“I Will Never” – A Letter from a White Christian at The TRC

Lac La Biche Mission 1896

(Lac La Biche Mission Residential School 1896_Photo Credit: Lac La Biche Mission)

It would be another 100 years before the last residential school was closed in Canada — 1996. I graduated high school in 1996. I was preparing for my freshman year at college. I was under the impression that residential schools all looked like the picture above: black and white, old and grainy, things of the past, sad but irrevocable pieces of history.

Today I’m sitting in a cafe that’s live-streaming Edmonton’s Truth & Reconciliation Events. Due to the crazy traffic and parking fiasco I went through, I wasn’t able to make it physically to The Shaw Conference Centre today. Live-streaming is the next best thing, I guess.

What am I to think?

I’m white.

I’m Christian.

The whites.

The Christians.

We were the haters, the oppressors, the mongerers, the rapers, the abusers, the greedy mouths that took away almost everything from you… dear First Peoples of Turtle Island.

No, I’m not trying to impress you with my terminology. I am trying in my small broken way to address you with the respect you deserve. As I sip on my tea, I’m pondering: “What now?” The TRC cannot be both the beginning and the end. Surely not! But still…

What now?

I will never know the parental horror of having my many children taken away, some never to be seen again.

I will never know the terror of being snatched my from family only to be taken to institutions or foster homes who (at best) would only keep children alive; at worst, molested, burned, beat, brain-washed, institutionalized, and demonized entire cultures, entire worlds.

I will never know the release alcohol brings after such trauma.

I will never know then the social stigma of being branded cultural alcoholics.

I will never know what it’s like to have my skin colour questioned during a job interview.

I will never know what it’s like to have to get a permit before even trying to get a job off-reserve.

I will never know the anguish of hearing ancient languages dying out.

I will never know the angst of trying to communicate in English or French when those languages are totally foreign. Government forms? Forget about them. Those were never written in Cree or Dene.

I will never know what it’s like to be followed around a store because I’m suspected of shoplifting… & of being aboriginal. Thus I MUST be a shoplifter

I will never know what it’s like to have social workers show up the day after I give birth, just to make sure I’m not abusing or neglecting my baby.

I will never know what it’s like for someone to continually ask me: “What’s it like to be white?” Never happens.

I will never know the cold reality of the Canadian government’s true purpose: trying to end the Indian for good forever.

I will never know what it’s like to be called a “half-breed”.

I will never know what it’s like to be an experiment of the government.

I will never know what it’s like to be brown.

I will never know what it’s like to try and fight for my people, only to have the court of public opinion burn me at the stake for “entitlement”, “money-grubbing”, “being too lazy”, “expecting something for nothing”.

This is all true.

I will never… know.

Pinching my skin, I know I cannot change the colour the Creator gave me.

Breathing deeply in prayer, I believe in Yeshua as the Son of the Creator & in my deeply personal relationship with Him. This too, while it grows and changes, will not cease.

In my desire to relate to your pain, I need to face the reality that: I can’t. I haven’t lived what you have been forced to live. I cannot fix it. I cannot know more or better about it. I cannot understand. I cannot truly empathize. I cannot undo what’s been done.

But there are other things I can never do again as well…

I will never, as best as I’m able, close myself off to the historical and current truths of Canada’s aboriginal people.

I will never claim that the TRC is the Healer of healers, and now we can all go home. Much truth is still being hidden by the Canadian government, and many stories are still being silenced.

I will never say that Canada is a champion for women’s equality as long as aboriginal women and children are still prime targets for abuse, kidnapping, trafficking and dehumanization.

I will never say that reconciliation must look the same way for everyone, and work on one timeline.

I will never say that I know everything there is to know about Canadian history and its tragic implications.

I will never say that the only trauma aboriginal peoples endured was the residential school system. Systemic racism was and is present on every level of Canadian society, whether people believe it or not. Physical violence, the Sixties Scoop, current public opinion — it’s all there.

I will never deny that Canada is genocide-free. The government might… but the government’s wrong. Canada tried to kill off all aboriginal people. It failed. The trauma now here is painful beyond words, but that you are here is a testament to your own power.

I will never, as best as I can, set myself up above others just because I ‘know’ now about aboriginal history and racism in Canada. Sometimes it makes white people feel better to choose truth and reconciliation and, while many of us are choosing so genuinely and truly, we use these things to show how inclusive and accepting we are. We have not grieved or asked for forgiveness yet. May we never set ourselves up using these steps of truth and wisdom and love. Ever.

