Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, OMI

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action # 59 asks church groups party to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, as well as the history and legacy of residential schools.

Realizing the area of education is a role the Star of the North Retreat Centre could play, we decided to transform the monthly Twilight Retreats we were conducting into monthly dialogue circles to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to learn from each other and journey forward together.

Edmonton-based Indigenous lawyer Catherine Twinn offered to help us organize and facilitate these sessions. She is currently participating in the Compassionate Inquiry series offered by noted psychologist Gabor Maté, giving her even more tools to offer this initiative which we have entitled Together We Heal.

Our first session took place on Sept. 16, with actor Morningstar Mercredi as the main presenter. Wanting to connect this session with the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, as well as Orange Shirt Day, Sr. Mariángel Marco Teja – program director at the Star of the North retreat centre - created a ritual involving a Knower’s Chair.

After smudging and prayer led by Gary Gagnon, indigenous cultural facilitator at Edmonton Catholic Schools, we celebrated the ritual by taking a monarch’s crown off the chair, a symbol of colonialism, and replaced it with Indigenous articles symbolizing the people we wanted to see and hear from that chair. Most telling was an orange shirt that was draped over the chair with the words “Every Child Matters” printed on it.

Morningstar, author and filmmaker, spoke forcefully about the devastating impact of the intergenerational trauma of the residential school on her, her family and her people; how the colonial powers systematically separated children from their mothers as a way to destroy the culture, break down the nations and impose its own values.

Her book, Morningstar – a Warrior’s Spirit, is a must-read and a powerful description of the horrific violence imposed on the Indigenous peoples she related to us with great restraint. Catherine responded to her presentation, reminding us of the importance of being trauma-informed, and how individuals, families and whole communities often unwittingly respond to events out of an unconscious base of undealt-with-trauma.

In a preparatory meeting with the presenter of our next Together We Heal session to take place October 21, 2021, actor and filmmaker Georgina Lightning taught me how devastating trauma can be when it is not addressed.

Gifted and talented, Georgina escaped to the United States with her three children after two failed marriages, and enrolled in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. While she excelled there with awards and honours, lived in a gated community and raised her children in a healthy environment, her body suddenly started to fail.

She was finally diagnosed with a failure of her endocrine system, after suffering and not addressing her trauma for years. Her body had become like that of a 90-year-old woman! Now she is on a healing journey and regaining her health.

According to Gabor Maté, trauma is not about what happened to us – it is about what happens inside us as a result of what happened to us. Part of that trauma is the isolation of victims who can’t talk about what happened to them, and to thousands of other victims of that trauma.

The feeling I have is that we are on the cusp of a huge learning curve, just beginning to wake up to the magnitude of the trauma inflicted upon generations of Indigenous by the colonial residential school system.

We are looking forward to the next presentation by Georgina, and many others as we move through this coming year. As the sessions are both in-person and virtual, anyone can participate. Simply go to the Star of the North website and click on Together We Heal. And please pray for us as we move forward with this initiative.

 - Archbishop Lavoie, OMI, is the spiritual director of the Star of the North retreat centre in St. Albert. This column was originally published by the OMI Lacombe Canada newsletter.