Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 11, 2002
Native-church reconciliation follows no fixed path - priest
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
There is no fixed recipe that can be used to reconcile all conflicts between groups of people, says a First Nations Catholic theologian.
But seven elements are essential to reconciliation between the Church and the First Nations people, Basilian Father Daryold Winkler said Feb. 1.
Those elements are an intention to reconcile, apologies, act of forgiveness, ability to empathize, truth-telling, restitution and genuine leadership, Winkler told more than 50 people who attended St. Joseph's College president's lecture series.
"Each conflict is born of local circumstances and characterized by its own historical and cultural context," he said.
Another reason why forgiveness and reconciliation defy a precise definition is that there is something mysterious and elusive about its occurrence, said Winkler, who belongs to M'Chigeeng First Nations on Manitoulin Island, Ont.
"Many speak of the process as a spiritual phenomenon and would contend that it is a spirituality or a way of life and therefore cannot be achieved by merely following steps."
Reconciliation is about transformation, Winkler emphasized. It is about the transformation of the parties -- oppressors and victims - to be reconciled and of those structures responsible for oppression.
"Ultimately it is about the transformation and healing of memories of both (parties)."
Winkler said the process of forgiveness and reconciliation is not linear but rather circular and interactive.
Regarding the seven elements of reconciliation, Winkler stressed that it is important that any apology be made public.
"Apology cannot alter the past, but it has the capacity to transform the unbearable realities of the past through speech."
It is also a crucial exchange of power whereas the oppressor gives power to the victim by assuming a position of vulnerability, said Winkler.
Truth telling is done not because the truth is not well known by the victims. One of its main purposes is to uncover the denial that has allowed both victims and oppressor to cope with the wrongdoing, he explained.
Restitution is needed because "true reconciliation, as opposed to something 'cheap,' cannot be accomplished without restorative justice.
"It is true that is impossible to restore lives of the dead, who died as a result of oppression."
Nonetheless, as much as possible something should be done to overcome historic wrongs. Winkler said this will often entail redistribution of lands and settlement of land claims.
Restitution is not only for victims, but for the other party as well, he said. "It is about restoring the dignity of those who have been dehumanized in the process of dehumanizing others."
Winkler pointed out that there is hope for reconciliation.
He attributes this to the development of the healing movement among First Nations.
Allowing cultural and spiritual renewal certainly helped in the process, Winkler said.
Healing occurs not only on a person-to-person level but also communally, he said. Revival of traditional dancing, healing ceremonies and other spiritual practices like pow wow dancing, sweetgrass, sacred pipe ceremonies, drumming, daily prayer ceremonies, sage burning and sweat lodge contributed to First Nations' journey to wholeness.
Winkler is a doctoral candidate at St. Paul University in Ottawa. His study focuses on the religious identity of Canada's First Nations. He also serves as chaplain to the Kateri Native Ministry and the Catholic Deaf Community in Ottawa.