NEWS

Truth and reconciliation: Climbing the mountain for Indian residential schools

By Rev. Canon Gaye Whippey and John Montgomery 

Can you see what Creator is doing? It’s new and it’s touching the hearts of ordinary people who are listening and want to share in the story of hope and resurrection.

Be a part of what has been unfolding through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Canada’s former system of Indian residential schools — and get ready to climb mountains.

Justice Murray Sinclair, who chaired the commission, proposed the outline for the next chapter of this story by saying: “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you a path to the top. We call on you to do the climbing.”

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The Mohawk Institute, the Anglican-run residential school on Six Nations, was known to the children as the Mush Hole for the poor quality of its food. — photo courtesy of The General Synod Archives, Anglican Church of Canada

At the bottom of this mountain, we stand with each other in the pain of the Indian residential school experiences and the loss of many missing or murdered aboriginal women. A period of 22 days of remembering marked the end of the commission’s monumental undertaking.

The Gospel asks us to face the historic reality of the doctrine of discovery (which said any non-Christian land could be claimed for a Christian monarch) and of colonialism, opening our eyes to all that contradicts our vision of Canada as a country where justice and human rights are respected.

After learning about the doctrine of discovery and the impact of its colonizing culture on indigenous peoples, we become aware that the dominant Western culture has had a disastrous effect on First Nations’ life, teachings, and culture. Imposing Western standards and world views has limited their experience of Jesus in their own encounter with the Gospel.

The hurts and wounds of the residential schools are now public knowledge. In the Church, we have reached out with an apology and payments to those who suffered. The next step is the healing of relationships.

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Thousands of people took part in the walk for reconciliation on May 31 as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada prepared to release its report. — Photo by Art Babych

Dr. Tom Peace, an assistant professor of history at Huron University College, shared with Huron’s Bridge Builders group that indigenous peoples in Eastern Canada had a much more complex history of schooling than is often recognized.

He pointed to day schools created by a handful of indigenous communities as early as the 1780s, long before the residential school system was established. His research into this early history and the relationships that emerged from it points toward possibilities for restoring relationships through knowledge of the past.

For seven years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listened to survivors of “the darkest and most troubling chapter in our collective history,” as Justice Sinclair called it (Toronto Star, June 6). The truth has been told and our minds and hearts need to respond to the commission’s recommendations.

Of the 94, some speak directly to the Church (59-61).

The first of these recommends ongoing education so that congregations can learn about the Church’s role and why the Anglican primate’s apology was necessary.

The next calls for developing courses for clergy, especially for students offering themselves for ministry.

The third focuses on ­community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects that will provide historical knowledge and address the legacy of religious conflict in aboriginal families. These include ­community-controlled culture, language, vitalization and relationship building with special reference to opportunities for youth to discuss their indigeneity, self-determination and reconciliation.

What can we do in the Diocese of Huron to be part of the action and foster relationships where we can be equal partners? How do we stand with First Nations people as they become self-determining? How do we ensure that our canons, structures and projects are inclusive of indigenous rights?

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John Moses passes Parliament Hill during the reconciliation walk with survivors of Indian residential schools holding a photo of his father Russ and aunt Thelma taken at the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford in 1943. — Photo by Art Babych

Bridge Builders has begun to explore oral history and to consult indigenous Christians within our diocese. During the past year, we have read the Scriptures with fresh vision and in the light of colonization. We have been and are committed to truth telling and listening to one another.

Now we are going to open another chapter as we bring out our insights through workshops with the hope of seeing more Bridge Builder groups throughout our diocese.

Why not begin your action by reading the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission online? Or have study groups read Unsettling the Settler by Paulette Regan or The Comeback by John Ralston Saul?

Enjoy worship in a First Nations community where their language, imagery and ways are fostered.

Request a workshop with some of the Bridge Builders. ([email protected]) Grow in your awareness of First Nations issues, spiritual values and practices, and the nature of third-generation impacts of colonialism.

Contribute to a bursary to assist and support indigenous Christians in theological studies that embrace indigeneity.

Above all, we need hope for the future. Misunderstandings will happen and long-grown stereotypes will take time to heal.

Can you see what Creator is doing now? Can you feel the winds of change through the Holy Spirit? Are you ready for mountain climbing? You may be afraid of the heights but the view from the top will be amazing.

Rev. Canon Gaye Whippey and John Montgomery are members of Bridge Builders.