A version of this article was first published with Light Magazine.

When the news came to the world about the cemetery in Kamloops Residential School, it was no surprise to me as an Indigenous person. This reaction was not because I’m cynical and think the worst of people, but because it’s common knowledge amongst our people and residential school survivor stories and testimonies that this was the case. 

In general, the overall 500-year history of colonialism in Canada is filled with many things that are beyond the scope of this article. Just like referring to all the atrocities in Rwanda, Nazi Germany and Cambodia are beyond the scope of any single article or column. 

A believer in Jesus and an Indigenous man, I am from the generation of the “Sixties Scoop.” My parents, uncles and aunts came from the residential school generation. I have many non-Indigenous family and friends. I have no ill will towards any people in Canada or Europe. The love of Jesus has transformed my life, and so there is no issue, no part of history that will separate me from the love of God, nothing that will separate me from forgiveness, mercy and grace. 

When this news hit the media, it did remind me of the many unfortunate events that have taken place in Canada. This news does have the potential to cause more strife between the Indigenous community and the non-Indigenous community in Canada. Yet, it also has the potential to open up more dialogue about what true reconciliation looks like. Not just reconciliation for future generations. But what does that process look like right now?

Discovering a mass grave site in Kamloops is sure to lead to more discoveries across Canada, and it is a reminder of great trauma for many Indigenous people. The closer they are to the generation that went to residential school, the more intense the intergenerational trauma is. Many Indigenous people have experienced intergenerational trauma, and the subject matter is very complex.

Yet, with Jesus in our lives, the more we can experience forgiveness and the ability to move on. For many Indigenous people, the residential school system is one of the largest markers in history that reminds us of the last 500 years of a dominating, traumatic, and complicated history. I have experienced the forgiveness that only comes from Jesus, but many of my people have not. That’s the tragedy and dilemma.  

The best way to move forward is to listen to each other. Not just with a polite, “Ok yes; is that right?” Rather, we must learn to listen to each other, seeing the other person as made in the image of God. This is easier said than done, but it is a theological truth that applies to every person on the face of this earth. Conversations and interactions that take place with this in mind will be more fruitful and productive.

A friend of mine reminded me today of the terms “truth” and “reconciliation,” terms that have become a common go-to phrase. He reminded me that it’s not only truth and reconciliation; as followers of Jesus, we must also include forgiveness. How Indigenous people live out forgiveness and how non-Indigenous people develop better listening skills is something that is totally dependent on each individual.  

When some people heard the news of the cemetery at the Kamloops Residential School, they might have been totally shocked and in disbelief, and not sure how to process their emotions. Others, like myself, were neither shocked nor surprised. Yet, I still had to make a choice as to how to react to this event within our Canadian history. I chose to acknowledge the truth of the situation, but to then press into Jesus as the author and finisher of my faith. I won’t allow this discovery to take away my joy and the ministry God has given me.

Although this is how I’ve reacted to this news, it does have the potential of fracturing relationships between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. At the same time, so do topics such as gender equality, wearing masks, getting the vaccine, or whether to change the name of the Edmonton football club. We all have a choice to make in how we respond to any injustices or suffering in our lives. Jesus knew the ultimate extent of what it meant to suffer, yet on the cross he said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This is how I have chosen to react. Now the choice is up to you.

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About the Author

Parry Stelter

Parry Stelter is an Indigenous member of Alexander First Nation that is part of Treaty Six Territory. He’s a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Stony Plain, AB. He’s the founder of Word of Hope Ministries and Doctoral Candidate in Contextual Leadership through Providence Seminary and University. Visit his website at wordofhopeministries.ca.

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