Anglican Reconciliation Connections


Dear friends,

It is almost impossible for me to believe that next week is Holy Week. I did not “give up” or “take up” anything for the season of Lent. But I spent a lot of time meditating on the story of Jesus’ disciples falling asleep in the garden when they were supposed to be praying with and for him on the eve of his death (see Matthew 26:36-40). I am not sure why this passage called me to it, but throughout this season I have been asking myself where God is calling me to be vigilant, but I am dozing off. Where am I being asked to support the work of the Gospel in the face of terror, pain and death, and I am not understanding or acting into the urgency? What is God calling me to be alert to? How can I stay alert, and keep my fellow disciples awake as well? These questions have challenged me a lot, and made me grateful all over again for the Easter message which both calls me to alertness, and loves me even when I’m found snoozing under a tree!

Update: Bill C-262

Photo courtesy Sara Stratton

This Bill on adopting and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is still before the Senate. March 20-21, General Secretary, Michael Thompson and Indigenous member of the All My Relations Group of the Diocese of Ottawa, Irene Barbeau took part in an ecumenical visit to the Senate in support of Bill C-262. The United Church of Canada, Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), Mennonite Central Committee (Canada), and The Presbyterian Church in Canada were also represented in the delegation. We had hoped that it would already have gone from the Senate to the committee by now, and the window of time in which it can pass is becoming smaller every day. Even if you have already done so, would you take a few minutes to call and/or write senators, imploring them to get this passed? It has come too far to fail!

UPDATE: Conservatives are filibustering to prevent the Indigenous Rights Act from going to committee. Please email Senator Don Plett (Opposition Whip) and demand that Conservative Senators back down from blocking due process (

Self-Determination Backgrounder Package

One of my colleagues is counting down the days to General Synod 2019 in Vancouver, and we are now in the double digits! Did you know that one of the major pieces of work before General Synod will be resolutions on Indigenous self-determination? Maybe you have been part of this movement for decades, maybe you have never heard of it! That’s okay - I get asked about it a lot. In response to this, I will be putting together a backgrounder package on Indigenous self-determination - particularly geared towards non-Indigenous Synod delegates who wish to go into the Synod with a better understanding of the history of this movement, its emergence and reality today, and the resolutions before the Synod. It will include documents produced by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and Indigenous Ministries, as well as news articles and the resolutions. Even though it is geared towards delegates, I will make sure it is made available through the newsletter so that you can also use it inform yourselves, and help others to understand as well. If there is a specific question you hope this packet will answer, please let me know so that I can track down answers and make it as informative as possible!

An Opportunity to Walk Together

Bishop Isaiah (Larry) Beardy addresses the Sacred Circle of the Northern Manitoba Area Mission of Mishamikoweesh.

Speaking of self-determination, in December I expressed how honoured I was to be invited by Bishop Isaiah Larry Beardy to the first Sacred Circle for the Northern Manitoba Area Mission of Mishamikoweesh. The Council of the North recently published a great interview with Bishop Isaiah, called New Beginnings which I heartily encourage you to read. I was particularly stirred by the last line of the interview which reads:

Q. Is there anything else you would like the rest of the church to know about the direction of the Northern Manitoba Area Mission?

A. We need prayers and we need your support. Our budget is only $300,000 a year. We need support to provide stipends for our 15 active clergy, and we need support for training new ordained and lay ministers.

If there is any parish, in any diocese, that is willing to partner with Northern Manitoba Area Mission, we are willing to share ministry and exchange visits with you.

Please prayerfully consider this invitation to walk together in partnership. My visit to Tataskweyak in December introduced me to an incredible ministry of joy and pain, laughter and tears, inspiration and the prophetic manifestation of the Gospel. This is a profound opportunity to journey together in a way that calls to the presence of Christ in one another. Let me know if you would like to chat about this, or be in contact with Bishop Isaiah directly. You can also follow his ministry on Facebook here.

