Expect a massive education campaign about the residential schools and the work of healing and reconciliation with aboriginal people to roll out in the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches in the coming months.
More than 100 lay and ordained representatives have pledged their commitment to train more leaders and volunteers. When they’re finished, they say, every church member will know the history of the Indian residential schools.
The participants, who have been commissioned as “Ambassadors of Reconciliation,” gathered at the Geneva Park Conference Centre last November to receive training and resources. The goal: to help them help aboriginal and non-aboriginal church members to “actively work together to build right relationships with each other.”
At the opening session, a councillor of the Mnjikaning First Nation, Chippewas of Rama, on whose traditional land the conference centre is located, said it was “wonderful to see churches” preparing for the work of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Andrea Simcoe-Williams said many in her community still struggle from the effects of the schools. “…The stories have been locked away by individuals and families and saying them out loud and being acknowledged is an important step,” she said.
Grafton Antone, an elder-in-residence at First Nations House, University of Toronto, offered a cleansing prayer and burned what aboriginal people consider the four sacred medicines: tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar. He talked about traditional teachings centred on respect, fairness, caring, integrity, co-existence, citizenship and generosity. He advised the ambassadors to “make sure you talk to elders, youth and children.” He said that when his people entered into treaties “we always had the different generations around us.”
Participants were introduced to various public education strategies. (See web exclusive, What parishes can do)
Marlene Brant Castellano, who served as co-director of research for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, said churches must organize events that can move people to say that “this is a justice and spiritual issue.” Castellano is an Anglican appointed to the Order of Canada in 2005.
In open spaces and discussion on the floor, many participants underscored the importance of looking at the residential schools from a wider perspective, in particular, the aboriginal peoples’ access to land and resources. They said that the federal government has not fully implemented land and treaty rights.
Chad Beharriell of the United Church of Canada urged participants to be part of initiatives such as a letter-writing campaign to pressure the federal government to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He said another initiative is to follow tribunal hearings involving a human rights complaint filed by the Assembly of First Nations, which cited that the level of funding allocated for aboriginal child welfare is 20 to 25 per cent lower than that provided for the rest of Canada. The hearings can be followed online, through www.fnwitness.ca.