I will never be perfect at all my “I will nevers” I’ve written. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll use my privilege without knowing it, I’ll stumble, and I’ll need grace and forgiveness as we move on together.

Most of all…

I will never…

…silence…

Maybe the words end here for a time. It’s not my time to talk.

It’s yours.

It’s my time to listen.

**UPDATE — In light of the miscarriage of justice for Cindy Gladue, I thought it appropriate to re-speak these thoughts a year after Edmonton’s Truth and Reconciliation events.

45 comments

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    • Rhiannon Edge

      the answer to “what’s next” is really easy. you go and become part of a native community. you get to know them. you let them tell you what help they need and you get to tell them what help you offer. will you ever have natives over for dinner? or is that on the never list? the answer is really simple once you stop looking at what separates us.

      Like

      • erinbecky123

        Hey Rhiannon,
        Thanks for your thoughts! I actually work at my local Canadian Native Friendship Centre as the Family Support Worker. We live and work together like family, and I treasure the time I’ve been gifted to spend here.

        Like

    • lil lyndian

      Meegwech/Thank You for you words…. After doing some genealogy study I discovered my father attended residential school and then I studied about Residential School in my post-secondary studies. It wasn’t until the later that I began to understand the true implications and effects it has had on my life. Today, I am thankful that I started my healing journey when I did, so that I could change the cycle of intergenerational trauma. There is still so much that the average person does not know about the Residential School system and the deliberate attempts of the Governments, around the world actually, to systemically eliminate each Indigenous person. But, we have stood against the wrath through time and it is now we are standing up and fulfilling the Prophecies of another time. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your courage in writing and sharing the words that you have and applaud your efforts to break down the barriers of racism, discrimination, hatred, misunderstanding…. we can only move forward in each new day and accept that all things have evolved as it was meant to be, and tomorrow is always new day, a new beginning. May you have peace in your soul, light in your spirit, laughter in the home and love in your heart.

      Like

  1. Joseph

    from a survivor of the residential school , thank you just hearing that one person is trying there best to understand and to stand beside me as a first nations of canada it helps to heal the wounds left behind

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wayball0077

    wow!…that was very interesting,I wasn’t in RS but I hear a lot of stories and the trauma they went through, your article tells me that you had to do a lot of research and interviews before drawing a conclusion and arquiring a final statement. Its well written and it shows your understanding of the people of turtle inland.

    Like

  3. Awenita Cazon

    Thank u. Canada’s history was built on lies and pain, most refuse to see this. Our future can only be brighter when we choose to see the truths in our past. My father was a residential school survivor, he still has nightmares and wakes up screaming for his mom. He is 72 years old and his mom has been gone since 2012. Thats the truth I grew up seeing. Its nice to read that someone is listening to the pain of the first nations…. Instead of disregarding it. So, once again thank u.

    Like

  4. Randy

    I’m a survivor, It’s still quite tha white priveledge extends you the shelter of horrible realities yet. Your words are so much more articulate in recount then the Mass media who send big old white men to beg for the starving indigenous children. I’ve seen good changes an hope to see our Title to the land an resources fed my starved soul for equality if not our children…

    Like

  5. Sandy

    Omg very good read
    I am 33 years old and living life as a aboriginal is hard all the questions you asked is what I have went through to this day I go shopping and they watch me I’ve been to Jon interviews and i know I am Wasting my time because they have already made up their mind when I walked in the door and looked at me I have tried to rent years back a home and my boyfriend went in and looked at it and told the lady we’d take it and said my gf wants to see it first as I was in car with the kids waiting i went in loved the house and told her we would take it and then told me it was taken
    Its hard I have children that have to grow up with the same issues but why I don’t drink I provided my kids with all their needs I have a job a car i pay rent and taxes ??
    But thanks for this bc you are helping getting the word out
    Thank you

    Like

    • erinbecky123

      Thank you, Sandy, for your courage & honesty in sharing your life. I am repeatedly humbled as more and more people tell me their stories & become amazed at the resiliency present in you and others I’ve heard from. Thank you…

      Like

  6. james

    Very good writing, personally I have never a residential school. Many of my family have done so. The stories I heard. Not many positive stories. I have heard a few good ones, yet I heard more negative. It is good to read the article, in my youth I never learned this history in school and neither have my children. They were shocked.

    Like

  7. Gina

    Thanks for being honest and making the effort to inform yourself. You wonder what’s next? Taking up the torch amongst the general Canadian population and teaching them the hidden truth. There are so many who blather without the facts. Keep on with your journey for it is the truth and it’s telling that will make a difference to those who really want to know.
    A first generation survivor and thriver – Gina

    Like

  8. Jayne Mees

    Live you’re own life. No need to try to re-live aboriginal residential schools experiences. Nd not being able to fully come to a understanding.