Coming Up

The woes of winter travel are (almost?) over, so it is time to hit the road again. Here are some events coming up in my calendar. If you are in any of these places, I would be honoured to meet you!

  • April 29-May 2 – Diocese of Caledonia Clergy Conference

  • May 5-6 – Diocese of Montreal – Convocation and Public Talk

  • May 13-19 – Diocese of Central Newfoundland – parish visits and events

  • May 23-25 – Diocese of Nova Scotia and PEI – Diocesan Synod 

As always, please let me know what you are up to, and feel free to reach out if you need some help in getting started!


Call to Action - Bill C-262 Gathering

All Photographs courtesy of Tracy Harper

In Winnipeg, February 2019, the Mennonite Church of Canada began organizing a teach-in, to encourage support for Bill C-262. This bill will enable Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). This bill is currently in the Senate. The Senate has the power to delay voting on this bill until the end of the current Parliamentary session. If the bill is delayed, it will die, however, supporters of UNDRIP have the power to create public pressure on Senators to pass the bill. 

Mennonites in Saskatoon picked up the challenge to invite ecumenical partners to organize a parallel event here in Saskatoon.  A call went out, and in 3 weeks the “Called to Action” event was organized in support of Bill C-262.  On the afternoon of March 2nd, diverse speakers, and culturally appropriate entertainers, Fiddlers, Drummers, Dancers, and Spoken Word Poets, gathered at the Francis Morrison Library. 

Mark Arcand, Saskatoon Tribal Chief, brought forth official greetings and spoke about local concerns.

Sherri Benson, MP Saskatoon West, spoke on the importance of the passage of the bill.

Harry Lafond, of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, talked of the implementations of the Bill C-262 and the TRC recommendations.

Bishop Christopher Harper spoke on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Bill C-262, and the recommendations that arose from the TRC hearings. Bill C–262 was brought to Parliament to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP as adopted by the United Nations in 2007. The Church can be the bridge to make the connection.

Senator Lillian Dyck gave a comprehensive overview of how the Senate operates, helping us understand the Senate process and within it the political power to delay voting on the bill until it dies on the Senate floor. She encouraged us to have a voice and explained how we can walk the talk by directly contacting Senators to vote for bill C-262.

Make your voice heard: 

“If Bill C-262 does not reach third reading in the Senate before Parliament is dissolved when the election is called, it will die on the order.”

Write Letters! Handwritten letters are often given attention due to the time and care it takes to write them. Phone calls, emails, and social media contacts are also influential.

More education and understanding is hastily needed in communities’ and churches about UNDRIP and bill C-262.

Click here to see a short video of the Metis dancers in the second picture below.

Bustle Dancer

Bustle Dancer

A Communication Guide

In keeping with the City’s commitment to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada’s Calls to Action #57, the City has launched a new resource to enhance our understanding of Aboriginal culture and practices, called ayisīnowak [a/ee/see/ni/wak, Cree for ‘the people’]: A Communications Guide [kâ-isi-pîkiskwâtoyahk, Cree for ‘the people are communicating’] (Guide). 

This Guide is intended to provide individuals with a basic outline of Aboriginal protocol and governance systems in order to facilitate improved relationship building either as co-workers, through business opportunities or through inclusion in specific projects.

The framework for the Guide was made possible, in part, through a summer employment partnership opportunity with the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and was developed through an internal collaboration between the Regional Planning, Aboriginal Relations and Communications Divisions.  The team then partnered with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre (SICC) and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC) who provided valuable information on First Nation meeting etiquette, protocols and ceremonial traditions.  The content is presented as an adaptive and living document that will continue to develop as our relationships and understanding grows.

A digital copy of the Guide is available on the City’s website, with a limited amount of hard copies available upon request.  

Should you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.


22 Days of Reconciliation


The Rev. Samuel Halkett serves as language instructor for the Cree Language Healing Project in Prince Albert, Sask.—one of many community-based language recovery projects supported by the Anglican Healing Fund. Submitted photo from Anglican Church of Canada website.

