The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was created to inform Canadians about what happened in Residential Schools. The Commission was tasked to document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the Residential School experience. The TRC toured Canada from June 2008 to June 2015 and dealt with this dark and shameful era in Canadian history.
The closing ceremonies of the TRC were held in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3. A number of religious groups were involved in the events including the Jesuits in English Canada. Jesuits in attendance included Provincial Superior Fr. Peter Bisson, Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa, Fr. Winston Rye, and Fr. Michael Rosinski, to name a few. Some participated in the Solidarity Walk on May 31, while Archbishop Prendergast and Fr. Bisson spoke at the TRC’s closing ceremonies.
During the ceremonies, one of the highlights was the Commission releasing its report and a Calls to Action document with 94 recommendations.
There were many powerful images that stand out for participant Fr. Bisson during the proceedings but three were extraordinary memories.
“It was moving to experience the emotional standing ovation given to Justice Murray Sinclair,” says Fr. Bisson. "I have immense respect for him, as do so many others. He and the other commissioners became spiritual leaders through the seven-year process, by listening respectfully to everyone who came before the Commission to share their painful stories."
A second experience for Fr. Bisson was receiving a pouch of tobacco from a First Nations elder who was offering this gift of reconciliation to any priests he encountered during the days in Ottawa.
Fr. Bisson’s third memory was the mood of the gathering. "It was positive and hopeful even though it was a gathering about the pain of survivors of the schools. They became leaders and teachers, teaching us so much about reconciliation."
The Jesuits in English Canada are taking seriously the recommendations that apply to Christian churches. Fr. Bisson has asked educational institutions affiliated with the Jesuits to update their curricula to reflect the truth about indigenous history, including the legacy of residential schools and life today.
Regis College in Toronto is developing a course on uniquely Canadian social justice issues, with a strong emphasis on aboriginal issues. An immersion program will give Jesuits in formation experiences of Aboriginal life and will start in the summer of 2016. The first will be offered at Campion College in Regina, which has close ties to the First Nations University of Canada.
The Jesuits minister to indigenous peoples in and around Regina and Fr. Bisson expressed his excitement about the initiation of an immersion program. "This program will be led by indigenous peoples and will raise the consciousness and engagement of this generation of Jesuits moving into their ministry as priests and brothers."
“The cultural sin of colonization and its impact is huge and getting beyond it is an immense task,” says Fr. Bisson. “It's one of our basic sins. We have seen indigenous peoples being marginalized from generation to generation. My desire is that the Jesuits can play some part in a new and more hopeful life for indigenous peoples, one where the educational and economic gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals is not so vast."
Editor’s note: The Jesuits issued a Statement of Reconciliation on April 25, 2013 which may be found here.