Council of General Synod (CoGS) members reflected on the reconciliation process as it relates to the legacy of the Indian residential schools and most expressed the view that it is something that takes time, respect, and concerted effort.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who was asked to share the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples’ (ACIP) view of reconciliation, noted that the acknowledgment by CoGS members that the reconciliation process cannot be rushed “represents a significant advance…we are maturing in this conversation and moving forward.”
Bishop MacDonald said ACIP members looked to the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the wisdom of the church and indigenous tradition and agreed that reconciliation must involve the following: “confession and apology, examination and fearless moral inventory, making amends, and walking together in newness of life.”
He explained that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to reconciliation is when someone says after an apology, “Why can’t you get over this?” instead of realizing that “this is just the beginning, not the end of it.”
Making a “fearless moral inventory” requires an assessment of damages, while making amends means entering a phase of restoration of relationship.
“Walking together in newness of life” means discovering identity, said Bishop MacDonald. Canada is “arguably the most northern church in the world, the most aboriginal…but it’s not part of our identity because we don’t walk together,” he said.
CoGS, which is meeting March 31 to April 3, was responding to a request made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) for all parties to the schools settlement agreement to discuss what reconciliation means to them and what they want to achieve out of it. The TRC is part of a revised and court-approved agreement negotiated in 2006 between former students, churches (including the Anglican Church of Canada), the federal government, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal groups. It aims to provide former students and their families with a chance to share their experiences, and to set the historical record straight about the 150-year legacy of forced assimilation of native people through the residential schools.
Archdeacon Sidney Black, co-chair of ACIP, reflected on the “pre-settlement agreement and post-settlement agreement dynamics” on the reserve that he has been ministering to for 15 years. Instead of speaking the language of a victim, some schools survivors are starting to take pride in their culture and identity, he noted.
When he assumed the ministry, Archdeacon Black said it felt as though he had arrived “in the aftermath of a horrendous battle and I had to do the work of healing and reconciliation, and all I had were Band-aids to treat horrific wounds.” Self-esteem was very low and young adults were on the road to alcoholism, he said.
Today, “I see a freshness, something optimistic. It’s in it’s initial stages, but it is refreshing,” Archdeacon Black told CoGS.
He said that information sessions are being organized “where the community can come together and talk about understanding the impact of residential schools to reconnect with who we are…”
Esther Wesley, Anglican Healing Fund coordinator, also addressed CoGS and reminded them “to keep in mind how long it has taken us to get to where we are” on acknowledging the impacts of the residential schools. “Whatever we decide as a church, it’s a long-term commitment. We need to be patient,” she said.
She also shared some of TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair’s thoughts on reconciliation, including the need to engage youth, especially aboriginal youth, in the process. “Before we can talk about reconciliation or discuss right relations, and move towards mutual respect, we need to discuss how we can give self-respect to aboriginal people particularly the young,” she said. “They are the survivors of the survivors.”
Wesley said that Justice Sinclair, with whom she has had many conversations, believes that while reconciliation cannot be achieved within the lifetime of the TRC or his own lifetime, the framework for keeping the discussion going into the future can be achieved now. “At the very least, we can agree on the end objective of what reconciliation ought to be and what it ought to look like…We will start it, they will carry it. We need to give them the tools they can use towards reconciliation for themselves and the next generation,” she said.
Henriette Thompson, General Synod co-ordinator for ecumenical, inter-faith and government relations, asked CoGS members in table groups to respond to the following questions: “What would it take to help bring about reconciliation in your situation? What are some ways in which your thinking or manner of life would need to be addressed?”
Responses included suggestions to bring the conversation to parishes across the country, recognizing the need to “listen and refrain from being defensive,” and helping to ensure that Canadians, including those new to the country, are engaged in the issue.