Accepting the truth

(L-R) Looee Okalik, Bishop Sue Moxley and Lottie May Johnson. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published October 29, 2011
Halifax—Saying that right relations with aboriginal people “has to start with truth,” Bishop Sue Moxley acknowledged that she had to come to terms with the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada was complicit in the damage brought about by Indian residential schools.

Moxley, who is bishop of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, spoke about her church’s work in healing and reconciliation and her own involvement in it, at the Atlantic National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) being held here. The event has drawn about 500 former students and their families, as well as representatives of the government, churches and other institutions.

Bishop Moxley said her life changed in 1993 when she was invited to observe a Sacred Circle–a gathering of indigenous Anglicans held ever four years. After four-and-a-half days of listening to students talk about their residential school experiences, Bishop Moxley realized “the church I loved had this great big black blotch in its history.”

Her voice breaking, Bishop Moxley also spoke about the role that Anglican aboriginal elder and activist Gladys Cook played in awakening her to the plight of Canada’s indigenous people. Cook, who died in 2009, was among the first to speak about her experience at an Anglican-run residential school. Wearing a string of beads that Cook gave her, Bishop Sue recounted Cook’s story of how, upon her arrival at the school, a staff member had yanked the bead necklace that Cook wore, a gift from her grandmother. Then a young girl, Cook had scrambled to collect the scattered beads. “At that point I had two little girls and I thought, ‘How could anybody do that to a little girl?’ ” said Bishop Moxley.

In another forum, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada offered an apology to students “for the years of lost love” and for “the aggressive efforts to remake you in our image.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz said, “I am sorry for the bruising of your bodies, the crushing of your spirits and the violation of your innocence…I am deeply sorry for the terrible pain we inflicted, and for the terrible memories that many of you still carry today.”

The Anglican church first offered its apology to students in 1993.

While it did not operate any school in the Atlantic region, it has sent representatives here to “acknowledge our involvement” in operating 35 schools in other parts of Canada, said Henriette Thompson, the church’s coordinator for ecumenical, interfaith and government relations.

“I come before you to renew our commitment to the journey of healing and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “I realize that it’s not enough for me to say I’m sorry and everything will be alright. I, and my church, must listen to your stories, your hurts, the humiliation and the burden of our sins on your lives.”

After the primate spoke, a former student acknowledged his apology. Ruth Maloney-Loft, who attended the Roman Catholic-run Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia, said: “I’ve made a decision to forgive because I don’t want to be bitter and full of hatred.”



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