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I once walked out of my church right in the middle of the service. I was with my daughter and I can tell she was embarrassed but followed me out anyways. If you know me, I don’t like to interrupt or cause an interruption so walking out was a pretty drastic move. I didn’t plan on it, I was actually looking forward to the service as the topic was about forgiveness and we were going to hear from Wilma Derkson via a Ted Talk and follow up with a discussion. For those that don’t know of Wilma Derkson, her 13 year old daughter Candace went missing on her way home from school here in Winnipeg. It was all over the news back then. Candace’s body was found weeks later tied and in a shed. The profound light in this moment was how the parents of Candace took a path of forgiveness rather than darkness. This happened 38 years ago and we were going to learn about forgiveness.

During the week leading up to the service that I walked out on, yet another familiar tragedy happened in Winnipeg. Four days before church, the body of a young Indigenous woman, April Carpenter, was pulled out of the Red River. She was 23 years old, and had family that was part of the Indigenous Family Centre community (a ministry of the CRC). April Carpenter was missing for about three weeks before her body was found. I remember hearing that she was missing as the director of IFC shared with the council how a community member's family member was missing and then how the body was found in the Red River. This happened 4 days before the church service on forgiveness was to happen. 

How do you forgive when there is continuous violence that is happening to a community?

It was just too much for me to handle. As an Indigenous woman myself, I didn’t understand the relevance of forgiveness at that moment.  How is Wilma’s forgiveness even applicable here, at this moment? All I saw was the injustice and violence against Indigenous women and girls. Back in August 2014, I was at the park with my family and there were a huge amount of fire trucks along the same Red River. I later found out that they were there because another body of a young Indigenous girl Tina Fontaine was found in the river.  Three months later, another young Indigenous youth was attacked and left to die in the Assiniboine river, thankfully, Rinelle Harper survived her attack.

How can I learn and understand forgiveness from one singular isolated event that took place over 30 years ago? I read and heard that many people were involved in searching for Candace and the parents had many supports helping them through this tragedy. I was witnessing countless Indigenous women and girls having the same violence perpetrated on them, onslaught after onslaught after onslaught without any urgency to find these missing and murdered women and girls (Our PM at that time even admitted this epidemic wasn’t high on their radar). What does forgiveness look like in this case? How do you forgive when there is continuous violence that is happening to a community? At that moment I didn’t believe Wilma Derkson or my church could answer me that. How was my church so far removed that it didn’t think of this when it was happening right at that moment? Where were the Indigenous grandmothers, sisters, aunties to talk to us about forgiveness?

I walked out.

By the grace above, I didn’t leave it there. A Truth and Reconciliation group that I was a part of through the same church suggested I share my experience with the elders. I wrote a letter and I felt heard and understood. I didn’t have to fight for or convince the elders of the validity of my experience. From there I started meeting with our church coordinator monthly about the topics and when would be good to talk about Indigenous justice and reconciliation. This happened because I chose to trust my church community with my vulnerable experience and because they received my experience genuinely. We were able to figure a way forward that could help navigate church services with more of an openness of what is going on around us concerning Indigenous reality. 

Read the rest of the series!  The Revelation 7 Church: Stories of Cultural Awareness

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