News Story

Embracing Reconciliation

One year ago the Canadian government released the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations — 94 “calls to action.” These calls to action were the result of six years of dialogue, the involvement of three commissioners and the collection of over 6,750 stories from residential school survivors and witnesses.

A free public lecture titled “Embracing Reconciliation” was held on September 20, 2016, at McGill University’s Birks Heritage Chapel to help Canadians understand how they might participate in these calls to action. The event was cosponsored by McGill’s Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR) and the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Guest speakers included Kanehsatake Elder John Cree; professor John Borrows, University of Victoria faculty of law and Canada Research Chair in indigenous law; and professor Rebecca Johnson, University of Victoria faculty of law and academic associate of the Indigenous Law Research Unit.

Participants were introduced to the history of the TRC and learned how its recommendations may be meaningfully implemented in their personal and family lives and in their communities.

Elder Cree opened and closed the event with traditional Mohawk ceremonies. Speaking of the TRC and reconciliation, he said that during the TRC hearings “there were a lot of questions; some of them were hard to answer. We have to sit down (together) and think about it. The answers are in all of us.”

On the work of reconciliation, Elder Cree encouraged participants “to respect everyone and be respected in turn.”

A lecture attendee, Mary-Lynne Courteau, said she felt her spirit bond with the First Nation leader’s when he shared forgiving words.

Professor Borrows, a member of the Church, is Anishinabe/Ojibway and said his own grandmother suffered much pain because of the residential schools. He told the audience “the ‘calls to action’ are here to bring us back on the righteous track toward the Great Spirit” and spoke of how individuals and religious communities could engage in reconciliation and outreach efforts. “Hands are pulling us from one generation to the next generation,” he said. “Let us find ways to link arms together to live the best of both worlds.”

Catherine Jarvis, co-director of public affairs for the Church in Montreal/Ottawa, said the event was an important opportunity for her personally, for the LDS community and for other religious communities to consider what it means to embrace reconciliation. She was touched by Borrows’ story of how his own family, linked across generations, had been shaped by goodness and beauty but also by the darkness caused by the residential school program.

“It was a beautiful metaphor for our own need to link arms with First Nations people,” said Jarvis, “to share what is beautiful in their culture while offering our support as they bear the burden of grief caused by the past.”

“Every Canadian should read and remember the ‘calls to action’ and keep in our hearts what we want to change,” said Professor Johnson. “The people of Canada — all of us — are affected by the history of residential schools and colonization. We have to begin where we are without judgment.”

Another attendee, Catherine Benson, commented, “I came away with some concrete things that I can do to meet the calls to action. It made me more aware of the issues around the TRC and helped me feel empowered to act and to see things differently.”

Borrows believes “indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination in spiritual matters, including the right to practice, develop and teach their own spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies.”

For nearly 200 years Mormon leaders have taught the importance of religious freedom for everyone, as stated in the Church’s eleventh article of faith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

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