The Anglican Church in Canada has sent a strongly worded open letter, expressing dismay over a Conservative Senator’s recent defence of the Indian Residential Schools system. Earlier this month, Senator Lynn Beyak criticised the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for letting the negative aspects of the schools system overshadow the “good deeds” of “well-intentioned” teachers.
The letter, signed by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald and the General Secretary Archdeacon Michael Thompson, robustly confronts Senator Beyak’s perspective: "Senator Beyak, you are quite right in saying that for a small minority of survivors, their personal experiences of residential school were 'good.' But in much greater numbers, the personal experiences of children who were housed in those schools were 'bad — very bad in fact.” Looking back over the history of the schools - 35 of which were operated by the Anglican Church of Canada - the letter states: “the overall view is grim. It is shadowed and dark; it is sad and shameful.”
The signatories, reflecting on the testimony given by former residents of the schools, said : “We have been rendered speechless by what we heard. We have hung our heads in shame and raised them with remorse over the pain our church inflicted upon those children.”
The letter says the schools system was an attempt at cultural genocide – from its stated goal of “killing the Indian in the child” by stripping away all aspects of Indigenous culture to the rampant physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse perpetrated against many students. The abuses “were nothing less than crimes against humanity,” the letter said.
“There was nothing good about taking away children, removing their traditional dress, cutting their hair, taking away their name, confiscating their personal effects and giving them a number,” the letter said. “There was nothing good about experimenting with children’s diet to monitor the impact on their dental hygiene or their digestive systems. There was nothing good about pressing children into forced labour. It was state-sanctioned cruelty.”
The letter also noted the link between the residential schools and the many problems plaguing Indigenous communities as a result of intergenerational trauma, such as high addiction rates, poor health and family dysfunction.
The signatories encouraged Senator Beyak to review the TRC report, and especially the 94 “Calls to Action” and to listen to the stories and perspectives of survivors: “It will take years to address these Calls to Action fully, but in our commitment as a country to do so, we must be unwavering. We implore you to share in that commitment.”