By Katelyn Stamler
Reconciliation has always felt like a heavy word to me.
I was first introduced to the concept in university. As a student in the education program at the U of R, we were presented with the topic early and often. I still remember the horrible feeling in my stomach as I sat through my first ECS 100 lecture. There was a guest speaker that night and she came in to talk about reconciliation with Indigenous people. The entire point of her lecture seemed to be that as white Canadians we were responsible for the atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples of the past and present. And that as teachers we would have no chance of connecting positively with Indigenous youth unless we acknowledge our role in the ongoing negative effects of the colonial system. I left the lecture feeling helpless, attacked, and questioning whether I had chosen the right path.
I had never been faced with my own social position before. Growing up, I had friends and family who were from a diverse mixture of cultures and backgrounds. I was raised to respect and be kind to people regardless of their race, religion, or position in society. So to sit in that big lecture hall and be told that I had no choice in whether I was a part of an oppressive system felt uncomfortable and it made me angry.
Throughout the rest of my degree, we talked about reconciliation continuously. We were told over and over again that as educators it was our job to be facilitators of reconciliation in our schools. To stand up for reconciliation. To infuse reconciliation into our classrooms no matter what subject we taught. I sat through lectures where I felt attacked, hurt, and discouraged by the message that we were responsible for the wrongs that were committed in the past and we now had to go out and fix it.
Reconciliation was a challenge.
Reconciliation was hard.
Reconciliation was something forced on me and then onto my students.
Reconciliation was something I was expected to teach.
As I graduated and headed out to my first job, I carried all the messages about the importance of reconciliation with me. Armed with information about the horrors of residential schools, the 60s scoop, and the ongoing injustices faced by indigenous people in our country I headed out into my new career. Instead of going out enthusiastically and embracing this important work, I dragged my feet and sighed under the weight of the responsibility. I felt frustrated, helpless, and underprepared for the job that lay ahead of me.
As I sat at our annual teachers’ convention this fall, I was dreading the afternoon session. The keynote was about Reconciliation in the Classroom and I was fully prepared for another lecture on how we needed to do more. I settled in and my defensive walls went up.
As the speaker, an Indigenous man in this mid-30s stepped out on stage, the room grew quiet. He began by providing some background on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 Calls to Action that have come about as a result of the testimonies shared by victims of the residential school system. It was all the information that had been covered numerous times throughout my schooling and I started to zone out. But then he said something that I will never forget.
“You didn’t create the problems we are seeing today but you have the gift of being a part of the solution”.
With that, all of my defensive and skeptical walls came crashing down.
No one had ever framed it for me as a gift before. Reconciliation had always been presented as something to slog through, to fight for, our duty. Reconciliation was a sword we were meant to carry into our worlds and battle against oppression, bigotry, and racism. It was exhausting. But to be asked to accept the gift of reconciliation was entirely different. As I sat there, I no longer felt like there was a choice. Of course, I wanted to be part of the solution. This was the first time I understood the beauty of what reconciliation could be, instead of dwelling on the guilty load. I didn’t create the problems, but I did have a chance to do something good going forward.
I still have a long way to go with working through what reconciliation means for my personal and professional life. But I now look at that road with hope, instead of dread and despair.
As women of God, we have all been given a similar gift to pass on to those around us. We have been called to follow Jesus’ example and fight for justice in our daily lives. To speak up. To listen. To help. To learn. To come alongside. And to take action. To choose to be part of the solution.
“Through the heartfelt mercies of our God. God’s sunrise will break upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time down the path of peace”. Luke 1:79 MSG