Summary remarks by Commissioner Marie Wilson at the Hobbema AB community hearing, July 24 2013
(Note from KAIROS: Many thanks to Theresa Wynn of Edmonton for passing these notes on to us. We’re posting them here because many people ask us what it’s like to be at a hearing, and these will give you a sense of the kind of courageous stories always shared at these hearings. Of course the best way to find out is to attend one, or watch the live stream video! We hope you’ll consider doing just that in the nine months left in the TRC’s public mandate. Hearings are now on a break until the national event in British Columbia September 18-21, though archived video is always available.
At least one of the three Commissioners is always present at a community hearing or national event, acting as a witness and convener. Here you’ll read the day’s summary by Commissioner Marie Wilson from the July 24 hearings in Hobbema, AB.)
We started off this morning with a very beautiful image actually which Flora painted for us. She said, ‘I used to wake up to sound of the drum with my grandfather – there was a lot of harmony.”
And from there we were taken other places. And the places that you described for us talked of punishments of various sorts- often for reasons that you did not know or understand. Strappings of various sorts, some of which should not be called strappings at all but whippings and floggings. We heard a lot today about imprisonment. Life being like in prison, and life being actually imprisonment with locked doors, locked spaces, isolation, withholding of food. Things that we think of as negative, very negative descriptions of imprisonment.
And we heard the word hate several times today. But you know we heard a lot about bullying as well…and we heard that (this is a) very hard thing to speak and I really want to honour the courage of those who spoke it: The hardships that were experienced at the hands of other students. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to speak of all because we know that many of those former classmates are still living together in communities and have had to find ways to accommodate their lives together in communities, after going through difficult things together in the schools.
But here’s what we did not hear. Not once today, not once in any hearing, have I ever, heard, “healing is a moment”. We heard healing is a journey. That it takes a long time. And that it is hard. And that it will require the patience of those who are doing the healing and those that are just learning about it and who are impatient for it all to be over with.
Not once today nor in any other gathering have I heard these words: “forgiveness is impossible”. I heard today, “forgiveness is possible but it’s really, really hard. Forgiveness is possible and I have forgiven”. Or “Forgiveness is possible, I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.” And I did not hear today, and I have never heard in any hearing I have ever been, “It’s hopeless”. I heard examples of hope and I heard the words, “I have hope” and I heard people describing things that give others hope because they told of either their own transformation or the transformation of family members. In one extreme example we heard this morning that made it possible for a father to be one way with older children and a different and better way with younger children because there is hope that things can change and transform. We have seen the evidence of that having happened and we heard some of that today.
We heard many examples today of resistance. Whether it is the courageous resistance of a little person saying, “You will not cut my hair”. And grabbing scissors and saying “I am old enough to take care of my own hair” and refusing successfully, a haircut. We heard the resistance of someone who said, I was going to school to get a BA and when I learned what was being taught, I decided to change my career path and become a teacher. That’s an expression of resistance and resilience.
We heard a story of reclaiming the very school grounds that were here. Resisting the constant haunting of a school that made people remember bad memories and saying we will reclaim that and reshape that and decide what education will be like in our community. And we heard the resistance of a young person who grew up in silence, not allowed to speak, who through her own career choices, is now functioning, at an award winning level by the way. I know that from separate conversations, but at an award winning level, as a professional communicator. These are incredible stories of resistance and resilience and reclaiming of one’s life and of what is possible.
We heard a great deal about forgiveness and the forgiveness that’s possible and I’ve already touched on that.
We heard a lot about grandmothers today. It was a recurring theme. Grandmothers who were teachers. Grandmothers who were protectors. Grandmothers who could be strangers to their own daughters. And grandmothers who are sitting right here with us right now. We heard about all of those things today as well.
We heard a great deal about alcoholism and drug addiction and dependency, but what we heard about more than the stories of that, which no doubt were very difficult, we heard about sobriety and being on healing journeys for years at a time and become as being possible as a result of that. We heard many times over: “I thought I was the only one”, but more importantly: “once we started talking I realised I was not alone”. And we heard that again in one of our speakers this afternoon.
What we heard about most importantly of all is about love. We heard someone say, early this morning, “I’ve never been able to tell anyone that I love them, but I want to tell all of you, I love you. We heard of a daughter who made it her intention to teach her father how to say: “I love you”. And who encouraged him, once he had said it once, to say it again, to the point we were all drawn to laughter and the sisters who said “what’s wrong with that”!
Do you remember that moment? “I love you, my girl”. What powerful words. And I made the observation, and perhaps you did too, that every time the word love was described or uttered today, there were tears, it drew tears. “I love this community”, was a tearful moment spoken from the depths of someone’s care for, of course, all of you, because what is community, if not all of you. And we heard in our very last presentation today, ‘Grannie, I love you”. A grannie who is not even on this earth anymore but who is still held close and who is still loved.
So, it’s been a very beautiful day, and a very uplifting day. I would like to leave you with some of your own strong words:
“The journey for me has been rewarding”. “I don’t cry as much as I did”. “I’m glad I was able to take this journey”. “Everyday is a new beginning for me”. Everyday I am grateful to be alive”. “It hasn’t been easy but it’s been a lot better”. “I thank my grandfather for planting deep roots in me. Teaching me about my language, and our culture and about being kind. I know from my grandfather’s teachings to forgive these people for what they have done to hurt us”.
“We don’t have to earn a place beside God. It sits within our hearts. We just have to let it be”. “My first life was a gift from the Creator. My second life, my sober life, is my gift to the Creator”.
“It’s beautiful to have my grandkids with me. I hope they never have to go through anything like this”. “I was not a perfect parent but I do not believe there are any perfect parents. But I do believe that the heart of our people is strong”. “If I can sit here it shows that the resiliency of our people is strong. I believe that our people will rise up again. Let’s rise up together to help each other. Let’s rise together and come together”. “Spirituality is powerful. We should use that. It will help us”.
One of the last gifts we received of the day was a beautiful song and I know we are all grateful for that. I appreciate what you said about the words because it would have been more profound for people like me, who speak some languages, but not your language, and so I thank you for offering that to us and honouring us with the use of your language and claiming it in the strong way that you did. But in addition to song we had an invitation to dance …because as you know there’s a talent show tonight and with the song being offered and the comment about dance, who knows what could happen tonight. Someone said, “We may not dance the same dance we dance, but we do dance too!”.
So with great thanks for the love, and the laughter, and the tears that we’ve shared today from our hearts. It’s been a very beautiful day. I thank you for your tremendous contributions. It’s been an honour to preside today.