#6 – A humble beginning of Reconciliation

We met quite unexpectedly – she, an Inuit woman from Nunavut, in Ottawa for a training conference, I a white woman, in Ottawa to attend the Day of Reconciliation activities the next day. She requested a brochure that she couldn’t reach, and so we literally connected across a barrier between us. In retrospect, how symbolic!

The dialogue began so simply, explaining why we had each come to Ottawa. She had attended Residential School, she said, and explained that her experiences were both positive and negative there. The worst things was the loss of culture. Suddenly she threw back her head, and the room was filled with wonderful laughter. “If they wanted us to be white, they should have BLEACHED us!” Incredibly, her laughter was completely devoid of bitterness. It washed over me, inviting my own. Like two women sharing a laundry-day mishap, we laughed til we cried. What a healing thing shared laughter is!

And so I shared my “shame story” of having so proudly, as a teenager, sent my C.G.I.T. middi (uniform)to a far-away “Indian School” called Norway House in Manitoba so that “poor native kids” could have a wonderful C.G.I.T. group like we had in our United Church. I shared the bitter irony I now associate with that middi which came to represent something very different -”Canadian Girls In Training” in the nasty process of assimilation. “We didn’t know”, I explained, blinking back the tears, “We didn’t know!”

Spontaneously we both reached across the barrier between us and embraced warmly, heart to heart. I can’t remember her lovely name, except that it begins with M., but I will always remember her beautiful spirit. And I will always remember that moment I first caught a glimpse of the spirit of true reconciliation – a moment of shared pain and of healing laughter, of two hearts reaching across the barriers between them with honesty, mutual respect and compassion. And if two strangers can experience reconciliation in such a simple way, then there is hope for all of us, isn’t there?

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