Language preservation key to reconciliation, says Healing Fund co-ordinator

“If we don’t support language, then all the [Indigenous] children that are coming up are going to lose their identity,” Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation co-ordinator Esther Wesley tells CoGS. Photo: André Forget
“If we don’t support language, then all the [Indigenous] children that are coming up are going to lose their identity,” Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation co-ordinator Esther Wesley tells CoGS. Photo: André Forget
Published November 18, 2016

Mississauga, Ont.
If the Anglican Church of Canada wants to strengthen its reconciliation efforts, it should continue to provide funds for the preservation of Indigenous languages, says Esther Wesley, co-ordinator for the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation.

In a November 17 presentation to Council of General Synod (CoGS), Wesley provided a statistical breakdown of the projects the fund has supported since it was launched in 1991. Of the various kinds of initiative the fund supports, the largest single category has been translation and language preservation.

Of the $7,359,209 the fund has disbursed since it was established, roughly $960,000-around 13.04 per cent-has gone toward a total of 70 language and translation projects across the country. The fund, which offers grants that “help educate and heal,” was established by the church in response to the harmful legacy of the Indian residential school system.

Wesley explained that over the course of her 15 years as co-ordinator for the fund, she has become convinced that most of the issues Indigenous peoples are facing have a common root: the loss of identity that occurred when Indigenous children were taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools-loss of identity that was tied up in loss of language, she said.

“It was one that stood out…language-that language work must continue,” she said. “If we don’t support language, then all the children that are coming up are going to lose their identity.”

Wesley said that by losing their language, Indigenous children also lost their sense of community and their traditional values, which in turn has led to rampant addiction problems, family breakdown, community dysfunction and extremely high rates of suicide among Indigenous people.

The fund has provided millions of dollars for programs that support children and youth, development of resources, reunions for residential school survivors, training, capacity building and community healing services. But supporting the preservation and teaching of Indigenous languages is necessary if Indigenous people are to rebuild their sense of self, she said.

“The church has been talking about reconciliation, but you cannot have reconciliation without the support of the people whose lives were destroyed, the communities that were destroyed,” Wesley said.

Wesley said that she started compiling the fund’s statistics during a sabbatical earlier this year. While she hasn’t yet finished a complete report of the work she has done since stepping into the role of co-ordinator in 2001, she plans on doing so before her retirement in the near future.

In the meantime, her data presents a sketch of how the fund has been active across Canada.

To date, 654 projects have been funded, with $2.5 million spent on 217 projects in Ontario (mostly from the dioceses of Keewatin, Algoma and Toronto) and $2.3 million on 206 projects in British Columbia. Manitoba’s 75 projects received $798,536, Saskatchewan’s 44 projects were given $521,471 and Alberta’s 30 projects got $318,175. Yukon’s 22 projects received $276,954, while $245,785 went to Quebec’s 27 projects; the Northwest Territories hosted 11 projects and received $105,271.

The Maritime provinces have produced fewer projects-New Brunswick has had a total of nine, which received $97,698, while the six projects in Nova Scotia received $59,500. There were none in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.

In an irony that Wesley noted, the province with one of the highest concentrations of Indigenous people, Nunavut, received fewer grant applications, and consequently, the least amount of grant funding: $59,389 for seven projects.

Wesley lamented the fact that isolated communities in the North, which often have the greatest need of funding, also face the greatest obstacles to receiving it.

“Due to isolation, colonialism is alive and well,” she said. “The more isolated the communities are, the less resources they have, and the less they know about [support] that exists outside their community.”

Following Wesley’s presentation, CoGS members lined up at microphones and each read out An Action in Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, in response to a call made by the primate for every parish to read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on June 21, the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer.

CoGS members were then given a copy of Wrongs to Rights: How Churches Can Engage the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a collection of poetry, essays, photographs and artwork from around the world.
The anthology was compiled and published as a special edition of Intotemak, a Mennonite Church of Canada publication that explores Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations.

Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton, General Synod deputy prolocutor, invited members to read parts of the book and share their reflections with their table groups.

Council members then lit candles as the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, led a prayer for residential school survivors.





  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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