Learn. Pray. Act. 22 Days for Healing and Reconciliation begin May 31



For 22 Days, the Anglican Church of Canada is calling people to learn, pray, and act for the Anglican Healing Fund, and its support for the recovery of Indigenous languages. 22 Days for Healing and Reconciliation start on May 31 and lead up to the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer on June 21.

This year represents the second occurrence of the 22 Days project, which the church first observed in 2015 to mark the 22 days between the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and National Aboriginal Day. Anglicans observed those first 22 days by ringing church bells across the country to draw attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In 2017, Anglicans are encouraged to mark 22 Days by learning about the Healing Fund and its role in bolstering community-based projects to preserve Indigenous languages; praying for those who seek healing through language recovery; and acting to support the Healing Fund through prayer and donations.

The focus on the Healing Fund and language recovery—both for 22 Days and the annual fundraising campaign Giving With Grace—reflects the crucial role of language as a pillar of Indigenous culture and identity, as the church strives to live out the 94 Calls to Action identified by the TRC.

“When you don’t know your language, you lose your identity,” Healing Fund Coordinator Esther Wesley said.

“When I look at the Healing Fund, and the [Indian Residential Schools] Settlement Agreement coming to an end, I talk to a number of people, including a number of elders from different communities, [about] what they would like to see and what they would value more than anything, and that’s language.”

Over the last 25 years, the Healing Fund has worked on community projects with an estimated 700 different groups across Canada. Since Wesley began her work in 2004, she has observed an evolution in how residential school survivors and their families have grappled with the process of healing from the intergenerational impact of the schools.

The 1990s saw the first community gatherings where survivors began speaking about emotional, physical, and sexual abuse they had endured in residential schools. Later, they attended school reunions with classmates.

During that time, Wesley said, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous churches rarely discussed or mentioned cultural values.

“Over time, it has changed,” she said. “You see more and more communities starting to talk about their traditional values, their traditional practices. You see this sort of climbing of a ladder—people coming back to their traditional ways of understanding, their traditional practices and their spiritual beliefs, coming onboard as time goes on.”

With the growing prevalence of projects based on cultural practices in the wake of the TRC, Wesley hoped that this year’s 22 Days would make people more aware of language loss across Canada.

“There are some strong languages, and there are some languages in some areas that have less than 10 speakers, and that’s where we need to make sure people understand that languages are going fast … and if we don’t help to do anything about it, they’re going to be lost. Many of them are already lost.”

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald described the focus on language recovery as “something that Indigenous people have been asking for, hungry for, waiting for, for a long time.”

“This is a critical issue for Indigenous people,” Bishop MacDonald said. “Recovery and revitalization of language is really central to what a livable future will be.”

“Studies have shown that retention of language, the strength of language, has a lot to say about the resilience of people,” he added. “And so the strength of language often is an indication of the strength of a community.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noted that this year’s 22 Days coincides with the appointment of Melanie Delva as reconciliation animator, as well as the day of Pentecost—the same day on which, in the Acts of the Apostles, a crowd comes together with each person hearing the Good News in their own language.

“I think people are more conscious than ever of the importance of recovering of language … so I think this has the potential to really, really ignite a lot of interest and commitment from people,” the Primate said.

He expressed his hope that the 22 Days would become a standing commitment for the Anglican Church of Canada well into the future.

“I would say it’s really quite a lovely development that the 22 Days has become something of a pattern in the life of our church … I think it’s really good that that’s become a feature of our church’s continuing commitment to reconciliation.”

View a list of resources to observe this year’s 22 Days. Sign up for the event on Facebook at

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2016/09/30 TRC Presentation at Diocesan Synod

Photograph courtesy of Peter Coolen

Photograph courtesy of Peter Coolen

Reconciliation Presentation at Synod 2016

Greetings Bishop, Chancellor, Diocesan Clergy, Synod Delegates and guests as you gather on Treaty Six Territory

Working toward genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada is a responsibility we all share.  We as the church and society can’t wait for our governments and administrators to make the change.