    Like

  9. Ephrem Sakayigun

    When they announced they were going to look into Residential Schools I was on cloud nine.Boy was I happy I figured I was going to witness JUSTICE but no. They announced we were going to get paid 10000 dollars and 3000 dollars for each additional year. I was sexually abused, mentally abused and physically abused in Residential School. I was already a drunk, a drug addict and a chain smoker at the time when they announced this. That all changed in 1995 when I became a HUMAN BEING, I found my Native Spirituality ,who I really was through our Native Elders. These People are great they know what they are talking about. With that I stopped smoking, stopped drinking and stopped doing drugs. It’s hard to believe but I did. I was 14 years old when they shipped me out to Residential School, today I am 57 years old. I am still married to my beautiful wife we have been together for 36 years. She is also a Residential School Survivor from a Different Residential School. Life Is Good….

    Like

  10. Luciann

    Let it begin with me

    Wednesday, 27 February, 2013
    Dear God;

    I heard this recently about a Newborn baby girl dress in pink being burned alive in the residential school because the father was a priest. I wonder why I came across this news. This is shocking, horrifying and painful to read. I want to get angry right away although it doesn’t happen because I am connect more to myself today then i was yesterday. So the feeling of the shock ripples through my veins and I feel my heart clench in my chest as I visual see the baby girl dresses in pink thrown in the fire without a second thought by a nun. I want to get angry. I want to rant. I want to yell. I want to scream. I want to blame. I want to cry. So I feel the lost feelings and get in touch with my confusion that rips through my soul like the fire.
    I actually have to listen to music before the tears start falling. Again. I want to blame. I want to scream. I want to yell but I decide to honor myself and sit here at my computer and cry. I light a candle in memory of all babies, children, sisters, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, for all people. Not just my people but all people. thoughts run through my mind as i have a smoke. I think about my own life history, then my mother’s history and my grandmother’s history and all the untold secrets that keep our people in the dark that are coming to light. Then; I remember in Psychology class about a study I heard about when people do incredibly hard acts of unkindness to our fellow sisters, and brothers of this planet we share.
    I immediately remember a journey of forgiveness I recently went through about residential school system. I was at a Rosen Method Bodywork Intensive. I was on the massage table and I was in front a group of women. The the session started the woman who worked on me placed her hands on me and asked the routine questions and they lead to the residential school. She asked me how i forgave my mother. I told her; I forgave my mother because she didn’t now any better.
    I told her if my mother was never embraced in the arms of her mother then how could she have learned to. My mother was cleaned with a floor scrubber so when she had her own baby girl to clean that is what she cleaned me with when i was a child. When I had my baby girl. I cleaned her the way I learned until my husband stopped me and showed me how to. He personally took the time to shown me how to be gentle and loving. If my mother was only taught how to be by who she was raised by. How could she have known it could have been better? If her environment didn’t show her any different then how could she have known?
    A voice emerged through my mind and said, “Lucianne can you forgive them because they didn’t know any better?” I then, stopped the session. I asked the women who were holding a space for me if they could handle what i was going to open up. I was willing to honor all my pent up angry, resentment, fears about the residential schools and i had no idea where it was going to go. They agreed. So I went forth into the unknown. I silently…and with the intention of maybe they didn’t know better.
    I visualized all what i have read in university about the schools, parts of what my mother told me, parts of what i read in books, pictures, I watched as the sickness grew through the generations of my people. Through my grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, my siblings, everyone single aboriginal person. All my brothers and sisters. how everyone was addicted to something, struggling to live in this world, balancing our life with the outside world and losing the battle of life. Not having a fucking clue on how to even begin a world of healing the unknown. How can you heal a nation of people who don’t know how to even begin to embrace themselves and show love and forgiveness to even themselves let alone to the “WHITE MAN!!” Even the “white man” doesn’t even have the answers even though they threw money our way. How everything in our world was FORBIDDEN and how the government kept making and breaking their sacred word. They have a long history of not being impeccable with their language they so gracefully beat into us. Then ever Canada judging us for no being more like them. Asking us why do we get better treatment? Really; come walk in my shoes for a minute. I am tired of hearing the judgment flying around and you ask me to be the first to forgive? The first to love? God you asking to much from me; man. Let me ask you some questions then…..

