The reason most attempts at reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginals fall short is because of blaming and victimization in the conversation that takes place, says Susan Campbell, director of adult faith formation in the Prince George Diocese.
"It is only when you discover what keeps you stuck in old patterns of behaviour, judgments, biases, and rationalizations, that you can be open to encountering the other in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation."
Campbell co-facilitates the Returning to Spirit seminar series in her diocese and is a member of the non-aboriginal team that delivers the Returning to Spirit workshops in Western Canada. She was recently in Edmonton delivering one of these workshops.
Returning to Spirit is a two-part process of reconciliation between non-aboriginals and aboriginals around the residential school legacy, she said in an interview. The first part is a five-day intensive workshop, done separately by aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, where participants prepare personally for reconciliation.
The preparation is experiential, examining what needs to be reconciled within the person in their relationship to himself, others and life, said Campbell.
The second part is a week of reconciliation that includes more focused preparation for both groups separately - two days for each group - followed by three days of coming together for shared one-on-one conversation.
"(During these three days) aboriginal and non-aboriginal say what they need to say to each other to be complete," explained Campbell.
"Without the focused preparation for this level of dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation are not possible. We bring too many fears, hurts, resentments and judgments to the encounter."
Campbell helped deliver the workshop for non-aboriginals at Providence Centre in early March. The workshop for aboriginal people took place at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert.
People from Lethbridge, Lloydminster and the Northwest Territories attended Campbell's seminar.
"For some it's quite transformational. People's lives have changed because of this."
Campbell said the Returning to Spirit seminar started in the Northwest Territories in the late 1990s with Bishop Denis Croteau asking Sister Ann Thomson to put together a healing program for those affected by residential schools.
Thomson turned to Marc Pizandawatc, an Algonquin from the Kitiganzibi First Nation who was leading empowerment workshops in the North. He worked with Thomson in creating the project, which they named Returning to Spirit.
Designers of the process decided early on to deliver the workshop separately to aboriginals and non-aboriginals so each group can see where they need to be reconciled first before being reconciled one to another, Campbell said.
Writing in the magazine Celebrate!, Campbell says she is humbled by what she sees happening through Returning to Spirit. "Many participants are able to let go of immense hurt and pain from the events of their life and find forgiveness," she says.
"This applies equally to the aboriginal and non-aboriginal participants. Some carry such pain from their past experiences. When we are able to come to a place of true forgiveness, it is a priceless gift."
Gilles Paquin, administrator for the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, took the five-day workshop in Yellowknife two years ago because "we are in an aboriginal diocese and it's important for us to understand the people we serve."
There are six different tribes of Dene people in his diocese.
Paquin, a French-Canadian living in the North for 32 years, was one of 15 mostly Catholic participants who attended the non-aboriginal workshop.
"It was a very powerful experience," he told the WCR. "I think it helped me appreciate the depth and the richness of aboriginal culture."
Paquin said aboriginal and non-aboriginal people have lived together for a long time but have also been separate for a long time. "It's time we learn to come together and appreciate each other and love each other."