Today is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. It’s officially been declared a “federal holiday,” but if/how provinces and private businesses observe it is uneven and inconsistent. Some people get a holiday, some don’t. I’m at work for at least part of today doing the usual things, preparing for Sunday, getting ready for a meeting, taking care of some admin details. Today is also Orange Shirt Day, an informal awareness day that preceded the NDTR (two days for the price of one!). Again, some wear orange, some don’t. Like everything else in our world, if and how we observe these things is relentlessly moralized and politicized and polarized.
I’ve written extensively about indigenous issues here over the years. I’ve written with my “pastor/theologian” hat on as well as my “father” hat on. You can have a look at the archive here, if you’re interested. As you likely know if you’ve read me for any length of time, my interests go beyond those of a concerned citizen or a Christian. My young adult children are indigenous. So for me, questions about trauma and healing and forgiveness and reconciliation have never been abstractions. They have always been intensely personal.
A while back, someone wrote in response to something I had written about these matters. They asked me how my family’s situation affected the way I processed the national conversation about truth and reconciliation. In the absence of having anything new or substantive to say on this second annual NDTR, I thought it might be useful or interesting to some if I posted my response here.
What I would say first is that our family is just that. Our family. It is the four people of varying ethnic makeups and dispositions and whatever else whom God has brought together and called to love each other. Are there challenges? Sure. All families have challenges, but there are certainly unique ones that come along with, say, being a white Christian dad with indigenous kids. It is looked at suspiciously by many, as you can well imagine. We have always tried to be open and honest with our kids about their identity with all its complexity, and about Christianity’s dark chapters. We have tried to model curiosity, openness, and a willingness to ask hard questions. I hope we have done it well, or at the very least that we haven’t given them too much to recover from or unlearn.
I would say that in general, my kids are not as interested in some of the issues dominating the headlines these days as many would like them to be or in the way many would like them to be. That’s not to say they aren’t on their radar. They are. But it has not provoked an identity crisis or anything like that. They seem to feel quite free to say, “Yeah, I get it, it sucks” without feeling the need to go to war over it online or wherever else. We have always tried to ground our kids’ identity as we ground our own. Child of God first. Ojibway, Mennonite, Japanese Canadian, etc second (or third or fourth…). I hope and pray that this is the trajectory that they and we stay on.
I do not have this same hope for our nation. I fear that we will grind along idolizing and fetishizing identity markers in the vacuum of meaning that has been created by our abandonment of other larger meta-narratives. At some point, I suspect this narrative will run out of steam or collapse into incoherence. I hope sooner than later. But I am not confident that whatever ends up replacing it will be any better. We humans have always been determined and inventive idolaters.
It may not be a particularly unique or insightful response. But it’s my response. It’s the story of our family. It’s how we’ve negotiated things together. It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve certainly made our share of mistakes. Many people would probably critique it. I know some people feel that we haven’t done enough as parents to promote our kids’ indigenous culture, that our kids aren’t engaged enough in (the right kinds of) activism. Indigenous identity has not been the dominant rallying cry of our family and for some people this is inexcusable. So it goes.
But perhaps this is among the lessons to be drawn, on this second annual NDTR. Reconciliation isn’t a one size fits all approach. It’s not just orange shirts and sad stories and hashtags and land acknowledgements and feathers and beads and guilt and apologies. It’s also electronic dance music and sushi and singing songs in a little church and serving in the armed forces and normal teenage drama and hurt feelings and annual Lord of the Rings marathons and walking the dogs and misunderstanding and saying sorry and extending mercy and trying to find your place in the world. Sometimes it’s getting tired of the conversation or at least the way we’re told it should happen.
But fundamentally it’s about stories. It’s about unique human beings (not just identity markers) and how God has made, gifted, and called us individually. It’s about choosing to celebrate the good instead of just focusing on the bad. It’s about complicated relationships and open futures. It’s about trying to learn how to love well across sometimes profound difference. It’s not easy and it might take a long time. Real reconciliation isn’t easy or marketable. It probably takes place far away from all our moralizing and politicizing. But I have to believe it’s worth the effort.
My daughter drew the image above of an Ojibway Thunderbird for me when she was a teenager. She said we should get matching tattoos. So far, I’ve been too much of a coward.
Waiting to see that thunderbird tattoo, Ryan !
Dude get the tatoo!!!!
Maybe some day 🙂
Well written again! You are however one of the fortunate to have children who affirm the faith and lifestyle of mom and dad. When that is not the storyline there are more desperate (despairing?) dramas more close to the rallying cries you decry. Either you are a good parent or God has given you an easy row to hoe!
Well, things are not quite as straightforward or easy in our story as you seem to assume here, but thank you for the kind words.
Like you, we have been adoptive parents to a child with indigenous ancestry, in our case as part of what’s pejoratively called the Sixties Scoop now. We learned first-hand how heavy reconciliation can be for at least one cross-cultural adoptee and her adopting parents. It must be even more strenuous psychologically, emotionally in this time when the public discourse on “truth and reconciliation” is ubiquitous. Did we through Social Services seize an opportunity to expropriate a First Nations child? Was our home a logical extension of the Residential School and its cultural white-washing program? or is it just inevitable that in an apartheid world, even actions borne of noble (or at least, humanitarian) intentions can be labelled crimes? One thing Ive learned the hard way is that there are some truths that must not be told so that a contemporary, core themes can thrive.
I know well of some of what you speak here, George. There are definitely “truths that must not be told so that a contemporary, core themes can thrive.” I worry about a culture where this is true in so many ways and in response to so many issues.
Thanks for this window into your story.
Moral pronouncements in a moral vacuum, such a conundrum. But do get the tattoo (what’s so scary about it?). You’ve given your children the greatest gift, a loving home.
(Honestly the main scary thing is becoming a middle-aged cliche. There is so much bad ink out there these days!)
Hey Ryan. I can never see the photos in your articles. Any idea why. I would like to see your daughters thunderbird.
Thanks maybe you could text it to me.
Will do, Darcee.
(I have no idea why the images from posts aren’t showing up on your end, sorry!)