Confession, forgiveness and right relations

Archbishop Terence Finlay, the primate’s special envoy to the second national TRC event in Inuvik, delivers a message of solidarity at the opening ceremonies. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published June 28, 2011

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Archbishop Terence Finlay today expressed the Anglican Church of Canada’s continued commitment to the “journey of truth-telling, healing and reconciliation” with indigenous peoples who have been struggling with the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

“It’s been a difficult journey, but we are in it for as long as it takes to come home. I promise you that,” said Archbishop Finlay, the primate’s special envoy. He delivered these remarks at the opening ceremonies of the second national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada being held in Inuvik June 27 to July 1.

The ceremonies were held at Chief Jim Koe Park, a stone’s throw away from the Sir Alexander Mackenzie Day School, an imposing government building which opened in 1959. The school had classroom space for about 900 residential students from across northern Canada and day school students from Inuvik. The school still stands, but the two identical hostels that housed the students-Stringer Hall for Anglican pupils and Grollier Hall for Catholic pupils-are gone. In their place is a playground with a jungle gym and monkey bars where local children play.

The event’s theme, “It’s About Courage-A National Journey Home,” means “listening with the heart, sitting in silence and allowing the Great Spirit to heal and lead,” said Archbishop Finlay. “It’s about confession, forgiveness and right relations.”

It is also about “remembering and honoring the children who didn’t come home,” he added, referring to hundreds of former students who never saw their families again.

Coming home is also about aboriginal youth “discovering a new sense of self-respect” and rediscovering their culture, language and identity, he said. “…It’s about hope and abundant life and right relations for all as promised by the Great Spirit.”

Archbishop Finlay also extended a gesture of reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, saying that their common history in residential schools “has been a source of pain and anger to many.” With the gathering, “we have the opportunity of a new future together and I pledge to work at that.”

Rivalry between Inuit children, who attended Anglican-run residential schools and Dene children, who attended Catholic-run schools in the North, was encouraged and became a source of ongoing friction.

Leaders from Presbyterian and United churches, which operated residential schools in the south, also spoke. “We wanted to be here to be fully supportive of the truth and reconciliation process,” said the Rev. James Scott of the United Church of Canada. “We wanted to have a face of the church here for you, to listen to you and your stories.”

Scott read a message from United Church Moderator Mardi Tindall, who said that while her church is heartened by the government apology delivered in 2008 and Canada’s recent endorsement of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “the road toward justice is still a long one.”

The journey towards healing, reconciliation and “right relations” between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people of Canada has been a difficult “but worthwhile one” for the United Church and “it is far from over,” said Tindall in her message. “We are still coming to fully understand the pain that continues in the way things are for you as a result of the residential school generations later.”

The Rev. Stephen Kendall, of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, said taking part in his church’s work of healing and reconciliation changed his life. He recalled that 13 years go, during his first week on the job, he received the first residential school lawsuit against the Presbyterian Church. “In that week I was frightened, angry, ignorant of residential schools and defensive,” he said, adding that in the 13 years since, he has drawn strength from others, including “survivors, who with more grace than I can speak of, have been willing to walk the journey of understanding with me and with our church.”

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Mackenzie, Murray Chatlain, acknowledged that he had been “anxious” about attending the gathering, not knowing what kind of reception churches were going to get from former students, some of whom have filed lawsuits alleging sexual and physical abuse in the schools. But, he said, he found friends among the crowd. The gathering offers everyone a “chance for a new beginning, a new life,” said Bishop Chatlain.

The Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches operated the government-funded residential schools established in the 19th century as a way of assimilating aboriginal children into European-Canadian society. The Church of England and later, the Anglican Church of Canada, administered about three dozen residential schools between 1820 and 1969.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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