Mutual respect opens doors to racial healing
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 25, 2005
Last week's column told the story of apology and forgiveness in the life
of Bill McLean, elder and former chief of the Bearspaw Band of the Stoney
Nakoda First Nation, and now an ambassador for healing in a fractured
I wish you could read all the thoughtful responses I received. One coffee
companion even said she cried when she read the column.
What I've decided to do instead is quote from one response in particular.
It's from Annette Johnston, originally from Australia and now doing her
part here in the Bow Valley to improve relations between Aboriginal and
As I mentioned last week, Canada's May 26 National Day of Healing and
Reconciliation was inspired by Australia's Sorry Day. It is out of Annette's
concern for healing between Australia's Aboriginal peoples and the wider
community there that she developed an interest in the Canadian scene.
Since relocating to our area four years ago, she has met regularly with
Stoney elders. She credits them with teaching her about principles of
reconciliation on our own shores. Here is some of what she wrote:
TO ME, THE ELDERS exemplify the values we will need in order to succeed
in this healing journey: patience, deep listening, humility, thankfulness,
humor, reciprocity, acceptance, discernment, resilience, truth and compassion.
They have well-developed knowledge and skills, framed in spiritual terms
and the imagery of nature, and are acutely aware of any disharmony or
imbalance in community. They recognize their part in their situation
and yet can "find the gifts in what feels like disaster."
I think we could negotiate many of our difficulties by looking to
the sustaining guidance of elders and our own heart knowledge.
Why are we in Australia and Canada still struggling with this relationship?
Reacting to the present as if it were the past? Allowing any contact
to remind us of past hurts? If we are "to reconcile," to be
friends, we must move beyond this struggle, as Bill McLean did in your
Hopefully we have learned that the way out is not by control, separation,
denial, confrontation or "special treatment." So too, that
a heightened sense of fear, guilt or vulnerability only succeeds in
rendering us incapable of sound judgment.
We will need to shift from thoughts of welfare and the resulting obligatory
dependence, to ones of mutual relationship and reciprocity, ensuring
that the Native voice is regularly heard, included and acted upon. We
will need to shift from harmful attitudes of superiority to recognition
of each culture's strengths and contributions.
As Bill McLean experienced, the true friendships are the ones that
challenge us to grow through conflict, to forgiveness and renewal.
Our task is to remove the barriers to healing and reconciliation we
have set up, and permit our Native neighbors to once again be our guides
and touch our lives in a transforming way. To recognize their unique
skills takes nothing away from our own identity. We need to resist every
thought that does not foster true friendship.
We can transform a tragic story into one of shared purpose and good
relationship. We cannot change our past experiences, but we can choose
to change our response to them, so that our future relationship does
not become an extension of the past. We can choose to focus on our potential,
rather than on our limitations and failings.
Despite all that has happened, we need to find the humility and courage
to face each other again with honesty, and to walk forward together.
Annette Johnston, Cochrane
A FURTHER NOTE on Annette's background: "I am the daughter of Hungarian
Jewish parents who immigrated to Australia during the Nazi regime, after
many in the family were murdered," she wrote. Her grandfather, a
Holocaust survivor, is her role model for forgiveness and reconciliation.
"It is thanks to his influence and teachings," she said, "that
I have never hated Germans."
© 2005 Warren Harbeck
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