BOS 06 10 2021 doublesize
When the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) released the Calls to Action six years ago, I went directly to the section aimed at churches. That was my direct responsibility. The call that caught my attention was to continue to ensure the story was told, that congregations and church people continue to learn about the impact of residential schools and colonial patterns in general. I continue to ponder ways to ensure this happens.

I kept reading. The next section that caught my attention was about missing children. The call was made to coroners and governments to work with churches to ensure that graves were located and acknowledged, that family was informed where these were. Again, I paused. I asked myself if there was a residential school within the bounds of the regional structures where I worked. There was not. I let it go.

The United Church took some action. The denomination scanned its archives, gathered any material relevant to residential schools, passed this information to the TRC. Where grave sites were known, ceremonies were held led by the indigenous community with church leaders attending. A website with a history of the church's involvement was established, The Children Remembered.

According to a statement released last week by the moderator of the United Church with the Indigenous Ministries Executive Minister, the church is "aware that unmarked graves may be found on United Church properties, and we are committed to working on them, and on known burial sites, following the principles laid out in the Calls to Action." This statement feels weak to me. There should be a fist pounding declaration that the church will seek out these graves.

However, the principle the church holds to, a principle called for in the TRC, is that indigenous communities must be given space to take the lead. The church is convening current and former indigenous leaders to develop a response from the United Church. I think that the current leadership is actively taking a back seat so that indigenous people set the path for action in their communities. I will watch, however, to make sure that we are not simply holding back from action. We have had six years to prioritize this Call to Action, after all.

All of Canada now knows that there were unmarked graves at residential schools. Those who worked at residential schools knew that children died, some of them knew what the burial practices were. The parents whose child never returned knew of the deaths. The children knew, and still know, that a child slept in a bed near them and then did not, that a young girl was pregnant, and then was not with no sign of a baby. They worried. They imagined. They grieved. They and their communities still grieve. Finally, Canada marks these deaths with them.

The same week that the news of this unmarked grave surfaced, President Biden travelled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend the ceremonies that marked the hundredth anniversary of the race massacre in an all Black neighbourhood that had been known as Black Wall Street. In that little known event, up to three hundred people were killed by an armed white mob, piled into massed graves. Ten thousand people were left homeless as forty acres of houses and businesses were broken into, burned, destroyed. There are a few survivors, over a hundred years old now, children then. Three took their stories to congress just this year.

The fact that a president marked this horrible event for the first time gave me hope that the U.S. is finally coming to terms with the deep racism of its land. The lowered flags at the corner of Grey Road 1 and Kemble Mountain Road, and so many other places, give me hope that we are coming to terms with our racism.

Then, a pick-up driver rammed his truck into a Muslim family of five walking down the road, killed a grandmother, a mother, a father, a teenager, injured a young boy.

I remember that around me there is deep seated, angry racism. This must be surfaced and curtailed. All of us have a responsibility to say to family members and neighbours, colleagues and officials, White is not right. Diverse people, with diverse ideas and living patterns are living in a true way. Each belongs in the community White people are only part of.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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