Sadness slowly welled up in my heart. Not far away, the community had built a dam to contain fresh water for the cannery. What happened instead was that further up the hill the spring welled up and created a swamp killing the natural cedar growth. They made the best of a bad situation. Realizing that the ancient trees were dead, they allowed a marsh to develop and created an ecological centre with boardwalks traversing the marsh. The ancient trees stand as a reminder of what was and what could have been.
My heart’s sadness didn’t come from the marsh but from the cultural centre that has been built on the island. It is placed near the site of the residential school that held children from 1894-1974. A healing ceremony was held when the building was torn down in 2015. The cultural centre, which is the building to the left of the school, displays potlach masks and stories of the First Nations who have lived on these lands since time immemorial. It also has an historical outline of life from unknown days through first contact and into Indian Act years to present time.
Since the exposure in May of 215 unmarked graves of children in Kamloops I’ve attempted to learn more of our Canadian history. The visit to U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay was one of those opportunities. I spoke with a guardian who asked how my day was going. With honesty I replied about how I felt going through their display, acknowledging my Canadian upbringing, my lack of knowledge of their story, and my slowness in being open to learning about the sorrow. Our conversation wandered around many trails of his family experiences and mine. As I wondered about next steps, he gently and quietly said a step is into forgiveness, and the first step is to forgive yourself. He who has been hurt, speaks to me, the settler, the one on the side of those who inflicted hurt on others, to forgive myself.
The other time I heard of forgiveness spoken so deeply, intimately and quietly was from a First Nations Elder I met on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. He told stories of forgiveness, of First Nations people living forgiveness to those who had hurt them. They way he spoke was humble and authentic. He was walking the path of forgiveness. Jesus’ last recorded words as he was dying were ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ Forgiveness is at the heart of his message to us. When I hear forgiveness from First Nations, I know they are speaking God’s truth to me, and it is for them a living truth, nothing academic or theological but experiential. They are forgiving.
If we don’t walk the path of forgiveness, towards our self and all others, it’s like building a dam inside us, a dam that will cause water to plug up and kill ancient truths within us, creating a swamp. Forgiveness of our self and others is an essential ongoing step on the path of spiritual growth. Without it, something inside us dies. Life gets messy. If you want to grow spiritually, search your heart. Are you caring any grudge toward anyone? Are you blaming anyone for your life circumstances? Are you caring shame, any tiny sense of ‘not-good-enough’? Turn to forgiveness, hear Jesus’s words of forgiveness, and begin letting go of that knot inside you. Ask for help from Jesus, God, Divine Mother, Healing Spirit, help to undo that knot inside you.
Spiritual growth often starts with a sad heart but doesn’t end there.
Do you have any knots that need untying? Who doesn’t.
Here is a link to St Michael’s story and overview of residential schools. https://roadstories.ca/st-michaels-residential-school
Love and prayers
Mystic in Motion
Companion on the Way with Contemplative Fire
Contemplative Fire Canada, Founder
Companion on The Rivendell Way
Society Member of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation