|Pastoral Letter from Blair Odney
“Generations have been looking for their children, asking, ‘where did they go? Can you imagine your children taken away, never to return?”
Treena Duncan and I, together with Regional Indigenous Minister Rev. John Snow, were gathered in sacred circle with the leaders and the elders of the Pacific Mountain Indigenous Ministries. An elder shared from deep within, tears streaming. Everyone in the circle shared similar feelings. Heartbroken. Helpless. Betrayed. Unsure of what to say. And I find myself in the same situation: Unsure of what to say. Heartbroken. Also betrayed. Waves of nausea. How indeed could I survive my kids not coming home?
Late last week, we heard the testimony; Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found the remains of children as young as 3 on the site of what used to be Canada’s largest residential school at Kamloops British Columbia. Another abhorrent layer of the Canadian political agenda of assimilation and cultural genocide peeled back for the world to feel.
As one of the leaders in the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church of Canada, I am a player in this tragedy, giving testimony and holding with unspeakable grief, the church’s culpability. There is no getting around it; we are all implicated – not just as church members, but as the beneficiaries of the “good” that has come with colonial power. As one wise leader observed “what is not acknowledged can not be healed.”
So yes, I hang my head in confession on behalf of all my relations. I put an orange frame around my Facebook profile in an attempt to communicate my solidarity and allyship. And I trust in God’s unfailing grace to loosen my joints and unhinge my jaw. Hanging my head in shame is only useful in so far as it allows my heart to ache and my body to heave the anguish of moms and dads, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandmas who hearts are tied forever to these wee ones. Hanging my head also causes me to look at my feet, to consider the very next step I take, and to think about whose feet will be with me as I take that step.
I look up and there are the elders, the leaders of the Indigenous ministries, the ones whose lives are riddled with intergenerational trauma, calling me, calling us into relationship. A holy mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description, in love, seeking relationship. Given what they’ve experienced, how is that even possible, I wonder? And the elders speak. Long before “Christ” arrived packaged in blonde hair, blue eyes and European social values, we knew the Holy Mystery. And that’s why they stand with me calling for my help to seek justice and love kindness.
And so friends, beloved people of the region, I write to you in my heartache. I think its time for us to be who we claim ourselves to be; the body of Christ, meeting people right where they are, calling those people into the very best of who they can be. We are challenged by the Spirit to stand with those whose voices have been silenced – those with us now, and those whose spirits can not rest until their names are known and their voices heard.
Many of you have already begun. Walks for justice and peace. Drumming circles giving voice to rage and healing. Letters to politicians. Calls to speak the name and tell the story of each of those children whose precious little bodies have been discovered. Calls for forensic exploration of every other residential school site across the country. Calls to protect these residential school sites as keepers of a sacred mystery of sinfulness that their inherent trauma can heal. Feasts Festivals. Music I will walk along Mosquito Creek with an elder of the Squamish first nation – a survivor of Kamloops.
My beloved friends, there is no us and them. What happens to one of these, the least of our brothers and sisters, happens also to us. I invite us all to look down at our feet and consider the very next step we take. What does it mean for us now to unite in one common quest, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope? The elders say make relationships.
We don’t really have an option now. There is only one response.
Here I am, send me. Here we are, send us.
I love you all. I pray for your healing. I hope for the kingdom coming.
Rev. S. Blair Odney