Riflessioni sul Perdono, sulla Dignità e sulla Riconciliazione

Rev. Andrew Wesley


I would like to express my sincere gratitude for being considered to submit a paper on forgiveness and reconciliation.  It is truly an honour.
First, it is only right that I tell you right at the start that I am not an academic, politician or economist. I am an Anglican priest and a Social Worker. These two roles are very much intertwined on a day-to-day basis because of where I am located and the needs of the people.  The focus of my day-to-day work involves working with Aboriginal people who are still very much impacted by colonialism in which the Canadian residential school system and its legacy is a major part.  And how does this legacy show itself today?  Individuals who attended residential schools now tend to suffer low self-esteem, alcoholism, drug addiction, somatic disorders, violent tendencies, etc.  Most often this is compounded by poverty to the point of many being homeless and destitute.


In my introduction, I would like to begin with our understanding and belief in our Creator’s original covenant his people of North America – my ancestors.

The western and aboriginal cultures hold opposite views about the importance of human in Creation. The Christian teachings places human right at the top. Human is given a lofty vantage point to the rest of creation.  The bible instructs ‘man to subject the earth to himself’.  Aboriginal teachings present an opposite belief. Mother Earth plays the most important role in Creation, for without the soil and water there would be no plant realm. Without the plants there would be no animal realm, and without soil, water, plants and animals,  there would be no human. Within this belief system, human is understood to be the least essential and the most dependant. Thus, human is not the master of creation, but a humble servant to the creation.
It is our belief that all of creation on Mother Earth is related and interconnected in a most complex interwoven way.  The totality of our beliefs, values and teachings are based on that basic yet so very complex relationship of all creation.  Nothing is isolated.  Thus, the reason why our prayers acknowledge ‘All My Relations’.  
If ones way-of-knowing and seeing focuses on relationships, it will be natural to see that the relationships between human, animal, plant, mother earth and all its elements is a fundamental relationships of dependency. In this relationship, human is found right at the bottom as being the most dependent.  This is the very core of our being as Aboriginal people of North America.
If, ones way-of-knowing  and seeing focuses on separate things and their properties, human will naturally stand out at the top, given our powers of communication, movement, tool-making, etc.  And from that lofty vantage point it would only be natural to place the plant world right down at the bottom of the pile.  
Prior to contact, Aboriginal societies existed each with its own distinct institutions, its own language, its own culture and traditions, its own customary laws and systems of governance.   Nations interacted and cooperated with one another economically, and other ways.  Before the newcomers arrived, the original peoples were well versed in a process of resolving disputes as they arose, through treaty making.  Their social systems were developed so they could function in a manner which supported their beliefs in a Creator and Creation.
This all changed after contact.  In my part of the country, my people were caught between the English and the French in their battle to win the new world of North America and its resources.  The aboriginal view of co-existence and universal kinship allowed the Europeans free access to the resources of our world.
Each colonial overlord, including the missionary said in its own way: your form of government is not good enough; your culture and traditions are not good enough; your language is not good enough; your creator is not good enough; your whole way of life is not good enough, you must take ours, and you must be just like us.  In the end, many of our people began to believe those lies and did what they needed to survive. We came to believe that we were, and are, in ourselves not good enough.
Thus, the beginning of a series of alarming events that led to breakdown of the aboriginal concepts and systems of kinship and belief system.


No other group in Canada’s history has endured such a deliberate, comprehensive, and prolonged assault on their human rights as that of Aboriginal people.
To understand how Indigenous cultures that had flourished for thousands of years began breaking down, giving rise to epidemic levels of addictive behaviours, it helps to look back at history through an Aboriginal peoples eyes. Reviewed from an Aboriginal perspective, the history of European contact is a chilling account of unrelenting destruction on a massive scale. Prior to European arrival, estimates show a huge and thriving Indigenous population on turtle Island – known as North America. A large percentage of this population was decimated through diseases such as smallpox and influenza, war, displacement, and theft of lands and resources causing poverty and starvation.
The origins of alcohol abuse can be found in early Canadian history with the introduction of liquor by European fur traders in the early seventeenth century. Prior to this, drunkenness and violence were virtually unknown to Aboriginal people who had a “very low incidence of violence” in their own communities. As well as introducing alcohol, trading practices had a dramatic impact on traditional diet; healthy, natural foods readily available through hunting, gathering, and agriculture were gradually replaced with convenience foods.
Federal policies such as the Act for the gradual enfranchisement of Indians (1869), the Indian Act (1876) and the creation of residential schools were deliberate attempts by the Government of Canada to wipe out all traces of Aboriginal cultures including languages, beliefs, customs, and spiritual traditions. The actions carried out under these policies continue to profoundly affect all Inuit, Métis, and First Nation people.