Reconciliation is defined as the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. Friendly again? What do indigenous and non–indigenous need to do to become friendly again?

It starts with striving for understanding and building relationships.  It is the responsibility of every Canadian to understand the injustices committed in their countries name. 

Every citizen, including Anglicans, are on a journey to learn the history and legacy of Canada’s residential schools and acknowledge the racist and colonial policies of cultural genocide and assimilation continue to this day.

The crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada is one example.  A second example is Dr. Cindy Blackstock’s writings, Reconciliation Means Not Saying Sorry Twice: explaining  “The number of First Nations children in care outside their own homes today is three times the number of children in residential schools at the height of operation.”

Chronic underfunding of First nations schools and the cultural biases still underpinning much of the educational curriculum policies are more examples of areas that need change.

So what do I need to know?

That the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 was a framework of reconciliation:

Recognize the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories, and resources,

That The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada Call to Action was released June 2015.  And the section Church Apologies and Reconciliation speaks of developing ongoing education strategies to ensure congregations learn about their role in colonization, history, and legacy of residential schools and why apologies are necessary.

Calls that faiths in collaboration with indigenous spiritual leaders, survivors, schools of theology, seminaries are to develop and teach curriculum for all students and all clergy and staff who work in aboriginal communities on the need to respect indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of church parties in that system.  Also the history and legacy of religious conflict in aboriginal families and communities and the churches role to mitigate such conflicts.

So what can you and I do?

We all have different God-given strengths, abilities and areas of influence where we can advocate and collaborate locally and provincially, with metis, first nation groups, Elders, Office of the Treaty Commissioner, church groups, municipalities, provincial agencies, education be it in public, catholic education, universities, health, policing, employment, affordable, accessible childcare, affordable housing.

All of us must consider our role in respecting and learning about inherent Aboriginal title and Treaty relationships.

We need to look within ourselves and see what’s in our own heart and our power to do.

Reconciliation is a process of relationship building.

Like the Treaties, it has to be co-created and acted upon to remain relevant and alive.

Our hope lies in learning and unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect, and inclusiveness in our relationships. A simple quote from Justice Sinclair at Station 20 West stays with me – “you take my back and I’ll take yours”

Are you interested in Reconciliation events?

Emails are sent to each church and events are regularly posted on the Diocesan Website. At this moment you will find Elders Teachings being held at the Saskatoon Police Station, the Sister in Spirit 10th annual walk from White Buffalo and the event TRC Calls Churches to Action at St Andrews College.

At the Saskatchewan National Event in 2012, our diocese placed a Prayer in the Bentwood Box as our commitment to work toward reconciliation.  Let us close with the prayer.

 “We pray that this National Truth and Reconciliation Event in Saskatchewan signals a new day, a new opportunity and a new future for both the Anglican and Aboriginal people. We do not know what the future will look like, but in trusting faith, we turn to God our Creator and pray that He will lead us together”

This presentation was given to the Diocesan Synod  by Mary Ann Assailly on September 30, 2016


Truth and Reconciliation Final Report


Doug Cuthand: Time to reconcile Canada's past with our future


The Truth and Reconciliation commission presented its final report this week, and there’s a sense across Indian country that we had reached an important milestone.

The TRC spent six years travelling across Canada to document the stories of the survivors of their residential school experience. What emerged was generations of pain and suffering on the part of the survivors and their descendants. It was also a wake-up call to other Canadians who may have had a passing knowledge of boarding schools, but no idea as to the damage the schools caused.

The TRC also the first major commission to be driven by First Nations people. The three commissioners, Judge Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson conducted the commission with cultural understanding and class like no other in Canadian history. History will record they were the true heroes of change and a 21st-century example of warriors.

The TRC could have been the platform for revenge and a witch-hunt, but instead became a platform for healing and change.

