Making Peace with the Unforgivable

On November 11th we are asked to remember those who gave their lives fighting for peace. How could we not forget? Armed conflict, brutality, violence, torture, abuse and killing continue. We’re exposed to it daily. Most of us indirectly through the media. What do we do with our fear? Our outrage? Our “eye for an eye” urges? Is it really possible to forgive the unforgivable? Why should we? Is peacemaking a naïve, romantic, impractical notion? Does averting our eyes amount to acceptance?

For answers let’s turn to Amanda Lindhout, Douglas Roche and Melissa Herman who are part of a rich tradition of peacemaking in Alberta.

First, is Amanda Lindhout of Canmore. She spent 460 days in hell being beaten tortured and assaulted after being kidnapped at gunpoint in Somalia. Her capturers demanded $2.5 million ransom from her mother who was earning minimum wage working at a bakery and her father who was on long-term disability. She was released in November 2009 after her family’s much smaller and private ransom payment. Her mother’s determination to free her daughter is told here. One of Ms. Lindhout’s kidnappers is currently on trial in Canada.

Lindhout established the Global Enrichment Foundation in 2010 to educate and empower women and children in Somalia and Kenya. The reason:

“You can very easily go into anger and bitterness and revenge thoughts and resentment and ‘Why me?'[…] Because I had something very, very large and very painful to forgive, and by choosing to do that, I was able to put into place my vision, which was making Somalia a better place[…] I’ve never questioned whether or not it was the right thing to do[…] What else to do after the experience that I had, than something like this?”

You can read more in her best selling memoir, A House in the Sky. 

Next is Douglas Roche of Edmonton who has devoted his life to replace the culture of war with a culture of peace as an MP, Senator and as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament. Why?  Because while Canada may not be at war, we are part of the war economy. In 2016 we became the second biggest arms exporter to the volatile Middle East on the strength of sales to Saudi Arabia. That moved us up to 6th overall among arms-exporting countries according to IHS Jane’s, the publication that tracks military spending.

Roche’s current initiative is to get Canada to sign the UN’s Nuclear Prohibition Treaty. He bluntly states that Justin Trudeau lacks the courage of his father on that topic.

Overall Roche remains hopeful for a more peaceful world. “The false narrative of our times that the world is spinning out of control needs to be countered by a recognition that virtually every index by which we measure world progress is accelerating upwards. Commerce, technology, science, agriculture, renewable energy, medicine, communications, transportation, environmental protection, womenʼs rights, international law are all leaping forward… The violence we see abroad and at home is no longer considered normal, it is an aberration.”  

His latest book is Hope Not Fear: Building Peace in a Fractured World.

Last is Melissa Herman a Dené woman, indigenous to Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. She is a journalist and social innovator who embraces traditional knowledge. Her work includes securing justice for the missing and murdered Indigenous Women from Treaty 8: Shirley Ann Waquan, Shelly Tanis Dene, Janice Desjarlais, Amber Tuccaro, and Elaine Alook. Melissa believes that the greatest challenge is not that people don’t care about these women, it is that they don’t know enough about them. Her candid piece Run Her Story One More Time describes the challenges she is facing and the practical steps she is taking.

“When a common, authentic language is found, the voice of Indigenous people can be amplified, and we can take control of our own narrative. Only then can we start building empathy with Canadians in regards to broken treaties, missing and murdered Indigenous women, accessibility to clean water, access to mental health services and the high number of Indigenous children in government care.”

You can read more of Melissa’s wisdom in a new book on Canadian social innovation to be launched later this month.


“If you can’t reach that place of forgiveness, then you’re going to get stuck in that place of anger and bitterness…Forgiveness is not saying it’s okay or acceptable, it’s saying that I’m choosing to let go of this for my own health and to move on in life.” (Dale Lang, Taber Alberta whose son was murdered by a 14 year old student.)

Musical accompaniment this post is You Were Never Broken written by another Albertan, Jann Arden about Amanda Lindhout. Purchase her music.


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One Comment

  1. Melissa Herman

    Thank you for this, Al. You thinking of me in this regard brought me to tears… I almost forgot that I wrote that story. Reading it again has given me strength. Your words remind me why I am doing this.. even when it gets hard. I hope we cross paths again some day. I am sorry that we lost touch. I hope all is well with you and your family.

    sending love from treaty 8

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