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Canadian bishops embrace indigenous “calls to action” as “hope for a brighter and better future”

Posted on: October 27, 2015 10:50 AM
This 1908 photograph, held by the Library and Archives of Canada, shows staff and residents of an Indian Residential School in Regina, Saskatchewan
Photo Credit: John Woodruff

[ACNS] The bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada have welcomed the “calls to action” from the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and say that they “remain deeply committed to walking in partnership with Indigenous peoples.”

The TRC was established as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which recognised the “emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”

It was “part of an overall holistic and comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy [and] a sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people and the need for continued healing.”

The TRC’s constitution describes it as “a profound commitment to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future.”

In its findings, published in July, the TRC says that the residential school system was an education system in name only for much of its existence.

“These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture – the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

“The schools were in existence for well over 100 years, and many successive generations of children from the same communities and families endured the experience of them. That experience was hidden for most of Canada’s history, until Survivors of the system were finally able to find the strength, courage, and support to bring their experiences to light in several thousand court cases that ultimately led to the largest class-action lawsuit in Canada’s history.”

For six years, the TRC travelled all over Canada “to hear from the Aboriginal people who had been taken from their families as children, forcibly if necessary, and placed for much of their childhoods in residential schools.” It heard from more than 6,000 witnesses, most of whom survived the experience of living in the schools as students; and concludes that “the stories of that experience are sometimes difficult to accept as something that could have happened in a country such as Canada, which has long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace, and kindness throughout the world.

“Children were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country, or in the world. But, shaming and pointing out wrongdoing were not the purpose of the Commission’s mandate. Ultimately, the Commission’s focus on truth determination was intended to lay the foundation for the important question of reconciliation.

“Now that we know about residential schools and their legacy, what do we do about it? Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship.

“Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.

“Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

The final report of the TRC contained 94 “calls to action” – some of which are directed at the churches. One of these requires churches to put in place plans to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) before April next year.

“For churches, demonstrating long-term commitment requires atoning for actions within the residential schools, respecting Indigenous spirituality, and supporting Indigenous peoples’ struggles for justice and equity,” the report said.

“Schools must teach history in ways that foster mutual respect, empathy, and engagement. All Canadian children and youth deserve to know Canada’s honest history, including what happened in the residential schools, and to appreciate the rich history and knowledge of Indigenous nations who continue to make such a strong contribution to Canada, including our very name and collective identity as a country.

“For Canadians from all walks of life, reconciliation offers a new way of living together.”

The report and its findings were discussed this week at a meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops. “We recognize the tremendous courage of all who shared their experiences of loneliness, humiliation and abuse,” the bishops said in a statement. “We commend the Commissioners for their steadfastness in listening to these stories and ensuring that they are never lost but preserved for all time in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. . .”

In their summary of the report, the bishops speak of “the terrible consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis of a federal policy of assimilation made operable through the Indian Residential Schools; and the trauma of emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse experienced by thousands of children, many of whom died or went missing.”

And on the 94 calls to action, they say: “We embrace these calls to action in the spirit in which the Commissioners issued them – as a roadmap for all Canadians in a journey toward reconciliation and renewal in our country.

“We acknowledge the efforts of the staff of the General Synod to put in place a plan for how our Church will respond to these calls to action; and we are especially grateful for the commitment of The Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice to help us to do this work well. . .

“In the spirit of a number of the Calls to Action we remain deeply committed to walking in partnership with Indigenous peoples in their quest for self-determination and rejoice in those moments that bring the vision of the elders and the hopes of the youth into greater focus and fruition.

“Many of us have been blessed to have had one of the Commissioners speak at our Synods or other diocesan gatherings. We have learned much and been humbled by how much more we need to learn. We have been challenged and inspired to take our part in hearing and telling the truth, and in being ambassadors for that reconciliation by which relations in our country will be rebuilt.

“We commit our best efforts to personally speak about these calls to action in our dioceses and to engage others in the work to which these calls summon us.

“We ask your prayers for all Indigenous Peoples in Canada. In the midst of what so many describe as ‘overwhelming death in our communities’ these calls to action represent so much hope for a brighter and better future for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.”

The bishops also ask people to pray for the new federal government in Canada, and that the calls to action will be declared as a priority as it sets its course. In their statement the bishops asked people to use a specific prayer written with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in mind:

“Great Creator God,
who desires that all creation
live in harmony and peace.

Remembering the Children,
we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation
where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart
and the chance of restoring the circle,
where justice walks with all,
where respect leads to true partnership,
where the power to change comes from each heart.

Hear our prayer of hope
and guide this country of Canada
on a new and different path.