This is Father Sam Ata, an Anglican priest and chair of the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Father Ata talked with us today about his work helping the nation learn about, and heal from, the ethnic tensions of 1998 to 2003. The conflict began between people of two islands—Guadalcanal and Malaita—around issues of land ownership, illegal settlement, and employment. Thousands were displaced and more than 100 people killed.
The TRC has gone through a process of public and closed hearings and has gathered around 5,000 pieces of information. They have written a report that many hope will be made public by July.
For an hour we listened and talked, comparing the work here to Canada’s current TRC on Indian residential schools.
We were especially interested to hear that churches here played a powerful role in the TRC because they were viewed as neutral. Here are some things we learned:
- The churches (in the form of the ecumenical Solomon Islands Christian Association) called for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Father Sam Ata, a Malaitan, was chosen as chair because clergy worked to be impartial during the conflict. Father Ata once had to tell a fellow Malaitan that he belonged to the church first, not Malaita.
- Father Ata cultivated a network of Christians who prayed for the commission. They would light candles in Australia and New Zealand whenever there was a public hearing.
- The Right Rev. Dr. Terry Brown, former bishop of Malaita and a Canadian, edited the report.
- Almost all of the public hearings happened in churches. Some Christian leaders were concerned about repurposing their worship spaces, but many eventually conceded.
- Father Ata hopes that now that the commission has ended, the church will take a lead in providing trauma counseling and exhuming bodies—the community networks know where people are buried.
- “The church speaks the language of reconciliation,” said Father Ata. “Not the government.”
So it was an inspiring and full day, after many inspiring and full days. Tomorrow we begin our long journey back (through Vanuatu, Fiji, and Los Angeles), so this will most likely be my last blog post. Thank you for reading! More stories from the Anglican Church of Melanesia will run in the Anglican Journal in the months to come.