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Canadians can overcome the past and the pain.

The "Remembering The Children" gathering held at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre on Jan. 21 was intended as an opportunity to share, heal and walk together in a new phase of Canada's journey in the post-residential school system era. It brought together members of the Aboriginal community, as well as ecumenical leaders from across Canada for a time of remembering, reconciling and celebration.

"I thought it was a great gathering and what made it very special was that there wasn't a political person to be seen there, so it wasn't a political show," said a co-emcee of the event, Lewis Cardinal. "What it was was a grassroots process."

Cardinal said that it was impressive watching the easy flow of the dialogue as church representatives offered their apologies for the churches' role in the residential school system.

"It allowed the Aboriginal communities to come face to face with non-Aboriginal people to hear these apologies and to have the testimony of some survivors and also the forgiveness from the survivors to be heard in a very public place," said Cardinal.

Cardinal said it was an emotional event.

"It was deeply moving. There wasn't a dry eye in the house I don't think at anytime during the whole event," said Cardinal.

With public apologies now offered by churches and the government--Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Canada's apology in the House of Commons on June 11--Cardinal believes that the path towards healing is beginning to define itself, although the process is still young.

"As a Canadian society as a whole we are just walking up to the sobering reality of our past," said Cardinal. "As a society begins to acknowledge its own history it then begins to recover from it and then it begins the healing process and then it starts to build new relationships from that."

"I would say yes. It's a beginning process. I wouldn't say it's well on its way but it's on its way," said Cardinal.

Reverend Cheol Soon Park, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, said "Surprisingly, not too many people know what happened," of the residential school experience. "They heard this somewhere down the road, but they don't have any factual aspects of the incidents and as a result they don't feel anything."

The Remembering The Children event was just one component of a two-day conference held at King's College entitled Truth and Reconciliation: Healing the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

Park admits he was troubled by some of the young participants' initial sentiments towards the plight of Canada's Aboriginal people and found they bunched the issues around the residential school experience with the numerous and ongoing land claims.

"Many people I met, they responded like, 'So where is this going to end? What else do they want?' kind of attitude," said Park.

"But this is personally the darkest chapter of Canadian history, the saddest chapter of our history, which we have to learn a very painful but precious lesson (from) and by then we are going to be a better people, better country," said Park.

Cardinal also stressed the importance of facing the residential school experience, and suggested the scars, whether they are physical or emotional, are tools for the future.

"We're coming out of a very dark time. We're coming out of a time where our identities were taken away from us. But we're returning to them and we're entering into an age where we're reconnecting with that identity again and finding strength," said Cardinal.

"I believe that we are starting to see a lot of strength and resilience in our people and it shows we can overcome the darkest of tendencies," said Cardinal.

Cardinal added that some of the speakers acknowledged a sense of loss having told their stories, a common feeling that many will experience after releasing such a burden, especially since it has been either held on to or hidden away for so many years.

"We have left behind our innocence now because we are acknowledging this. We recognize through that feeling inside of us that there was pain caused. So that feeling is a normal part of healing, that sense of loss." Cardinal attributed that lesson to one of the elders.

Both Cardinal and Park said that in post-apology Canada, juxtaposed with events like the Remembering The Children conference, the path towards healing is becoming more evident.

"The whole purpose is not just pinpointing who is liable and who is going to pay. That is not the purpose of this gathering," said Park. "The purpose of this gathering is for educating people and learning about the past, our failure, our mistakes, so we won't repeat the same tragic mistakes again."

"Aboriginal people want to move on with it. They do want to move on with it, but this is the part where we have to learn from it first and (we) have to go through all these feelings and emotions first until we come to peace with it," said Cardinal. "Then we move on to the next phase of our lives."

"It's a necessary step, absolutely. If we don't take it we'll never be able to surpass it."

Cardinal went on to say that the process, if it follows in the same healthy vein as the conference, would help not only Aboriginal people, but Canada as a whole.

"I think Canadians will learn and become stronger and more tolerant and more respectful and gain strength from that as a nation."


Sage Staff Writer

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Title Annotation:NATIONAL NEWS; "Remembering The Children" gathering
Author:Bruner, Thomas J.
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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