At the first major national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, will demonstrate the church’s support for the commission’s work and for survivors of abuse at residential schools.
“What’s most important is the ministry of presence…that we be there, on the ground, as a sign of support for the work of the TRC, as a sign of support for the survivors as they take the journey to share their stories,” said Archbishop Hiltz.
He will join other Canadian Anglicans at the June 15 to 19 event at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg. The Forks is an historic site of early aboriginal settlement where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River. The Winnipeg event will be the first of seven national events to be hosted by the TRC to document the history the Indian residential schools system and to educate Canadians about its tragic legacy.
“It is hard to overestimate the importance” of the event, said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. “After a number of stalls and hopes that have risen and fallen too many times, there is much that is falling upon this gathering. It is critical that all of us put whatever we can into it being a success. As many of us that can, should attend. Everyone should pray.”
He added that the event “will frame much of the future of the TRC, a process that will shape much of Canada’s future.”
The TRC is part of a revised residential schools settlement agreement between former students, the federal government and churches. The agreement took effect September 2007.
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, Metis and Inuit children as part of the Canadian government’s forced assimilation policy.Native and non-native Anglicans from the diocese of Rupert’s Land as well as national church staff will attend the event.
The Anglican Church of Canada has set aside $30,000 for the event. Some of these funds will cover the cost of food, transportation and accommodation for residential school survivors, with the elderly given priority. A reception for residential school survivors is also planned.
The General Synod Archives will display research documents about the residential schools and the aboriginal students who attended them. “We will have binders for each school represented at the Winnipeg event that will have information and copies of photos related to the school,” said Laurel Parson, General Synod assistant archivist. The Anglican-run residential schools represented include Elkhorn (Man.), Mackay (The Pas, Man.), MacKay (Dauphin, Man.), Pelican Lake (Sioux Lookout, Ont.), and Shingwauk (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.).
TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair has said that the four-day event “is a first for former Indian residential schools students, a first for Canada.” He said that he and his fellow commissioners “have made a commitment to former students that we will hear from as many of them as we are logistically and humanly able to.”
Each day will begin with the lighting of a sacred fire, a pipe ceremony and drum calling, after which church representatives will meet with survivors in a “survivor tent.” TRC commissioners will also begin the private statement-taking from survivors who wish to have their stories documented. The event will feature various tents: for apology, for traditional healing services for survivors; for sharing; and for community events. Inter-faith and exhibit tents will offer opportunities to learn about aboriginal culture and life through art, lectures, film shows and plays. A pow-wow and a major concert will feature both native and non-native artists.
On April 27, Justice Sinclair proposed that the United Nations host an international roundtable discussion on truth commissions within the next two years. He also invited the international community to the Winnipeg event “to participate with us and to bear witness” to the TRC’s activities.
“We know that there are as many as 50 countries around the world that have operated or are planning similar commissions,” said Justice Sinclair, addressing the 9th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “This is an opportune time to have an international discussion on these processes so that we can share and learn about experiences of practices that work best.”
Sinclair noted that truth commissions have often been set up “because an act or policy of a government caused significant harm to its people, and such harm had to be acknowledged and addressed.”