The Indian Act

The Indian Act of 1876 detailed the Canadian government’s system for controlling and assimilating Aboriginal people. Through this legislation, First Nation people were denied basic human rights and were made wards of the state.

Some features of the Indian Act had included:

Native people were prevented from leaving or travelling off the reservations without written permission signed by a government agent.
The status rights of Native women who married non-Native men were removed, and their children denied rights under the Indian Act; while non-Native women who married Native men, as well as their children, were granted status rights.
Traditional spiritual ceremonies were criminalized; anyone practicing them was liable to imprisonment as was anyone who encouraged such practices.
Traditional leaders and forms of governance were replaced with leaders and governance chosen by the Canadian government.
It was illegal for Natives to kill any of their own livestock or sell any fish they had caught off the reserve.
Rules from inheritance rights to the smallest details about which crops could or could not be planted, to whom they could be sold, and for what price, were imposed and enforced by government agents.
Legislation was passed i n 1888 to prevent Native people from taking out loans for farm machinery; the reason given by Hayter Reed, then deputy minister of Indian Affairs, was that forcing the Indian to work the soil using only hand implements would help him evolve from hunter to peasant, and only then to modern man.
In response to Native people organizing to raise money for lawsuits against these injustices from 1900 to 1927, the Canadian government made it illegal to raise money or contribute funds to Indians for political purposes, including land claims.

Métis Struggle for Recognition

The long struggle for a Métis land base, and recognition of their distinct identity, continues to this day. It is a history marked by broken promises and armed battles for their rights, as well as the now infamous hanging of Métis leader Louis Riel in 1885 after being found guilty of high treason by the Canadian government.

Forced Relocation of Innu and Inuit

Inuit live in remote areas of the Canadian Arctic. Innu inhabit the eastern subarctic regions of northern Labrador and Quebec. Inuit and Innu were not included under the provision of the Indian Act because regular contact was not established until the nineteenth century.
Although the Indian Act only applied to First Nations, the nomadic way of life of the Inuit was also abruptly and dramatically altered by Canadian government policy. Under a policy of forced relocation, both Inuit and Innu were removed from their ancestral homelands and traditional hunting territories to far-off, centralized settlements created by the government.
The first official relocation project took place between 1934-1947.  The forced relocation of Labrador Innu began in 1967 when the Canadian government decided to establish industrial and military bases in Innu territory. The formerly nomadic Innu were removed from their ancestral lands to another  island.
Separated from the lands to which they had been culturally and spiritually tied for 6,000 years, social disorders such as violence, suicide, and addictive behaviours began to multiply in Inuit and Innu communities. Disconnection from ancestral lands caused a deeply rooted collective grief that is still felt today.


The purpose of residential schooling was to separate children from the evil surroundings of their families and communities, and instruct them into the ways of Canadian society. The education was primarily aimed at preparing them to join the “lower fringes of that society”.
From the opening in 1831 to the last closure in 1998, approximately 130 schools were in operation and hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal children were enrolled. During this 167-year period, five generations of some Aboriginal families had spent their entire childhood institutionalized in these schools. Although the purpose of the schools was to provide an education to Aboriginal children, they were subjected to continual, relentless abuse in order to assimilate them into mainstream culture…. The idea was to ‘kill the Indian in the child‘.  
This idea of ‘killing the Indian’ meant ‘killing’ the children’s Aboriginal languages, cultural beliefs, and identity by teaching them that they were sinful, dirty, and wrong.  Also, many children were physically and sexually abused, often by multiple perpetrators, over their entire decade-long stay in these schools:

