When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?” then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’
We love symbols: gourds and corn stocks at harvest, trees and mistletoe at Christmas, hearts and flowers at Valentine’s for they all act as reminders of what each particular time is about. Today, we mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a time for us to focus ourselves more clearly on our history and the past and present injustices visited upon our indigenous siblings. Today, many will be wearing orange shirts as a reminder of this tragic history and as a way to deepen our commitment to on-going education and restoration. The orange shirt has come to symbolize the past wounds inflicted by the settler population, as told by Phyllis Webstad, an indigenous person from the Dog Creek reservation in British Columbia. She recounts the story of her day in the Mission school:
I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!
When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.
For many of us, our experiences at the tender age of 6 are so disconnected from those of indigenous children that we can scarcely begin to comprehend the horrors so many endured at such a young age, to say nothing of the helplessness for their families and communities who could do nothing more than watch it unfold.
I love the symbols of each season and support fully the wearing of oranges shirts, but pray that unlike our harvest or Christmas symbols which we pack away after their season, I pray that we will continue to hold close the orange shirt and all that it represents… I pray that we will strive to understand more fully how bias, ignorance and entitlement have supressed the indigenous people of this land and I pray that we will commit ourselves anew to righting the wrongs of our past. Our former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers once said, “we can’t begin from where we want to be, we can only begin from where we are.” And so, as we mark this first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, may our orange shirts be as those stones in the Jordan, reminding us of where we have been and pointing us, in faith, to the way forward.
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