An Indigenous activist, who is also a former Christian pastor, is teaching faith groups about reconciliation.
Kyle Mason, son of residential school and day school survivors, has launched a consulting service to help groups that have questions but don’t know who to talk to.
"There are people who want to know more, but don’t know who they could have this dialogue with," said Mason, the founder and former director of the North End Family Centre, who also served as a pastor with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
Since the news broke about finding of graves of children at former residential schools, there has been an increase in the number of Canadians who want to talk about reconciliation, he said.
He welcomes the sudden interest, but noted that sharing about those experiences is difficult for Indigenous people, especially survivors.
"They have to relive the trauma and pain when they talk about it. It’s easy for them to be overwhelmed by all the well-intentioned requests for information."
For this reason, Mason decided to offer his services, even though it’s hard for him, too.
"This is the story of my parents, and of me," he said. "It’s not just a history book. The conversations can be exhausting. They take a toll emotionally and spiritually."
To recharge, Mason takes time for self-care, to unwind, recharge and "connect with the creator," he said.
As for faith groups that want to take time to talk about residential schools and reconciliation, Mason suggests doing some preparation before contacting Indigenous people.
"There are lots of books available, a lot of information online," he said, adding the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good place to start.
But most of all, he wants non-Indigenous people to not be worried about reaching out.
"Don’t be afraid," he said. "True reconciliation starts with relationships. Indigenous people want to build relationships with non-Indigenous people as a way to understand and overcome the evil that happened."
At the same time, he recommends that faith groups plan to pay for the help they receive.
"Generally speaking, if you don’t already have an existing relationship with Indigenous people, don’t expect them to talk and relive their trauma for free," he said.
Expecting them to provide free education about their experiences is another example of the "colonizer mindset," he said.
"Taking our knowledge, pain and trauma and walking away without paying for it is just another act of colonization," he added, noting it is common in the business, non-profit and faith worlds to pay guest speakers and consultants.
Indigenous people can decide if they want to be paid or not, he said.
Mason is especially interested in talking to church groups that want to de-colonize their faith.
"Many Christians aren’t aware of how their view of Christian faith was formed from a European or western mindset," he said. "God is bigger than that. Through discussions with Indigenous people, they can become more inclusive of Indigenous views of spirituality and move away from the old missionary idea of taking God to Indigenous people."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.