Written by Trish Elgersma, MCC Alberta Staff
What an incredible/challenging/heartbreaking and inspiring five days…. I feel incredibly honoured and thankful that I was a part of this event, to hear the stories of so many beautiful, strong survivors. To stand with the church and settlers and listen, apologize, and share the hope and fear of what happens after this TRC process is over.
A few stories… A prof from u Victoria spoke about a project she worked on which helped repatriate over 50 paintings that were done by students in Port Alberni residential school. At a TRC gathering held there a year ago she brought the paintings onto the stage as an act of healing. They were in a pile about to brought out when a women stopped them and said gently, ‘No. Every painting must be brought out by itself. Every story must be heard. Every child must be carried.’
It was a story that stuck with me, especially after hearing story after story during the four days there. It’s so draining to feel the weight of the damage of what was done. I hit a point when the stories of abuse and loneliness run together or seem too much, especially when I thought of how many stories are not being told. I felt a lot of anger, guilt, and helplessness… But the importance of witnessing each individual story kept me there.
One woman named Carol told her story in the public statements. It was a story of sexual abuse from the age of five by a priest and how when she told a nun about the abuse she was beaten and forced to apologize to the priest for her lies. A story of feeling stupid, dirty, and worthless for her whole life. At the end she said, ‘I didn’t think I could tell this story. I’ve held it in for so long. But I feel lighter now. Thank-you’. Everyone in the crowd started applauding and gave her a standing ovation. And she broke down on stage. It struck me that this was probably one of the first time she had told this story to non-native people and was believed. And honoured. For the rest of the day she had this amazing smile on her face.
One person on Friday said that the definition of ‘bearing witness’ is ‘to show by your presence that something is true.’ I’m so grateful that by being at the TRC I got to be part of that witness. I wish I could tell you each story I heard. I wish we could drag everyone out just to hear two or three stories. Colonial attitudes are still so woven into the fabric of my understanding and in Canada and being there make all the typical statements and complaints about native populations seem so naive and insensitive.
Sunday the event ended with a walk for reconciliation through downtown van. It was pouring rain but over 70,000 people came!! Amazing way to end.