Four reflections from Elder Cindy White on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Kawennanoron Cynthia (Cindy) White  carries out the work of truth and reconciliation with a light heart and a trust in something beyond herself.

White has been a ceremonial leader and traditional healer for over two decades, becoming Elder-in-Residence at Women’s College Hospital in May 2022. She also works one day a week at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

White recently shared ideas that resonate with her leading up to National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada:

On what first comes to mind when thinking about National Day for Truth & Reconciliation

When you think about what is at the heart of the day, it’s the history, and certainly those little ones - the lives lost. When the discovery came years ago, for those number of graves in Kamloops and across Canada, I believe the greater purpose of those children was that their story was going to be told all this time later, when the people were really ready to hear it. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, people heard all those stories from the Elders and said it was horrible, but it wasn’t enough because people didn’t change their actions. So, then those children said, "We have a story to tell." That’s when people listened.

Rethinking how we build community

The more that we can come together to recreate that original council of humanity, where everyone has an equal seat in the circle, we can address this. And it was a circle! It wasn’t a square, it wasn’t a pyramid. In fact, the pyramid is inverted because we as individuals are supposed to be at the bottom and we hold up our families, our communities, our Nations, our brothers and sisters of humanity. It seems like the opposite of what I see in the health field, where doctors and degree holders are assumed to be at the top. But for our people, the great leaders and the medicine people are underneath to raise up the people - to live your life for the for the wellness of the community.

What it means to relearn culture, and move past loss and anger

We can do everything that we can to relearn our culture - the ceremonies, the song, the language, everything - to fill ourselves up with that medicine. But what I also mean by medicine is when you release all the dysfunctional things so that they no longer live inside you. You know, the anger, the fear, the hatred and jealousy, the racism - all of those "isms." The more you release, the more that the Creator’s medicines live inside you and the Creator* lives inside you.

Consider acknowledging that there is Spirit alive in elements of Creation, and that there can be open communication and dialogue to get the answers that you’re seeking for life’s problems...You know, being vulnerable is really hard for me to do because our defense mechanisms have served us well for so long. I didn’t know dissociating could be a symptom! It wasn’t until I worked in mental health and addiction that I saw it as a coping mechanism.

Sharing wisdom as an Elder-in-Residence

There is a vision for the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health, and I see myself as part of building something from the ground up. I really love and enjoy teaching, I like working with the young people, with learners, one on one. And I enjoy being able to share Indigenous original teachings with my hospital colleagues. To challenge them and to say, "These are our general original teachings and core of who we are as a people. How are you working your way back to the most original truth?" If there are elements that can be helpful to you from our practice, you’re welcome to them, while acknowledging they’re not yours. They are just a vehicle for now until you find the original teachings between you and your lineages.

In a recent gathering for reconciliation, an Elder shared this with me: "In order for reconciliation to happen, there has to be justice and equality, a sharing of power, and there has to be love in order to forgive." I believe we all have to find that place where we can feel the original love that comes from the source - the one who made us. Only then can we truly heal to forgive ourselves for our poor life choices and then to forgive others. The question becomes: Where do we all stand with that?

*Indigenous concepts of Creation, Creator and Spirit are grounded in the belief that a benevolent power or being created the world and all those living/inhabiting it and that all living things have a spirit within.

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We wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.  Read about University of Toronto’s Statement of Land Acknowledgement.


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