One of the great satisfactions about having grandchildren visit us here this year over the Christmas holidays was the opportunity to share our holiday heritage: memories of Christmases past, songs, stories about our Christmas tree ornaments, visits from fairies to our backyard fairie house, and all our various decorations such as the animals in the creche scene that included the tiny loon feather nest awaiting the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas morning. Much of what we were passing on had generational significance, our heritage, and it gave us such pleasure to hold and tell these memories for ourselves as well as to share them with the children and their parents
We had two sets of grandkids, a week at a time. First the teens at 14 and 17, followed by the younger children at 3 and 7. The younger ones, of course, were mostly captivated by the magic of it all - the lights, the presents, the dress ups and just being totally immersed in it all. But the older ones were truly interested especially in our stories and reminiscences about our own childhood Christmases as well as our memories of Christmases for them when they were young. Perhaps many of you also had similar experiences.
But the day or so after everyone had left and the house quieted, and I was only half awake one early morning, I was reflecting how deeply fortunate I am to have had such a fulfilling intergenerational holiday, Suddenly, out of some part of my subconscious, I had a powerful, visceral contrasting with another reality, namely my sudden awareness of all the First Nation children who were taken, most often forcibly, from their homes and family and sent to boarding schools where they were deprived of the kind of lineal sharing that I had just shared with my grandchildren.
Although I had read about the “Indian schools” and seen pictures, suddenly the travesty of what we had done to those children and their families struck me quite hard and personally. Even though I had been personally present when First Nation people told their personal stories about what it meant to be taken from your family and often ruthlessly made to transform into another culture, another language, another whole pattern of generational life, and most importantly, forced to forget your native language which meant you were no longer able to communicate with your grandparents. The reality of what had been imposed on those innocent children became even more personal to me as I considered how important it was for me to have shared my heritage and stories with our own grandchildren. In deep sorrow and regret I just kept repeating, "Good, Lord, what have we ever done!?” I still find that an important and haunting question.
Although it will never be possible to right the damage done to all those children - more than I can probably even imagine - I am aware of significant truth and reconciliation efforts and intentions of some level of compensation. I was impressed and encouraged, for example, when I watched the video of a ceremony last year where Pope Francis came to an event hosted by various tribes to offer a formal apology for the involvement of Catholic leadership’s sponsorship of many of the the Indian schools, and to begin a process of compensation, but other religious groups, including my own Quaker tradition, were also involved, and all who sponsored the schools need to recognize some level of responsibility and complicity.
The impetus for the Indian schools, of course, was raw and cruel racism. That any culture - in our case largely the European white Christian churches - would ever assume such unaccountable superiority and chauvinism is the primary source of our racism that then allows us to so grossly mistreat those we have deemed inferior. We can now assess the impact of racism so clearly in terms of the establishment of the Indian schools, but the work of anti-racism is that we all - myself included, of course, - recognize the prejudice of all our racism as it continues to haunt us and and move us, probably often unaware, to demean and mistreat others.
The truth and reconciliation process begins with being able to dig deep enough in our hearts and souls to recognize the often incriminating and embarrassing truth of our harmful racist policies and behavior. But as we do that we experience the freedom that truth ultimately offers, and this effort is so very basic in the liberating practice of nonviolence.
Reflecting on our treatment of the Indian children is sobering, especially in contrast to my opportunity to share my holiday stories and heritage with my own grandkids. I need always to be aware how precious and fortunate it is to be a grandparent elder and to be present to them enough that they in turn will have their own stories to share in some distant future.
Peace and good will to each of you,