The stories that poured forth from the survivors raised a curtain on the racist and draconian world that First Nations people inhabited for most of the 20th century. Stories of loneliness, sexual abuse, violence both from the staff and from older students emerged to paint a picture of a hell on Earth.

Under the treaties and the British North America Act, the federal government is responsible for providing an education for status Indian people. Rather than deliver the education itself, the government farmed out the job to the highest bidder, which turned out to be the churches — Roman Catholic and Anglican in particular. This dovetailed nicely with the government’s policy to assimilate the indigenous people, and “remove the Indian from the child.”

At a time when Western Canada was being settled, the largest buildings across the North and the Prairies were residential schools. The first of these wooden structures and were fire traps. These schools at Delmas, Onion Lake and Lac La Ronge all burned in spectacular fires. The brick structures that survived were imposing structures that left no doubt among the First Nations population as to who held the power over them.

I recall a friend saying that he spent years separated from his family. In the morning he would go up to the school’s third floor from where he could see his parents’ home and the smoke from the chimney. He would imagine his parents making coffee and beginning another day without their children.

The TRC brought out stories of the impact of the boarding schools on children, but the other story was of the communities that was left behind. It was the First Nations’ version of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The older children would be removed, leaving behind little children and parents in an unnatural community.

They left behind empty hearts and lonely parents. The law stated that Indian parents had to make their children available to attend residential school, and they could go to jail for not complying.

One of the most moving statements this week came from Saskatchewan’s Eugene Arcand, who held up a picture of his Grade 2 class at a residential school. Of the 32 students in the photo, just nine are alive today. This in itself is a damning testament to the harm wrought by these institutions.

To say that the residential schools were an abject failure is an understatement. The hurt and lasting damage left a deep scar on First Nations society. The real triumph of the TRC was the process that allowed the truth to emerge and reconciliation to take root.

If this process had only been an airing of grievances, it would not have completed its mandate. While this is not a part of Canada’s history that we can ignore and forget, it is time to move on and reconcile our past with our future.

We owe it to the children who never returned from these schools to prove our strength over the system that tried to destroy us but failed.

Residential Schools - Anglican Journal Article


About 10,000 people joined the “Walk for Reconciliation” in Ottawa May 31, part of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Photo: André Forget 

Seven in 10 (70 %) of Canadians agree with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) finding that the Indian residential school system amounted to “cultural genocide,” according to an Angus Reid Institute survey.

The survey, released July 9, also found that almost half (48%) of Canadians believe the TRC was a worthwhile process for the country, with 57% saying it has been worthwhile for Aboriginal people, generally, and residential schools survivors, specifically.

There is “widespread support” for the commission’s recommendations, the survey said. Two, in particular, received 80% support: the creation of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and the inclusion of Aboriginal history, including residential schools, in the standard curriculum for all Canadian students.

However, there was pessimism about whether the federal government would act on the TRC recommendations. Two in five (43%) say they expect Ottawa to take “less action than they believe it should.”

The survey measured support for eight recommendations: create a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women; include Aboriginal history in the curriculum for all Canadian students in kindergarten through Grade 12; increase federal funding for on-reserve education; create a national council for reconciliation; provide federal funding for Aboriginal language preservation and revitalization; provide $10 million funding for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation; create a national day for truth and reconciliation; and create public monuments to residential schools in Ottawa and all provincial and territorial capitals.

The poll offers “really useful information in the sense that it provides a mirror in terms of what Canadians are widely thinking…[and] a mirror against which to reflect our church’s experience,” said Henriette Thompson, director of public witness for social and ecological justice for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Thompson said she was struck by the fact that the recommendations that received widespread support “actually are the ones that our church has been working on in quite a dedicated way” along with other church denominations. She noted the church’s advocacy on the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, mostly recently, with the nationwide ringing of cathedral and parish bells for 22 days in May and June.

