By April Ingham
Executive director, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership
In the thick of conflict, a cycle of seemingly endless horror and injustice can occur. Amid this darkness the faintest crack of light… can bring the courage, hope and action needed to release the pendulum effect, whereby the spiral downwards into chaos can eventually right itself and move towards the light.
Pacific Peoples’ Partnership (PPP) was founded in Canada in 1975 in response to nuclear testing in the South Pacific. We successfully contributed to international solidarity movements to stop the testing, and have been actively rooted within human rights, social and ecological justice work ever since. Our past campaigns and initiatives included support for peacekeeping and the truth and reconciliation processes within East Timor and Solomon Islands, and for three decades we have maintained a special focus on the human rights atrocities against the Melanesian peoples of West Papua, Indonesia. Central to our work is connecting Indigenous peoples across the Pacific for knowledge sharing and solidarity building. We actively engaged in Canada’s TRC processes and are working on several TRC recommendations in support of our Indigenous peoples and allies.
Leading up to the publication of Flowers in the Wall, PPP had the honour to host contributor Betty Gigisi in British Columbia and Ontario for two weeks. Betty was a peacekeeper in Solomon Islands following their five-year Civil War (1999-2004) and was a Chief Exhumation Officer as part of the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process that followed. Betty first participated in a TRC ceremony in traditional attire, bare chested and silent on the side line. But she courageously advocated for a voice and role for Solomons women in this process. Together women like her helped pick up the pieces and begin the healing process within their nation.
One of the most rewarding parts of our work at PPP, is to host inspiring guests like Betty for exchange and mutual learning while in Canada. We had the pleasure to accompany Betty as she explored Canada’s TRC and participated at the Ottawa based workshop “Memory, Truth and Reconciliation in South-East Asia” which led in part to the publication of Flowers in the Wall.
The following excerpts from our travelogue helps to illuminate the importance of such opportunities, for building solidarity, mutual learning and nation to nation building for peace and justice.
It’s Betty’s birthday today. She is the same age as me – we’re so different but similar. We attend a traditional pit cook on a local beach, participating in a tour by J.B. Williams to learn about the medicinal, nutritional benefits of the region’s wild foods and how to harvest them respectfully. After the nature walk with J.B., it became increasingly stormy and rainy. Back in base camp, an uncomplaining Betty is draped in coats and we warm up under blowing tarps and tents with the rain dropping all around us. She said the rain reminded her of home without the cold, of course.
On the beach was a blazing fire unaffected by the rain, with local clams being smoked at fireside on skewers and salmon being smoked and baked on a rack leaning close to the fire. Beside the fire was a sandy, steaming pit full of cooking veggies from nearby lands and farms. We were welcomed by Coast Salish Elder Earl Claxton Jr. and shared food and stories. It was Betty’s first time eating a pink fish, and she loved it.
Driving the highway so much that day, one could not help but notice the red dresses, red shirts, and sweaters hanging by the roadside. Beside these clothes were signs that proclaimed attention, justice and solidarity for Canada’s lost, murdered and missing Indigenous women. Betty had her photo taken there in respect for those women while we reflected upon the violence that faces far too many women and our own experiences of this.
We attended a session on reconciliation held at the First Peoples’ House at the University of Victoria, Betty met Indian hospital and residential school survivor Joan Morris, who is a respected Songhees Elder and PPPs guiding influence. Together we participated within preliminary discussions centred around integrating Canada’s TRC recommendations, reports and educational curriculum into the University. At the conclusion of the session Betty and Joan rang the eternal bell of healing together.
Conversations about truth and reconciliation are essential. They help us to consider the various pathways to peace and the potential minefields that can impede them. In 2011, PPP was pleased to host book contributor Patrick Walsh (holder of the Order of Timor-Leste 2009 and the Order of Australia 2012). Mr. Walsh had been asked to present the East Timor experience in a Canadian workshop about reconciliation processes in 2011.The workshop reflected on ways of remembering the Canadian residential school systems and most importantly how best to support the Indigenous survivors and their families.
Exploring ways of doing this work in a good and safe way is critical to TRC success. At its core, the process requires one to show up, employ deep listening and empathy, a willingness to examine hard truths, and right wrongs. The pathway is not always smooth, but partaking within the journey is reconciliation in action. PPP believes in the power of partnerships, the importance of nation to nation relations and in our shared learning for the betterment of all. So we are thrilled to see the realization of Flowers in the Wall. It offers important reflections and learnings about the opportunities such pathways present to those who continue to suffer injustice, such as those still battling the dark like our Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua, Indonesia. It serves as an invaluable accompaniment to the essential work of building peace.