The Experience of Listening

by Kelsey James

THIN AIR’s main stage was packed on Saturday afternoon as eager Winnipeggers gathered to talk reconciliation with three great thinkers. The event showcased Rosanna Deerchild, Shelagh Rogers, and Senator Murray Sinclair as they invited the audience members to listen, learn and share stories left untold.

Charlene Diehl, director of the festival, greeted the audience by addressing how open communication can lead to reconciliation.

“It’s important to have an event for all of us to gather and talk,” Diehl said. “We are in a moment of history now and have an opportunity to make a new path.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience as Rosanna Deerchild followed Diehl’s opening remarks with a reading from her poetry collection, Calling Down the Sky. Focusing on her mother’s residential school experience, Deerchild said the project strengthened their relationship and brought reconciliation into their home.

As a storyteller, Deerchild said her responsibility as a writer gives her an opportunity to honour Indigenous voices. Recent movements of Indigenous writers sharing these pasts has shown literature is a tool capable of sculpting new Canadian images. This growth, coupled with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, can have a lasting influence on the ways reconciliation is addressed in the public.

Senator Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said genuine reconciliation includes coming to terms with Canada’s colonial history. His goal was to create a national memory that ensures future Canadians learn of Indigenous assimilation.

Sinclair had the difficult task of recording the statements of nearly 7000 residential school survivors. He stressed that the report’s calls to action are not most important. Instead, he encourages Canadians to focus on the truth and the ways the public can aid in ensuring Indigenous voices are heard.

The experience of listening was a common theme throughout the event’s discussions. Although the three writers have different backgrounds, they spoke of how reconciliation is only possible when listening becomes active instead of passive. Canadians are beginning to listen and learn, but the further creation of sacred spaces will contribute to open dialogue.

Shelagh Rogers, Honourary Witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a CBC radio host, travelled from British Columbia to speak to festival-goers. She said her participation in the TRC “changed everything” and affected her at a “cellular level.” Rogers said reconciliation must include the difficult task of tearing down structural paradigms, but is a necessary journey from the “head to the heart.”

It is now the responsibility of current generations to carry-on the legacy of survivors, because in these stories is where reconciliation will form.