(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on what Anglican churches across Canada are doing to promote healing and reconciliation with Indigenous people. If you would like to share what your parish is doing to promote healing and reconciliation with Indigenous people, please send us an email at [email protected])
Although June will see the final event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa, and the release of the commission’s final report, the work of reconciliation is only just beginning for the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto.
“Our concern is that the end of the TRC will convey to some in the Canadian population that everything’s fine now: we’ve done this, it’s over and we can go on to other things,” said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, honourary assistant at Redeemer. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to an end, but the issues don’t go away. Issues of healing and reconciliation are long term, and the church has a contribution to make to healing and reconciliation.”
Pamela Thomson, a retired judge involved with Redeemer’s Aboriginal issues working group, agreed. “The 21st century is going to be a century of reconciliation,” she said. “We should not plan that we’re going to have this all solved in two years, or five, or 10, or even a generation. It’s going to take much longer than that.”
The group, which involves parishioners from Redeemer as well as three Indigenous advisers, has a threefold mandate: to educate settlers about Indigenous issues, to create opportunities for settlers and Indigenous people to encounter each other, and to get settlers engaged in the work of reconciliation.
So far, the group has hosted a number of events, including a drum-making workshop; several feasts; a talk from John Ralston Saul, prominent Canadian scholar and spouse of former governor general Adrienne Clarkson who has written extensively on settler-Indigenous relations; and a talk from TRC commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair.
According to Boyles and Thomson, Redeemer’s involvement in reconciliation and Indigenous rights issues began 15 years ago, when the Rev. Andrew Wesley took up a position as honourary assistant at Redeemer. Wesley, who is Cree, was also working with Toronto Urban Native Ministry. He inspired other members at the church to learn about the Anglican Church of Canada’s role in the oppression of Indigenous peoples through the Indian residential schools, and this, in turn, led to the formation of the Aboriginal issues working group.
Most of the group’s work, up to this point, has focused on education; while the group has, according to Boyles, “a fair bit of energy,” and while people have been “receptive and generally supportive of the direction we’re going, in educating and learning about and supporting Aboriginal work,” Boyles admitted that it has been harder moving to a deeper level of engagement.
“People are busy. People have other burning issues that they want to look at,” he said, “so it’s a struggle to get people more deeply involved in events or in issues or in leadership in the group.”
Thomson has also found that moving deeper is a struggle. “I keep looking for things to do to bring people in the doors so that they attend to the issues, and go out wanting to learn more and do more,” she said. She added, however, that they have a plan to build on the network of contacts they have established with various Aboriginal organizations in the coming months.
“We will be working in much more depth with them in the fall as to what volunteers can do,” she explained, “and what kind of volunteers they need, so we can become a sort of volunteer exchange, if you will, to get into the engage part and out of the education part.”
While there is still work needed to move beyond simply educating settlers about the facts, Murray Crowe, a residential school survivor and one of the Indigenous advisers for the working group, noted how important that has been.
“The first time I ever spoke about residential schools,” he said, “the room was full, and before I spoke I asked, ‘how many people have heard about residential schools?’ I asked them to raise their hands. There were two people who raised their hands in the whole room.”
Crowe was wrenched from his home in Kitchenuhmaykoosib in northern Ontario as a small boy and forced to attend the Anglican-run Pelican Lake residential school, where he suffered physical and sexual abuse. It was many years before he was able to share his story with even his closest family members, but since the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was implemented in 2007, he has found the courage to speak about his experiences to audiences across the country.
Crowe said he has seen a lot of change in those years. “These times, even when I go to a church and ask them, ‘how many people know about residential schools?’ just about everybody knows about it.”
And while he said he is “really impressed” with how churches have started working with survivors, he said more could be done. “What they’re doing now is good; they’re inviting survivors, but they should invite the intergenerational [survivors],” he said. “They need to work with intergenerational-they’re already working with survivors, but not enough with the younger people…they don’t realize that those kids are still hurting.”