    • How important is people’s native tongue to them
    • Can you put a price on that language if you had to what would it be?
    • How important is people’s culture?
    • Can you put a price on the culture if you had to what would it be?
    • How important is your mother or fatherland?
    • Can you put a price on that land what would it be
    • How important is the children of your people to know the history of you
    people?
    • Can you put a price on the knowledge if you had to what would it be?
    • How important is people’s religion or spirituality
    • Can you put a price on that religion and/or spirituality? If you had to what
    would it be?
    • How important is the identify of yourself in your cultural community
    • Can you put a price on your community. If you had to what would it be?
    The residential schools have effect on not only me and my children but has
    had a profound impact on my mother, aunties, uncles grand parents, great-
    grand parents and as far back as residential school came in to effect in
    1877 until the last school was closed in 1996. We are talking about
    generational segregation and Canadians complain we are better treated.
    So I say the government announces 1.9 million compensation of the
    assimilation and degradation of an entire nation so close to extinction. So
    that is why I ask you these questions my fellow sisters and brothers of Canada. How important is it?
    What price if you had to! What would it be?
    If you don’t speak your language
    Don’t know your culture
    Lost your land
    You have nothing to offer your children because it was beat/shamed/ridiculed
    out of your family for generations
    You don’t know your spiritual practices
    You lost your identity and community.
    Then we hear the avalanche of secrets being told around the world which is shaking the very foundations of Canada. What really happened?
    I couldn’t hold back the tears as they burst through me. I cried from the depths of my soul. I kept visualizing all the thoughts, confusion and angry that pent up. I was on my tummy as the beautiful woman placed the palm of her hand on the bottom of my spine and assisted the depth of my grief come forth up and out with every breath I let the toxins go. I gave the Creator all the sickness we all carry. I cried for my mother, my father, my grandparents, my sisters, my brothers. I cried for all my people and for all the people. For all the pain and grief of the wrongs in the world.
    The woman then asked “ your crying is very central and it looks contained in your chest area”. I then, decided to share my grief through my whole being, my arms, my legs, my hair, my cells, my everything. The tears kept rolling down my cheeks into my ears as I cried for everyone on the planet and from every part of my human body. I held a place of love and peace as i grieve for my people and then all people.
    A voice emerged through my mind again and asked me, “Lucianne can you forgive even the ones that did it on purpose” and I scream, “NO!” and I scream, “NO!” which startled the woman who happened to be working on me. The woman working on me asked me, “what happened?” “Why did you scream, NO”
    I told her as i was vigorously and quickly pushing the thought from my mind and shaking my head. I told her, “ I don’t want to say it. I cant say it out loud. Please give me a moment “, because i knew once I said it out loud. I would be willing to forgive even the ones who did it on purpose.
    As I laid on the table; I visualized the whole scene from before again with the intention of people doing on purpose and I again cried from my being. When I was ready, willing and able. I told them what I did and why I was crying. I know hold a space for love and light. I pray and say I love you and forgive you when i hear events or acts that horrify me. I have to because it has to begin with me or else it will never begin the healing of my people and then our world.
    So let it begin with me.
    I love you and forgive you &
    I hold a space of love and light
    Your sister

    Like

  11. R s

    Thank you for your understanding. It does sound very sincere. Basically this is what all survivors and First Nations communities of the residential school system want. An acknowledgment that a genocide was committed by the church and government. First Nations do want to forgive and move on.
    We know that it’s not your fault or your neighbors fault.
    When we have a government and church watering down or denying actual events of genocide commited against our ancestors it re-victimizes the people.
    The U.S and Canada cannot admit to these atrocities, they can’t because it becomes an admission of guilt, a charge that goes up all the way to the U.N. They stand a lot to lose.
    Ever wonder why their not
    members of the World Court?
    I forgive because I must.
    As sincere as your post is there’s people out there that will simply refuse to acknowledge and even brand you an Indian lover. We’re ok with that.
    I myself am married into a Caucasian family and you know what? I love them and they love me. We can have our differences and that’s ok. Like you they did their homework rather than just go with flow and follow haters.

    Like

  12. Kimmberly Ann Ghostkeeper

    Lovely to see insightfulness and understanding from a Shoginosh /Caucasian brother in a world so full of bigotry & ignorance.
    As an intergenerational survivor of the Indian Residential Schooling legacy, G’chi Miigwetch for your empathy.

