este, Solomon Islands, Aceh, Canada: we are exploring whether this process could be beneficial in West Papua, Indonesia. Together we dissect peace, memory, truth and reconciliation this day. And we acknowledge the similar history of the Algonquin peoples upon whose lands our Ottawa meetings are being held.

Day 13 This day we strategize and build solidarity as we continue to push for peace and reconciliation. Later Betty and I take time to celebrate and have fun. We visit Canada's Parliament, the infinity fire, the peace tower and a monument celebrating women's right to vote. All are profound places to reflect on our hopes, and prayers for peace. Last stop is in the First Peoples galleries at the National Museum of History. Looking upon the copper shields that were so valued and protected by the North Pacific Chiefs of the land, Betty expressed that she felt deeply connected to our indigenous peoples, offering honour and respect for all, our new friendships, and the work to come.
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Publication:Tok Blong Pasifik
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 22, 2015
Words:1179
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