With his time in public office nearing its end, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the significance of attending meaningful events, like the one Sunday afternoon at Grace Presbyterian Church, is not lost on him.
“It was a beautiful day,” says Nenshi. “I was very emotional.”
The mayor joined representatives of the church and members of the Indigenous community to discuss the upcoming National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
“Reconcili-action,” what needs to be done moving forward, was spoken of often.
“While a lot of people’s hearts are broken, broken hearts are also open hearts,” says Nenshi. “This is our chance to be able to work together to figure out what to do.”
The church was an important setting for Sunday’s gathering.
On July 1, Grace Presbyterian was one of nearly a dozen churches in Calgary that were vandalized with red or orange paint following the horrific revelations about unmarked Indigenous graves in Canada.
At the time, many of the churches chose to remove the paint, but not Grace Presbyterian. They elected to keep the paint as a way to remember the generational trauma caused by residential schools.
“When we had the red paint splattered on our door, we realized that we didn’t have great relationships with Indigenous people,” says Rev. Jake Van Pernis.
“We had to start to form them.”
In the following months, Van Pernis says that land acknowledgements are read and the church is now a space for residential school survivors to share their stories.
On Sunday, Shirley Shingoose Dufour spoke about her experience and stressed the importance of finding forgiveness.
“There was a lot of damage done. I still had to heal. I still had to forgive,” she said.
Van Pernis is encouraging people to wear orange shirts on Thursday and seek out ways that they can be part of the solution.
“This was just one event, but we need to be involved.”