    Like

  13. Richard Moore

    Not long ago in the this land around here .- Where the valleys are so beautiful the waters crystal clear .- And the people of this land they watched the strangers come – And they reached out with their hands and welcomed everyone .- Some strangers wouldn’t listen for they thought best . we’ll take your kids to school for they’ll have to pass our tests . – They won’t need their culture they must have none like mine.- We’ll give them our religion it might help to change their mind -. The people of this land they learned their lessons well .- Filled up the jail cells for living their old ways . – Emerged from the darkness and said lets join our hands . – We can help keep this our native land . – Not far away a vision I would see where all peoples of this country are living happily. – And we all stand together and watch the strangers come . – And we reach out with our hands and we welcome everyone . All my relations

    Like

  14. Roman

    Very powerful insight from a caucasian perspective!!! Glad to hear such words spoken. Its starts with one person to make a difference. I hope others can come to understand what you have!! 🙂

    Like

  15. Steph

    Wow, I am speechless. I’m mostly proud of you for even wanting to know. Taking the time to learn our silent genocide of our First Nations people’s. May Nata (Creator) bless you and continue to guide you in the right direction. All of Canada needs to know this! Hugs

    Steph Eagletail

    Like

  16. Matt

    Thank you for your willingness to walk alongside us as we seek a new relationship with Canada, one based on equality. Continue to gently educate those around you as to the truth of our shared history. The world will be transformed by individuals doing what you just did with this post. I’m very grateful.

    Like

  17. Rachel

    Thank you. ❤ I have a lot of mixed emotions. I am learning a lot about Residential schools. It was not talked about. I grew up clueless about residential schools. I grew up knowing I am First nations, just me and my mom and my Papa [grandpa] they raised me with love, compassion, respect. As an adult I have learned about our history with Canada. And have let it start with me as well. I can't fix my mom, step-dad, biological father. I can love them just as they are, love them with compassion. I am still in university learning healing, hurting, feeling my feelings as they come out, acknowledge my feelings. I know I am healing myself, and doing the best I can with my four beautiful children, my husband and I created together from our love and respect for each other. I am blessed to be celebrating 21 years with my husband at only age 39 years of age. I am thankful for loving, compassionate, respectful, responsible husband. He has taught me how to be positive and has had so much patience with me on my healing journey. I will continue my healing and my education in the social services field. I just may continue to a Bachelor's or my masters in Social work. That's all I have to say for now. I didn't think I would write so much Lol. Thank you for taking time to read. Hugs. ❤

    Like

  18. nativenurse

    Beautiful blog.

    I am second generation residential school survivor. My parents attended IRS, my grandparents, great grandparents, my eldest sister, aunts and uncles all attended.
    I’m 29 years old and have worked as a nurse for 5 years. I continue to deal with judgements and racism. I have patients who congratulate me and actually shake my hand and tell me they are proud of me. This is a nice gesture on their part but in my mind I feel angry and sad all at once. Why are they so shocked to meet an aboriginal nurse?
    I use to feel lucky that my parents kept me away from the Indian reservation. I felt lucky I wasn’t subjected to the 3rd world living conditions. I felt lucky I didn’t have to hide from my uncle who was molesting my cousins while my parents partied. I felt very lucky when my cousin killed herself because she found out at the age 16 that it was not normal to have sex with your mom’s boyfriend.
    Now at age 29 years old I know longer feel lucky. I feel ashamed that I became exactly what the government wanted. I am assimilated into society. I do not know my culture, I do not speak my language. I do not have close relationships with my relatives that are still alive but are quickly expiring.

    So thank you sharing your kindness and thank you for any big or small changes you make to the turtle island community with your words. Words is one of our strongest tools.
    Also a bit of information for any patients who are victims of racism or neglect in health care in canada. Doctors and nurses are licensed by a colleging body for instance RNs in British Columbia are licensed by CRNBC, LPNs by CLPNBC.working in long term care facilities and hospitals I have seen complaints from patients often brushed aside. You are best to file a complaint directly to the licensing body. They are more likely to follow up.

    Like

  19. auntiethis

    Reblogged this on auntiethis and commented:
    “I will never, as best as I’m able, close myself off to the historical and current truths of Canada’s aboriginal people.

    I will never claim that the TRC is the Healer of healers, and now we can all go home. Much truth is still being hidden by the Canadian government, and many stories are still being silenced.

    I will never say that Canada is a champion for women’s equality as long as aboriginal women and children are still prime targets for abuse, kidnapping, trafficking and dehumanization.

    I will never say that reconciliation must look the same way for everyone, and work on one timeline.”

    Like

  20. Roberta

    I enjoyed your article, it was shared on the CRST members site. However, someone had to come along and say nasty things about our tribe and just ruined the point of your story. Not right at all. But thanks, it was beautifully written and from the heart, if it hadn’t been shared on the group page I probably would’ve never read it. Good job.

    Like

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