Fund addresses legacy of schools

Published January 1, 2002

The Anglican Church of Canada’s 10-year-old healing fund, established to address social and personal problems of native Canadians, has received a $50,000 grant from the Lutheran Life Insurance Society of Canada.

The grant represents a significant amount for the fund, which as of mid-November, had distributed about $145,000 to 14 projects in 2001.

The fund dispensed about $964,000 to 97 projects from 1992 through to 2000.

“Lutheran Life agrees it would be very appropriate if our grant could be put to use … (toward) your church’s first priority right now: healing and reconciliation work in the light of the legacy of residential schools,” wrote James R. Widdecombe, vice president of communication, to General Synod’s Partnerships director Eleanor Johnson.

Lutheran Life, based in Waterloo, Ont. announced the grant last July, when the Anglican church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada endorsed “full communion” – a new, closer relationship.

While some indigenous Canadians say the now-closed residential schools provided a good education, many have said that their experiences in the system robbed them of culture, language and family ties. Hundreds are suing the churches and the federal government, alleging physical and sexual abuse.

The Anglican church, under contract to the government, managed 26 of 80 residential schools across the country.

Among grants distributed by the healing fund last year are $9,500 to elders of the Kashechewan First Nation in Kashechewan, Ont. on the west coast of James Bay to enable them to attend a meeting of former residential schools students. It was the first conference for those who had attended the Moose Fort and Horden Hall residential schools.

Another grant, of $21,000, went to the Surrey Aboriginal Cultural Society in Surrey, B.C. for three programs aimed at reconnecting aboriginal people to their culture and heritage. The largest grant, $30,940, went to the Missanabie First Nation in Garden River, Ont. near Sault Ste. Marie to hire a family support worker who will develop a healing strategy for residential school survivors.

Sharing experiences

Reports on the effects of the residential school experience point to family breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse.

An essential part of the healing process often involves sharing experiences with other school survivors and with members of the wider community, said Esther Wesley, indigenous healing fund coordinator for General Synod, in an interview.

“It helps to get it out of your system,” she said. “Lots of people have never told their stories. Especially in the case of sexual abuse, you need to find someone you can trust to talk to, then you can go on with life.”

The first healing grants – totalling $250,000 – were approved by the National Executive Council, the precursor to today’s Council of General Synod, in December, 1991.

The vote followed a meeting earlier that year where council members for the first time listened to the stories of two residential school survivors and recommended that the church ask native people for forgiveness and support healing. In 1993, the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, apologized for harm done to natives who attended Anglican boarding schools.

Full-time manager

Last March, Mrs. Wesley became the healing fund’s first full-time manager. Previously, it was administered as part of the work of Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Donna Bomberry.

The fund has not had the resources to promote its work, so groups usually hear of it by word of mouth from other groups inside and outside the church, said Mrs. Wesley.

She responds to inquiries with an application form and a copy of the primate’s 1993 apology, she said.

The word is getting out, she added, noting that so far this year, for the first time, total monetary requests outstripped the amount available.

“We received 23 proposals and turned down seven. Some didn’t quite meet the criteria (for grants). When I tallied up the total of the 23, it was $250,000, but I only had $130,000 (to distribute),” she said.

Among the criteria are that projects involve aboriginal people at the grassroots level and include a plan to report results.

A total of $300,000 was available in 2001, but $100,000 goes directly to dioceses for local healing projects, she said.

Mrs. Wesley, 52, is an Oji-Cree who grew up in the small community of Sachigo Lake in northern Ontario. She did not attend residential school but her 10 brothers and sisters did, often all year. “One of my sisters I never met until I was 13 years old. To this day she is more of a stranger to me,” she recalled.

To this day two of her siblings “will not set foot in a church,” she said.

“My father used to say he lost all his children, but because it was the system, he had no choice and as a leader he had to go with it,” she said.

Mrs. Wesley’s father, Rev. Alex Barkman, was an Anglican priest who was also a home builder and fur trapper.

Although she did not attend school until the age of eight, her father would bring a load of books for her to study when the family made winter camp on the traplines, she said. Mrs. Wesley went on to attend the University of Alberta and pursued a career as a teacher.

In addition to her work processing applications and disbursing grants, she is trying to determine whether people are actually being healed by the various projects.

Progress is young

“I have asked myself that. We are starting to follow up, even going back to 1992,” she said, noting that previous staff didn’t have the time to do this. She also noted that the process is still young. Although the fund was established 10 years ago, many former students are just starting to tell their stories.

Native Canadians are seeing the effects of residential schools moving through generations.

Anglican families in native communites are often split between those loyal to the church and those hostile to it, she said.

The healing fund is financed from General Synod revenues, but donations have been picking up recently, she said.

The Lutheran Life grant is a major example, but at General Synod last July, a group of black Anglicans from the diocese of Toronto made a $4,000 donation.

Donations from parishes, dioceses and individuals totalled about $26,000 in 2001, she said.

Mrs. Wesley passionately believes in her work, although she said she “sometimes has a problem with people within the church that have trouble accepting new ideas and resist change.”

This is the first in an occasional series on General Synod’s healing work. For more, visit the Internet at or


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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