The Way Forward: Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Posted: December 2, 2010

Photo by Rob Schellenberg.

Briercrest students and faculty need to foster forgiveness and reconciliation between Natives and non-Natives in Canada.

On November 16, the 125th anniversary of Louis Riel’s hanging, Briercrest College and Seminary professor Brian Gobbett and First Nations and Metis Coordinator Johannah Bird spoke to hundreds of college students concerning the role they need to play in order to work toward forgiveness and reconciliation between Natives and non-Natives in Canada.

Gobbett estimated that from 1885 to 1996, over 150,000 Aboriginal and Metis people suffered in Canada’s residential schools. These schools were commissioned by Canada’s federal government, but operated by many churches, including Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian.

It is ignorant to suggest that the mistreatment of Canada’s First Nations is no longer valid simply because it happened years ago, Bird said. The pain inflicted by this disastrous system is “generational pain,” extending “from parents, fathers and mothers, to their children and to their grandchildren.” The schools may have closed but Bird said the pain continues “for years long after the schools disappeared.”

Recently some important first steps have been made toward reconciliation. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologized to Canada’s First Nations on behalf of the federal government for the pain and suffering endured by so many in the hands of Canada’s residential schools. In response, the First Peoples of Canada affirmed Harper’s apology two years later by holding a three-day “National Forgiveness Summit” in Ottawa.

Though Briercrest was not directly involved in the residential school system, Gobbett told the students that Aboriginal students were not always treated with respect throughout the school’s history. For this injustice, a few years ago Gobbett offered an official apology on behalf of the institution to a gathering of First Nations leaders at a round-table. He recognizes this act as “part of my journey and . . . part of our journey as a school, too.” It is “one tiny step” in a long healing process that only begins with apology.

Photo by Rob Schellenberg.

These are signs that “healing is taking place in our land and among our people,” Bird declared.

So where do we go from here? Bird offers this simple but profound direction: “Soften your heart. Learn to embrace suffering. Be attentive and listen.”

Bird encourages everyone to be willing to apologize for their predecessors’ role in the traumas suffered. It is important to approach and serve one another in humility, while acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace. This is what it means to love your neighbour.

The full addresses of both Gobbett and Bird are available on