THE UNPRECEDENTED native participation at General Synod reached an emotional high at the end of a service for healing as Bishop Gordon Beardy of Keewatin, who is Oji-Cree, turned to the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, and said, “I forgive you. I want to forgive your church which has become my church. I forgive your people who have become my people.”
It was the first time a high-ranking native leader within the Anglican Church of Canada had used the language of absolution concerning the church’s participation in Canada’s native residential school system, where many native children were abused.
Bishop Beardy went further and for the first time formally accepted Archbishop Peers’ 1993 apology for the church’s involvement in the system. “I accept your apology because you have worked so hard to break down the barriers,” he said.
The service, which featured native drumming, sweetgrass burning and chanting, came at the end of a full day of native presentations about the painful legacy of racism and residential schools that European exploration and Christian evangelism left in its wake.
Bishop Beardy, who has spoken of his difficult childhood experience in a residential school, was scheduled only to give the dismissal, usually only a sentence or two that sends the congregation on its way.
Instead, he addressed the primate, who stood next to him, head bowed, wearing a red and black blanket robe made by the Nisga’a people of British Columbia. Bishop Beardy said he was speaking “not as a bishop ? but as an Anishnawbe (person of the land).”
Referring to the elements of native spirituality at the service, he said, “where things were condemned before, today you receive them with joy. Where once we were outsiders, today we are with you, as a friend, as a leader, as a brother. So I extend my hand.”
At the end of his statement, he and the primate, both in tears, exchanged a long embrace.
Later, in an interview, Bishop Beardy said he had decided on his statement before the service, developing it during synod, which featured the attendance of nearly 50 indigenous participants and 20 elected delegates.
“I’m not saying we’ve resolved all our issues, but we are no longer outside the church. Before, there were no native bishops, no native representatives. Now, we are beginning a journey,” he said.
Bishop Beardy said that while he acknowledged Archbishop Peers’ apology in 1993, he wanted to wait and “see the results.”
In the intervening years, “with all the programs, they have opened doors to native people, responded to people who need healing,” he said.
The church has funded a number of projects aimed at helping those who suffered abuse in residential schools. Bishop Beardy is one of four native bishops and the only bishop who is the head of a diocese.
A lot of natives are still angry, he said, an attitude he said he understands because he felt he “didn’t want to have anything to do with the church” after boarding school. “That’s an unhealthy attitude,” he added.
Archbishop Peers said, in an interview, that he was taken by surprise by Bishop Beardy’s initiative.
“Gordon is a great person and a remarkable bishop. His capacity for creativity and surprise is nearly infinite and I thought (at the service) ‘You’ve done it again.'”
(Two weeks after General Synod, Bishop Beardy announced his resignation. A story appears in the main part of the newspaper.)