Morley elder witnesses African forgiveness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 1, 2005

Morley coffee companion Tina Fox has just returned from central Africa, where she was blown away by accounts of the healing power of forgiveness between Hutus and Tutsis.

Responding to my May 18 column about reconciliation between a Stoney Nakoda elder and one of our non-Stoney coffee companions, Tina wrote:

THANK YOU for your story on Elder Bill McLean. It is a moving story. Forgiveness frees one from hatred and bitterness and helps one move beyond it to a better life and to build better relationships with friends and family.

On my recent trip to Uganda in April, I attended a conference in Kampala where I heard horrific stories of torture, rape of women and young girls, including a baby girl, and other atrocities that made me feel inadequate and helpless. It made me realize my problems were peanuts in comparison to what I heard.

What astounded me were the stories told by survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. Widows of those killed in the Hutu and Tutsi conflicts told us that after the conflicts died down, women got together and the only action they felt they could take was to cook meals and take them to the prison where the killers of their husbands were jailed – to feed them.

Feed those who had killed your husband and, in some cases, your whole family? I was blown away. I was amazed at their resilience. In spite of the horrific stories they told, they had the capacity to still joyfully sing, dance and worship Jesus! I was amazed and touched. This is what forgiveness did for them, and I was humbled by this experience.

—Tina Fox, Morley

TINA, ALSO AN ELDER of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, is no stranger to conflict resolution and reconciliation.

I've known her for most of my adult life. I've watched her develop into a leader distinguished by prudence, compassion, and moral courage. A no-nonsense person who refuses to be victimized, she has been valiant in the face of personal crisis and political perversity, exposing destructive social patterns where necessary, and facilitating community healing at every opportunity.

As a peacemaker, she has become a "bridge over troubled waters" within and across her First Nation boundaries, and is widely in demand as a conference speaker and wellness facilitator.

For all these reasons and more, the Calgary-area YWCA honoured her in 1998 with its prestigious Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award.

After retiring from 24 years in public life in tribal politics and administration, she undertook studies at Brandon University at age 59, graduating in 2003 with a bachelor degree in First Nations and Aboriginal Counseling.

So, what took her away from our springtime foothills crocuses to the heart of Africa?

As a representative of Initiatives of Change, an international movement committed to healing the hatreds that have long divided the human race, Tina was part of a 10-day joint effort with the Clean Africa Campaign.

Throughout the region there is "a lot of corruption that people are trying to clean up at all levels of government," Tina told me over coffee the other day. "A lot of people want to clean this up," she said, noting a headline in a Kampala newspaper: "3,000 ghosts on payroll!"

There's a special determination among the women to clean up the corruption and heal the wounds of genocide, she said.

"We hear about it in the media over here, but it really doesn't touch you till you hear it directly from the women survivors of torture," she said. "I was hearing it from the people who are actually living with it."

Clarifying something she wrote in her letter – that the reports she heard in Africa made her feel "inadequate and helpless" – she told me that, upon further reflection, there was indeed one thing she realized she could – and must – do:

"The only way I think I can help these people is to keep on retelling their stories."

And Tina, we your coffee companions are honoured that you have chosen this column as one way you can fulfill that commitment. Thank you.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page