Diversitas plants seed of hope for reconciliation

Reconciliation still has a long way to go in Canada, and itÕs a process that DiversitasÕ latest speaker Wab Kinew believes is better undertaken together. (LAUREN MACGILL/Morden Times)

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Reconciliation still has a long way to go in Canada, and it’s a process that Diversitas’ latest speaker Wab Kinew believes is better undertaken together.
The latest event in the popular speaker series left a few without seats as people packed into the Aquasaur Theatre at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre on October 29 to hear Kinew share his story.
Kinew began his media career at CBC, and is an award-winning recording artist, was Associate Vice-President for Indigenous Relations at The University of Winnipeg from 2014 to 2016 and is an Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, along with being the leader of the Manitoba NDP party.
His bestselling book, The Reason You Walk, tells the story of Kinew’s life and that of his father, Tobasonakwut, who was sent to residential schools and experienced horrible abuse before dedicating his life to reconciliation and becoming a respected elder.
Kinew said the trauma Tobasonakwut experienced at the residential school coloured a lot of his outlook on life. “The trauma of being abused and the trauma of being separated from parents, those things are probably very visible in terms of imagining how things played out,” he said. “What about the impact on your faith when you are in a religious institution and you’re being taught to pray and then on one hand the representatives of God are the ones who are in some cases doing you harm. That must have an impact on your faith.”
“You’re participating in a faith that’s telling you to praise a God and believe in a God, and yet in nearly the same breath is also telling you that you are less than the other creations,” he added. “As an indigenous person, you are not as equal as some of the other folks. That would have an indelible imprint.”
Many people want to think of the people who worked at residential schools as monsters, but Kinew said that is not the truth. As an Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Kinew said he has spoken with many nurses and teachers who worked at the schools.
“The more difficult and challenging and more truthful answer is that somehow good people just like you and I sitting here today… could somehow be involved in a system which at the macro level is wrong and causes a lot of damage,” he said.
Tobasonakwut went on to form a strong friendship with Archbishop James Weisgerber from Winnipeg, and the two eventually adopted each other as family in a traditional ceremony.
Kinew said he doesn’t share his family’s experience because he wants to vent. “I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to reflect on it and see how there’s some experiences in my dad’s journey that might be able to help create some bridges and help people understand, both the indigenous community but also the rest of the country,” he said. “My dad went from in the early years experiencing the worst of this country’s history to later in life embodying the best of our moral character.”
“We all want to get better over the course of our time here on Earth,” he added. “I figure sharing part of his story of how he did that might help people understand a bit more about what reconciliation is all about.”
Kinew said exchanging stories and making it a more personal issue can work better than just debating theory. “I think… making it personal and helping people feel the emotion and the spirit of what reconciliation is all about is going to be the more important way to pursue it in the long run,” he said.
Kinew said events like Diversitas where he can receive questions from people and converse with them is important. “The same way with politics you’re trying to bring people along with you… the same thing with reconciliation,” he said. “It’s not about imposing an idea or imposing a direction on this country, it’s about bringing people into this conversation and hopefully we can share that journey together.”
Ultimately, Kinew said he hopes people understand that we’re all in this together. “Not just as Manitobans, not just as Canadians, but also as human beings,” he said. “We’re all invested in one another’s future and if one of our fellow people is poor, we’re all worse off.”
Kinew said he hopes his father’s story of friendship with Weisgerber to heart. “What I’d hope people take from that story is that we’ve let these categories and definitions, whether it’s on race or faith or class, divide us. Really, they were brothers the whole time. If those dividers hadn’t have been there, maybe both of their lives would have been better for it.”
“Hopefully [I’m] planting that seed with people here tonight,” he added. “They can reflect on it, think, ‘What sort of things are preventing me from building a better relationship with my neighbour?’ Whether that’s across indigenous/non-indigenous lines, maybe it’s in a community across rich/poor, maybe it’s some of these other divisions like other denominations. At the end of the day I hope people just have some time to think and maybe recommit to the idea of seeing one another as human beings.”