  • As more and more children spent their childhood in these schools, their families and communities became inundated with people suffering from unresolved trauma, grief, and rage. Survivors turned to addictive behaviours and other negative ways of coping to numb their grief and pain.
  • Some expressed this grief as lateral violence directed toward family and community members, creating intergenerational cycles of unhealthy relationships reflecting those in residential schools.
  • The long-term social and psychological impacts of policies such as the Indian Act, forced relocation, and residential schooling are seen today in excessively high rates of suicide, addictions, and violence in the Aboriginal population.
  • The impacts of residential school abuse continue to reverberate in Aboriginal families and communities as they struggle to recover from the magnitude of their losses.


I can only speak about ‘forgiveness’ from my own personal experience and understanding.  I do not feel I could speak on the topic in general terms, as I feel ‘forgiveness’ is very much at the core of one being.  One cannot be taught to forgive or made to influence  affect
From my perspective and understanding, ‘forgiveness’ empowers the wounded above and beyond the victimizer.  Forgiveness does not make a person holy, nor does it elevate the person in the divine sense.  Forgiveness does not further humiliate or hurt the wounded.  Rather it makes the wounded strong through his/her courageous act of forgiving.  
As a Aboriginal person, forgiveness is very much part of my understanding of our creation story.  “Our” meaning the Aboriginal nation, tribe and clan I come from.  It was part of my ancestors’ day-to-day survival as food hunters and gatherers.  As a hunter prepares to hunt, he prayers to the Creator and also acknowledges the animal he is to hunt in that prayer.  He asks the animal spirit and the Creator for forgiveness for the life he must take.  After he makes his kill, he prays and makes an offering to the Creator and the spirit.
As a keeper of my peoples’ traditional knowledge; and as a Christian, and as a follower of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is the only response that I could give to my abuser.  It is a response out of my faith, and out of my being.  My forgiveness came through the Grace of God, and if it wasn’t for the grace of God in my life, I might still be living with anger.
Forgiveness must come from the heart.  When I speak of the heart, I’m not talking about the pump, I’m talking about the essence of who you are.  After all, forgiveness is not simply the letting go of resentment, but rather it is spiritual awakening of the soul to new vision and remembering the ancient knowledge and understanding of the Creator.
In order to forgive, one must seriously consider and understand the value of other people.  One must be willing to accept the invitation to go and listen and hear the offenders story, if an opportunity should present itself.  One must be go with a truly open heart, and not with a preconceive idea that the other party will offer an apology or ask for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a personal act that begins with love, compassion and truth.  And love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which human can aspire.  Ones salvation is through love. Therefore, love is stronger than hate and forgiveness is stronger than revenge.  
Forgiveness is not about religion, or denominations – or any of that stuff.  Forgiveness is a gift from God our Creator through His grace.  It is freedom to whoever asks for it.


