Forging a Path: Talk 1

Like many Canadians, when I first heard the news that the bodies of 215 children were discovered buried under a residential school in Kamloops, my reaction was one of horror at what is simply a dehumanizing act.

As a Christian, my follow-up reaction focused on the fact that this was a church-run school. I reacted with horror that, again, a Christian organization is implicated in behaving so “un-christianly.”

My reaction moved to shame, then to distancing and blame (this isn’t my church), to worry over witness to the gospel, and finally, back to horror over this dehumanizing discovery and sorrow for the people it has so deeply affected.

Professionally, as the president of a Christian college, I felt I ought to make some sort of public statement. But what could I say, really, of any significance? What right had I to say anything? The problem is that the news of this discovery isn’t really new; Indigenous peoples have been speaking about the horrors of the residential school system for decades.

Personally, I was left with the reality that this is just sick and wrong, no matter who is to blame. But I was left also feeling helpless – I just don’t know what to do about it. 

As with so much else in our highly polarized age, this discovery has elicited extreme responses.  

On one end of the spectrum, this feeds a currently popular narrative to reduce all injustice to racial motivation, with whiteness as the constant antagonist. Buzzwords such as “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” “wokeness,” “cancel culture,” and “white privilege” are loudly proclaimed or denounced on social media, typically in one-way diatribes that demonstrate little interest in listening to others or practicing civil discourse.  

I think there is value in parsing out some of these concepts and reactions to them, but not right now. Right now there is little social patience for nuance, and to speak on these subjects now would be just to contribute noise to the current cacophony.

This is just sick and wrong, no matter who is to blame.
I just don’t know what to do about it.

Credit Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

At the other end of the spectrum are those who fix on playing the blame game, being mostly concerned with exonerating or distancing themselves from this discovery by claiming that this isn’t their doing or their church, and therefore not their responsibility. Those at this end of the spectrum typically emphasize that they are not racists but instead are “colour blind.”  Which, taken charitably at its intent, is meant to be a positive affirmation. But it naively misses the reality that we cannot help but see differences in this world, and that sometimes acknowledging those differences is important. Less charitably are those who want to deny the harshness of this reality, expressing that bad things have happened in the past but it’s time to move on and get with the present (as though present actions and attitudes are somehow disconnected from past ones.) Some also insist they don’t want to see any more of their tax dollars spent on these investigations.

But besides these polar ends of the spectrum, there are many others – the majority, I think – who are simply horrified by this discovery and the gross inhumanity it represents, but who just don’t know what to do about it. In part because any action or response can be interpreted as endorsing one or the other vocal minority.  

We need a third way, a middle path to walk upon that allows us to grieve with those who grieve without succumbing to the pressures of associating with a polar minority that seeks to control our responses. But how do we forge this middle path? For that, I think, we need guides to guide us. Happily, I know two such guides who understand both the Christian world view and the realities facing Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

 

We need a third way.

Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing a series of blog posts and videos or podcasts featuring two Horizon alumni: brothers, Andrew and Jimmy Thunder.  

Andrew and Jimmy are Oji-Cree from Sachigo Lake Ontario. Both live in Winnipeg, working to bring reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. 

We invite you to watch or listen to my interview with Andrew and Jimmy as we talk about first steps on how to respond to the Kamloops discovery. 

Additionally, we invite you to send us questions as you navigate your own response to the discovery. Because we aren’t interested in promoting more polarizing discussion (there are plenty of places for that already), we have chosen not to open this blog up for public comment. Instead, we offer a dedicated email to receive your questions. We will address some of those answers in future blogs and interviews. Please email 215_Questions@horizon.edu.

In the weeks ahead, we will release additional resources (horizon.edu/215children) to continue our journey on what is hopefully a more constructive (rather than polarizing) third-path response, not only to the incident at Kamloops, but the long history of what that incident represents.  

Thank you and God bless!

 

Jeromey Martini, President

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