Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, today commended theTruth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for issuing a final reportthat he describedas “very comprehensive and far-reaching into the soul of the countrywith respect to what we need to do to bring about reconciliation[between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians] that is just so longoverdue.”
Hecalled the release of the report “an historic day for Canada, a sacredday for most of us,” adding, “it [has to] be, for survivors ofresidential schools, an absolutelygreat day.”
Inan interview, Hiltz said he appreciated the direction and clarity ofthe 382-page report, and its 94 “Calls to Action” specifically aimed atholding to account Parliament,the federal, provincial and local governments, churches, civicinstitutions and all Canadians.
Theserecommendations essentially say, “here are some initiatives that needto be in place, to which you need to commit yourselves and show concreteresults,” he said. (Seerelated story
Somerecommendations particularly resonated with him. “The idea for a RoyalProclamation is bang on,” said Hiltz. “I think the idea of a Covenant ofReconciliation is absolutelybeautiful. The idea of a National Council for Reconciliation givescredence and authority to what the Commission has said that this is notan ending, it’s a beginning.”
Inits report, the TRC called on the federal government to jointlydevelop, with Aboriginal peoples, a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliationto be issued by the Crown. “Theproclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and theTreaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nationrelationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown,” it said. Theproclamation must repudiate “concepts used to justify Europeansovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples,” said the TRC, includingthe Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of charters and acts developed bycolonizing Western societies 500 years ago to expropriate Indigenouslands and territories.
Italso called on all parties to the Indian Residential Schools SettlementAgreement-the federal government, churches (including the AnglicanChurch of Canada), survivorsand the Assembly of First Nations-to develop and sign a Covenant ofReconciliation. This covenant must reaffirm their commitment toreconciliation, repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and support therenewal or establishment of Treaty relationships “based onprinciples of mutual recognition, mutual respect and sharedresponsibility for maintaining those relationships in the future.”
TheTRC also asked the Parliament of Canada, in consultation andcollaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish a National Councilfor Reconciliation that will monitor,evaluate and report annually on “post-apology progress on reconciliationto ensure that government accountability for reconciling therelationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained inthe coming years,” said the TRC.
Hiltzsaid he felt “very challenged” by some of the calls to action directedspecifically at churches, but also felt “encouraged that someinitiatives are already in place.”He cited the TRC’s call for the government and churches to formallyadopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards of the UNDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework forreconciliation. “They want a statement by March 31, 2016about what you’re going to do about that. I look at that and think,’we’ve got a lot of work to do,’ ” he said. “And then, I think, we [thechurch] have a [Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine ofDiscovery, Reconciliation and Healing] in place…”
Conversationsaround the UN declaration and the Doctrine of Discovery have alreadystarted in the church, and the TRC’s recommendations “challenge us to besteadfast andbe accountable, and I think that’s entirely in order,” he added.
Hiltzalso said he agreed with the TRC’s assessment that the residentialschools constituted a form of cultural genocide. “That’s what it was. Iagree with that. The policyof assimilation was to ‘kill the Indian in the child,’ and turn him orher into a citizen. That’s cultural genocide,” he said.
Askedwhat his message was to Anglicans, Hiltz said, “My message is as simpleas what I heard this morning: we need to turn apology and actionsassociated with that intopriorities, and so I’m saying, we need to take the recommendations ofthe TRC, which apply to the churches, and declare them to be prioritiesin our church.”
Inits recommendations specific to churches that operated the federallyfunded schools (Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic), theTRC askedthat education strategies be developed “to ensure that their respectivecongregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, thehistory and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to formerresidential school students, their families andtheir communities were necessary.”
TheTRC also called on church signatories to the Indian Residential SchoolsSettlement Agreement as well as other faith groups to “formallyrecognize Indigenousspirituality as a valid form of worship that is equal to their own” inorder to address the “spiritual violence” committed in the schools, theeffects of which, reverberate to this day in Aboriginal communities.
Churchesmust also establish permanent funding for Aboriginal”community-controlled” healing and reconciliation projects, educationand relationship-buildingprojects and regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders andyouth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination andreconciliation, said the TRC.
About150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from theirhomes and sent to residential schools as part of the government’spolicy ofcultural genocide, said the TRC. “The Canadian government pursued thispolicy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of itslegal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain controlover their land and resources,” it noted. “Ifevery Aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ therewould be no reserves, no Treaties and no Aboriginal rights.”
Culturalgenocide, explained the TRC, involves the destruction of political andsocial institutions of a group, the seizure of their land, the forcibletransferof populations and restriction of their movements, the banning of theirlanguage and spiritual practices, the persecution of spiritual leadersand the disruption of families to prevent the transfer of its culturalvalues and identity to succeeding generations.”In its dealings with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things,”said the TRC.