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Many clergy and staff from the Anglican Church of Canada are travelling to Ottawa to participate in the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) from May 31 to June 3, and they are encouraging Anglicans to engage with the event wherever they are in the country.
Since 2010, thousands of former students of Indian residential schools have come to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s seven national events and several regional events held across Canada to tell others about what they experienced in the schools.
Others came to listen and learn, and in the case of the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, to offer the church’s apology and gestures of reconciliation. Hiltz has attended all of the TRC events, symbolizing, he said, the church’s unequivocal commitment and efforts to support healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Hiltz will be joined in the Ottawa event by eight other bishops and various clergy and lay representatives from the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and the dioceses of Ottawa, Arctic, New Westminster, Quebec, Toronto, Saskatchewan and Niagara.
The diocese of Ottawa’s executive archdeacon, David Selzer, will represent the church for the lighting of the sacred fire on Victoria Island at 4:30 a.m., signalling the start of the closing event. At noon, Anglicans will join the public Walk for Reconciliation, which will start from Ecole secondaire de l’Ile (255 Saint-Redempteur St.) in Gatineau, Que., on the other side of the Ottawa River, and end at Ottawa City Hall.
Bishop John Chapman of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa has issued a letter urging all clergy and lay people in the diocese to “keep this historic week in your parish prayers and personal prayers.”
Anglicans across the country are also participating in the TRC’s call to ring church bells at noon EDT on Sunday, May 31, to honour residential school survivors and demonstrate their commitment to truth, healing and reconciliation. Beyond the TRC, the church has launched #22days, a campaign that will stretch from the start of the closing TRC event in Ottawa on May 31 to National Aboriginal Day on June 21. The campaign encourages Anglicans to participate in activities ranging from prayers to a ringing church bells for murdered and missing Aboriginal women, listening to stories of school survivors and considering how they can—individually and collectively—continue the work of “restoring right relations” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.
In his letter, Chapman wrote that in seeking reconciliation, it is vitally important to look not only at the past but also the present. Because 1,122 Indigenous women are currently counted as murdered or missing, he noted that all parishes with church bells are encouraged to ring them 1,122 times throughout the 22 days of prayer. Some churches have decided to ring their bells each Wednesday at 2 p.m., but the idea was intended to adapt to local contexts.
On Monday, June 1, events begin with a grand entry into a plenary session at the Delta Ottawa hotel, where most of the events are being held. Hiltz will represent the Anglican church at the grand entry. Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes and hockey star Joe Juneau will be inducted as honorary witnesses.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, meanwhile, will take part in a public discussion, Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery: The Road to Reconciliation, which will take place at 9 a.m. in the Councillor’s Lounge at Ottawa City Hall.
KAIROS Canada, the social justice organization supported by an ecumenical group of churches including the Anglican Church of Canada, has put together a May 29 to June 3 conference with events at Carleton University from May 29 to 30 and on June 3 at the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral. The conference is slated to include plenary sessions on reconciliation, decolonization and workshops on topics such as how Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth can get to know each other better, child welfare policies that have and still take many Indigenous children away from their families and culture, and on Indigenous rights in relation to resource extraction.
MacDonald is participating in several of the KAIROS events. He is one of the presenters at a May 30 plenary session on the theme of decolonization along with Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel and scholar Erica Violet Lee. That afternoon, he and KAIROS executive director Jennifer Henry will lead a workshop on “Decolonizing Bible,” which will “look at how scripture can help inspire and animate commitments to Indigenous rights and justice by Indigenous peoples and settler allies.”
On June 1 in the afternoon, MacDonald will be at Christ Church for a panel discussion on “Decolonizing Church” with National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) and Rev. Michael Blair of the United Church of Canada. This panel will discuss how Canadian churches are facing up to their different roles in the colonization of Canada and how are they committing to reconciliation and decolonization moving forward.
Other highlights of the TRC closing
Throughout Monday and Tuesday, sharing circles will be open for former students to talk about their experiences in residential schools. Space will also be provided for former students who wish to give private statements about their experiences in the schools, which operated from the mid-19th to the 20th century. Churches—including the Anglican Church of Canada—operated 130 schools for more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children as part of the Canadian government’s forced assimilation policy. Many children were abused emotionally, physically and sexually in the schools.
On Monday afternoon, there will be a plenary session with a panel discussion of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There will also be a plenary session with a panel discussion for young adults titled “Inspiring Reconcili-Action: Learning a New Way Forward.”
That evening, a mass “blanket exercise” will take place on Parliament Hill. The blanket exercise is an interactive history lesson developed by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, Indigenous teachers and elders about 15 years ago. Since then, it has been used thousands of times in a wide variety of settings. It uses blankets to represent the land and scripts that take participants through the history of colonialism in Canada, illustrating its consequences and effects.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 2, the final report of the TRC will be presented, with responses from all parties including former students, the churches and the Canadian government. Later in the day, the passing of the torch and closing ceremonies will be held.
On Wednesday, June 3, a “heart garden” will be planted at Rideau Hall, the residence of the governor general, “as a tribute to all students of the Indian Residential Schools and their families.” Hundreds of children from the Ottawa-Gatineau area will carry two paper hearts attached to wooden gardening stakes. They will plant one in the heart garden at Rideau Hall and share the other with an adult attending the ceremony, then the children will sing and lead a procession away from Rideau Hall, symbolizing the hope for a future of reconciliation. The project was jointly created by the TRC, Project of Heart, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, and KAIROS Canada, a social justice organization supported by an ecumenical group of churches and faith-based organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada. KAIROS is inviting individuals and communities to join the initiative by making a heart for the garden in Ottawa or making a heart garden in their own community. “The goal is to honour children lost to the Indian Residential School system and mark new possibilities in reconciliation,” according to KAIROS.
Other Anglican representatives who plan to attend the event are retired Archbishop Terence Finlay, the primate’s envoy on residential schools; Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Spiritual Indigenous Ministry of Mishamikoweesh; Bishop Adam Halkett, suffragan bishop of the diocese of Saskatchewan; Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk and Suffragan Bishop Darren McCartney of the diocese of the Arctic; Bishop Dennis Drainville of the diocese of Quebec; Archdeacon Michael Thompson, General Synod general secretary; Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Ginny Doctor; Henriette Thompson, director of public witness for social and ecological justice; Adele Finney, executive director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund; and Laurette Glasgow, special advisor on government relations for the Anglican Church of Canada.
As in previous TRC events, the General Synod archives will have a booth, where former students and their families can have access to photographs and documents related to the schools.