Boys hockey team, Sioux Lookout, Ont.
While lawsuits have raised the awareness of some and the ire of others, many people see them as forums for restorative justice. The next opportunity for the scales to balance might come if the children of students from the Mohawk residential school in Brantford, Ont., have their day in court, as part of a class-action lawsuit that makes claims of more than $2 billion against the Attorney General of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Diocese of Huron.
The question now becomes: Who stands to lose and who stands to gain when the battle lines over Indian residential schools are drawn in courts and in mediation rooms across the country? Monetarily speaking, the losers may well be the church and the federal government, while the winners may be Natives and their lawyers. There is, however, another way of looking at cases such as Mohawk and the ADR tests currently under way. It’s the view that first takes into account the individuals involved, rather than simply the institutions.
The Anglican Church is led by people like Archdeacon Jim Boyles and Bishop Duncan Wallace of Regina and the many other men and women who serve as congregants and ministers (including four Canadian bishops from indigenous communities – two Inuit and two Cree – and 130 Aboriginal priests). "On our future horizon lies a renewed partnership with our indigenous people," says Boyles. "If we lower our eyes from that horizon, a generation will pass before people from our indigenous communities will again want to exercise leadership in our church because of public perceptions about us."
For his part, Wallace knows very well the pending lawsuits and the dire straits the Anglican Church is in, but insists the church will endure. "All we need is a book, a bottle of wine and some bread and we’re in business," he says.
As for Natives, they are a diverse group that, despite success in many arenas, is still struggling to find its rightful place in the fabric of an imperfect but still great nation. As Native elders warn, no one can, or should try to live up to the image of the proud Indian imprinted on a nickel or emblazoned atop a corporate logo – let alone members of a minority group that has almost been wiped out by the very people who mint the coins and run the companies that put noble savages on lofty perches.
"Motivating youth to complete their education is of great importance to the economic future of Aboriginal communities," reads the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. "Youth need a strong foundation in their traditions and proficiency in the skills valued by contemporary society. Those who master these skills and contribute to their communities and nations deserve to be celebrated as the modern equivalents of the great hunters and leaders of the past."
Wise men and women know what will be needed to bridge the chasm that exists between Native and non-Native societies in Canada. The first step is healing, which will only emerge when apologies have been given and accepted. When this has been accomplished, the next generation of Natives will be free to move beyond the injustices of the past and walk with dignity and strength in both worlds.