As the tragedy of the residential schools and the fate of their victims continues to come to light; hurt and anger are understandable emotions to be feeling. There are many who experience these feelings as more news comes to light, and these feelings then naturally search for someone to blame. We love to blame. Blame lets us feel like we have done something, like our responsibility is met. Now the fault lies with someone else. Blame solves the problem of our feelings, but not the problem of reality.
The reality is that the residential schools were the locations of many crimes, some of them truly horrific. The reality is that the residential schools were a product of a time and thinking very different from our own today. The reality is that much damage was done to the First Nations peoples and that helping the healing that needs to happen requires genuine investment of self in the process. Not based in some vague sense of guilt, but out of compassion for our fellow human beings and a desire to see them flourish. Blame cannot address these realities.
“But what of the institutions?” some say. “What of these great structures of power that caused all the harm.” “What of the Church and the Government?” The simple reality for institutions is this, they are made up of people. People who we now ask to take the blame for actions they had no say in, taken before they were even born. It makes as much sense as jailing a man today for crimes his grandfather committed 70 years ago. Even so, our institutions have responded. The Church has made apology after apology, has even committed to helping First Nation Communities heal, and extended invitations to delegations to meet with the Holy Father and share their pain with him personally, all in the hope of promoting healing.
Yet this seems never to be enough. There is always more need to lay blame. Something within us seems to constantly say “someone must pay”. It is a difficult yet necessary work to change that reaction from “Someone must pay” to “How do we heal?” This is a much more productive question. This requires us to begin to see ourselves as part of the answer. Not simply as being “allies and advocates” but as people genuinely interested in the care and wellbeing of our neighbors, seeking to fulfill their good. In doing this, we achieve real social good.
So, it seems, like with most deep questions, the answer to the problem of “How do we deal with the hurt caused by the Residential Schools” is love. Love of our fellow humans in pain and suffering. Love that urges us to invest our time and selves into the great work of healing and growing. It is love that brings about true justice, the promotion of the best possible good for everyone. Let us treat each other with love, let us forgive, so that we may be free from having to carry anger. Let us be a people less divided. Let us Love.
Fr. Conrad Fernandes