I was born and raised at Fort Albany, Ontario. Fort Albany is located on the west coast of James Bay which is North Eastern Ontario.  My father was raised in the Anglican faith while my mother belonged to the Roman Catholic.  And so, as a small child I was raised in my father’s denomination – the Anglican Church of Canada.  But like most people in our tribe we lived our traditional life style and practised our traditional ways. Our livelihood depended on hunting, trapping and fishing.
I am Omushkego (People of the Muskeg otherwise known as Cree). I am a Christian and being both hasn’t always been easy. Like many of my people, I’ve known much confusion, my share of frustration, anger and struggle. I have also known much joy.  Through my early traditional upbringing and my Christian faith I have always had hope and visions. So, the two aspects of my life have balanced other out.
Today, I feel completely at ease talking about Christianity and practicing my Christianity. I also feel completely at ease in talking about and practicing my traditional beliefs and practices.  I credit a great many Aboriginal men, women and children both traditionalists, Christians and a combination of both for their teachings, encouragements and support.  They helped me to grow up and find the sense of spiritual balance that I think is central to life. Of course, keeping that balance takes a lifetime, but I have definitely found a place to stand.
When I was between six and seven years old I ended up in an Indian Residential School. I spent ten lost years of my life there. The only language I knew was  Omuskego (Cree). Almost from the very first day I entered that school I was beaten for speaking my birthright. I would cry myself to sleep at night, alone and terribly lonely. When I ran out of tears I would dream about being home with my family and being in my home community.
There was so much pain, so much harm, so much change in those 10 years at this school. There was so much trauma. Sometimes the details are difficult to remember but you can never really forget.
I did not know then what the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People has since discovered. Which was, that the aim of Indian Residential Schooling was “To kill the Indian in the child“.
I did not realize that the goal of Sir John A MacDonald, Prime Minister, the first Prime Minister of Canada and the federal government was “To eliminate Indians until there is not a single Indian left in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic“.
I did not know that all aboriginal people were undergoing a massive and traumatic alienation from their lands and cultures, families and communities. I left the residential school not quite broken, not quite spiritually broken.  Spiritually confused but not completely broken.  Unlike thousands upon thousands of others who left residential school with a broken spirit .
I went on to complete my education, married and raised my family.  Shortly after the birth of our daughter, I decided to enter a seminary. But it took many more years before I decided to seriously consider going into ordained ministry.  I spend many years in between working as a Social Worker, Youth Worker/Counsellor, Human Rights Officer. Once the decision was made to go for ordained ministry, my wife and I packed our house and moved to Toronto where I spend 3 years attaining my Master of Divinity at Wycliffe College.  
Before graduation, I was offered a position as Aboriginal Pastor in the Diocese of Toronto.  Thus, my current position as Aboriginal Priest in the diocese.  My work takes me to many places in the city of Toronto.  I work in a church one quarter time as a priest, and spend the other three quarter time in outreach work.  My outreach work includes:  street ministry; working with the homeless (whom many are the products of the residential school system); working with addicts, special prison ministry; leading traditional teachings in prison; working with shelters; providing counselling; hospital visits; home visits, accompanying clients to court hearings, etc.  
In my work with the homeless, with the destitute, with people living in poverty, etc.  I have traveled far and climbed many mountains in my life’s journey with them. I have seen the darkness through eyes. From the depths of their utter despair and hopelessness I have seen visions and experienced the realizations of those visions. Through these visions I have seen the one wholeness, the one connectedness, and thus, experienced forgiveness and seen forgiveness.
I have seen human spirit awaken even from those who had become so physically and emotionally tough that when they are physically hurt, they say they don’t feel pain.  They are proud of themselves for being able to go beyond pain that they boast about it.  It is their way of showing those around them how tough they are.  Once the spirit awakens comes a spark of life and then the search – the search to fill the void.  Then begins a glimmer of hope, and finally for some .. peace.  
At the end of the day, the whole point that I’m making is that we have to be compassionate people who actually care about others, even the people who are tough for us to like.  And so, through my work if one person’s life is changed for the positive, I will keep on going.


from god requires repenting what wrongs one does. Therefore, this concept is at the back of the minds of people from whom you seek forgiveness. It must be conditional and the first of such conditions is that people have confidence you will not go back to do what you were doing. Secondly, forgiveness involves assigning rights, on the part of those who forgive. Such assigning of rights must have something in exchange.

The council must not look at matters from above and must avoid the errors of too much politicising of previous conflicts and differences. The ICC, for instance, had its case rendered a target for criticism, although the court was established for a noble end: putting an end to impunity. But because the principal powers of the planet care more for their own interests, the court had its credibility marred and does not now command the acceptance of all.
The most important element in structures and activity of this global council is that the council shall have awareness raising and civic education of all actors of relevance (representatives of civil society, activists, official authorities, law enforcement agencies, justice agencies, legislators and media people and the like).
Recently, there have been attempts to establish principles in the fields of business (quality control, ISO, etc), environment (carbon credit, etc) and many other causes. There should be some principles and standards suitable for comparison and encouragement of positive actions and deterrence of negative activity.

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