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Reckoning: A Prayer for Settler Christians

It has been a difficult month.  The recovery of unmarked graves near former Indian Residential School sites in Kamloops in BC, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, and Cranbrook, BC has prompted anger, sorrow, and soul-searching across Turtle Island and – because of international news coverage – around the world.  Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been vocal in reminding settler Canadians that the finding of these graves should not come as a surprise: their own testimonies gave witness to their likelihood, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action #71-76 directly address matters of missing children, burial sites, and the rights of communities to grieve their children.

There was – and is – hope that this reckoning began in many corners of Canada. 

I have heard many Indigenous leaders - including Justice Murray Sinclair, Tanya Talaga, student Dale Saddleback, artist Lana Whiskeyjack, and more - describe the ongoing work of reconciliation in light of the ongoing recovery of these graves as the responsibility of settler Canadians.  They are right.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an opportunity for settler Canada to reckon with its violent history, genocidal inclinations, and colonial foundations.  There was – and is – hope that this reckoning began in many corners of Canada.  But the strange note of surprise in media coverage of the unmarked graves, the toothless sentiments of ‘thoughts and prayers’ and ‘hearts going out to these young children and their families’ among many on social media (including our Prime Minister), and the refusal by many to dampen our celebrations of Canada Day seem to me an indication that our work of reckoning has not gone far enough, or deep enough.

The responsibility to reckon with our history is especially important for Christians.  Whether or not we are members of the traditions that ran the schools, we share the same story: we pray the same Lord’s Prayer, claim the same Scriptures as our own, and carry the same crosses on our church walls and around our necks.  To reckon is to count, to consider, to calculate: it is to stare our history and our story hard in the face, and to let the truth of the past’s brutality hit us.  It is to see the numbers – 215, 751, 182 – and then to look at our own children, and come to terms with what was lost.  

Listen to the voices of Indigenous people.

The old English word from which we get the word ‘reckon’ means to ‘give an account of things received’.  The truths told to us by survivors of trauma and oppression in Residential Schools is part of what the church today receives.  

Where to start?  I am not sure, but here are some things suggested by Indigenous people in Canada and their allies: Listen to the voices of Indigenous people. Seek out Indigenous-created resources around residential schools and reconciliation. Read the TRC Calls to Action and put into action what you can on an individual level, and lobby your elected representatives to honour the rest. Have those awkward conversations with your racist uncle; challenge racist jokes and attitudes with your friends; spend Canada Day mourning the myriad of ways in which Canada has failed the Indigenous peoples who called this land home first. 

And pray for the courage to face a new future:

Loving Liberating Jesus,

Friend to the sufferer,

Challenge to the oppressor, 

Ear for the ignored,

and teacher of the ignorant,

you willingly muddied your hands and touched the eyes of the blind,

gifting sight.

Muddy your hands again, and heal our blindness:

so that we may see what we could not and would not see before.

With your muddied hands and bloodied heart,

gift us the courage to face what we dare not face,

so that we may turn toward a new future.

In the hope of your kingdom, far-off and near,



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