In 1993, Archbishop Michael Peers, then the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, apologized to aboriginal Anglicans for the church’s involvement in the Indian residential schools.
The church administered about three dozen schools and hostels between 1820 and 1969. In the late 1980s, many students came forward with stories detailing physical and sexual abuse and loss of language; some eventually filed lawsuits against the government and the church. Since then, the church has sought to address the residential schools legacy in various ways, including support for indigenous ministries, the establishment of a healing fund in 1991, and signing the residential schools settlement agreement in 2003 and the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007.
The revised agreement includes the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a research centre. The TRC intends to provide former students and their families with a chance to share their experiences in a “safe and culturally-appropriate environment.”
Last year, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reiterated the church’s apology and pledged the church’s full and meaningful participation in the work of the TRC. He was among those who led the Remembering the Children tour to raise awareness about the TRC and to urge Anglicans to “live out” the church’s apology and work to improve the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.
Last November, representatives from the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada gathered to train volunteers who will assist their churches in participating in the TRC’s work.
The same event will be organized in other regions across Canada.
What can individual Anglicans and congregations do to help the TRC promote healing and reconciliation? A lot, participants said, noting that most churches already have existing networks of volunteers and the logistics to host events.
1. Get informed.
* There are many resources about the residential schools and aboriginal issues online, including dedicated sections on church websites. Among them: The Anglican Church of Canada, www.anglican.ca/rs United Church of Canada, www.united-church.ca/aboriginal/schools/resources Presbyterian Church in Canada, www.presbyterian.ca/ministry/justice/healing KAIROS, www.kairoscanada.org/en/solidarity/aboriginal-rights Aboriginal Healing Foundation, www.ahf.ca/publications/residential-schools-resources
· Visit an aboriginal community.
Rev. Norm Casey, rector of the Parish of Six Nations in Brantford, Ont., invites groups of 20 or less to visit the Woodland Cultural Centre, which offers educational programs on First Nations peoples. The visit includes a visit to the museum, the Royal Chapel of the Mohawks and other Anglican parishes, and the Six Nations Reserve. For more information, contact Rev. Casey at [email protected]
· Hold special events such as:A film festival and discussion – The award-winning film, “Niiganibatowaad:FrontRunners” explores issues of racism, residential schools and healing. The Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches have collaborated on a study guide that helps aboriginal and non-aboriginal people explore the difficult, often contentious issue of forced assimilation. For more information on the guide and the DVD, please contact eco-justice co-ordinator Canon Maylanne Maybee at [email protected]”Muffins for Granny” is a documentary which delves into the personal history of the filmmaker, Nadia McLaren, whose grandmother attended a residential school. The film is available at Chapters-Indigo stores. More information can be found at http://profile.myspace.com/muffinsforgranny The National Film Board has a wide selection of films on aboriginal rights and cultures. Visit www.nfb.ca for details.
· Use interactive resources
“The Blanket Exercise,” developed in 1997, poignantly demonstrates the psychological and emotional impact of being forced to live on smaller and smaller pieces of land. A guide on how to conduct the exercise is found in a booklet, “In Peace and Friendship: A new relationship with Aboriginal Peoples,” published by KAIROS, (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives) a dynamic, church-based social justice movement. For more information, contact Ed Bianchi , KAIROS indigenous rights co-ordinator, at [email protected] or at (613) 235-9956.
2. Develop a North-South partnership.
Duff’s Presbyterian Church in Guelph, Ont. has twinned with Webequie First Nations Reserve, located on Eastwood Island, about 500 km. north of Thunder Bay. “People in the North often think that no one in the South cares about them,” said Micheal Hardy, executive director of Mamow Sha-way-gi-kay-win or North-South Partnership for Children. This is a serious, long-term commitment, “not just a visit,” he said. The partnership seeks to “improve the lives of children, youth and families in remote First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.” For more information, visit www.northsouthpartnership.com
3. Organize a local TRC support group.
A group of aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents of Peterborough meet regularly once a month for “deep and challenging” discussions about issues around healing and reconciliation. The group, Kawartha TRC group, is now preparing a truth and reconciliation quilt that will travel with the TRC when it hosts national events. For information on how to start a group, contact (INFO TO FOLLOW).
4. Organize a local TRC.
This involves careful planning. Gord Peters, executive director of the community-based TRC organized by Council Fire, an aboriginal group based in Toronto, said that since this involves statement-taking from residential schools survivors, it requires a lot of preparation. Participants had to sign a waiver and consent form, grief counselors, healers and medicine people had to be present, among others. For more information, contact the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre at (416)360-4350.
5. Involve youth.
Organize events around the TRC with youth members of your parish. “Youth are experiential-oriented and teachings often come from visual experience…,” said Kim Wheatly, aboriginal program director of the Toronto Zoo. “Don’t segregate the young and old. Make it an inclusive experience.”