Such support will continue on various fronts, she said, including the annual day of commemoration for missing and murdered Aboriginal women on October 4. The church will develop worship and liturgical resources “to find a way to engage pari shesand dioceses even more, to connect the call for inquiry at the local level,” said Thompson. Since 1980, at least 1,017 Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered; 164 have been classified by the RCMP as missing under suspicious circumstances.

The Anglican church and other churches have supported calls to make the teaching of Aboriginal and residential school history mandatory in classrooms, a recommendation that the TRC already made in its 2012 interim report, she added. Inquiries and follow-ups have been made with the ministries of education in provinces and territories to determine how they have responded to this recommendation. “Over the last couple of years, we have followed up and inquired [about whether this is being implemented],” said Thompson. Teachers have also been asked about their experience in teaching Aboriginal and residential school history in their classrooms and schools.

“We will continue to work on that. As a church we are present in many communities and we have a great interest in what our children are being taught and what we, as members of the church, have come to learn, especially if you’re of a certain generation where you were not taught that history in school,” said Thompson. “We want our children to learn [this part of Canadian history]. There’s a pervasive sense of having been let down in our own education by not having learned residential school history and Aboriginal history in school.”

The survey also showed that 69% of Canadians support the TRC’s call to increase funding for on-reserve education and to create a national council for reconciliation that will monitor, evaluate and report annually on “post-apology progress on reconciliation to ensure that government accountability for reconciling the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained in the coming years.”

However, the survey said, “the narrative of wide-ranging support for the TRC’s recommendation doesn’t hold true in all parts of the country,” with feelings “more muted” in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and “to a lesser extent,” in Alberta. Support for describing the residential school system as “cultural genocide” was strongest in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario.

In Saskatchewan, most are opposed to five of the eight recommendations identified in the survey, supporting only the three that are most popular across the country: have Aboriginal history in the curriculum (69%), create a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women (63%) and increase federal funding for on-reserve education (55%).

On whether the TRC process will result in a better life for Aboriginal people, the survey said that “the best phrase to describe Canadian views about the impact of the [TRC] on First Nations might be ‘cautiously optimistic.’ ”

Asked whether they are optimistic or pessimistic that the TRC process will result in a better situation for Aboriginal people, 56% said they are “moderately optimistic.”

Conversations around healing and reconciliation and the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action will continue across all levels of the church, said Thompson, noting that the Anglican Aboriginal perspective on this is expected to emerge out of the upcoming Sacred Circle, a triennial gathering of Indigenous Anglicans that is scheduled in August. Comments from Indigenous Anglican leaders were not available at press time. 

The fact that women and youth had the “highest positive responses to moving forward bodes well for us,” she added. “There’s a correlation to youth and women in our church, for whom there is a highly positive view of Aboriginal rights and self-determination.”

At the ecumenical level, Thompson said the ecumenical justice organization, KAIROS, of which the Anglican church is an active member, has made a submission to the UN human rights committee, asking that Canada “take seriously its responsibilities to Indigenous peoples,” including the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We are continuing even in this sensitive and also opportunity-rich times in which we are preparing for [a federal] election to really work hard together with all kinds of partners, [including] the government itself and those running for office,” to ensure that the TRC recommendations are implemented, she added.

In its exhaustive, 382-page summary of the final report released in June, the TRC identified 94 Calls to Action-with specific directives to Parliament, the federal and provincial governments, churches, faith groups and all Canadians-that would “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is about “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, but “we are not there yet,” said the report released by TRC Commissioners Justice Murray Sinclair, Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild. “By establishing a new and respectful relationship, we restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.”

During its six-year term, the TRC gathered voluminous residential school documents, received over 6,750 statements (from former students, their families, Aboriginal communities and former school staff), held seven national events and conducted 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across Canada. The goal: to document the truth about what happened in the residential schools, which operated from the 1860s to the 1990s, and to educate Canadians about what has been dubbed “Canada’s shame.”

For churches that operated the federally funded schools (Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic), the TRC recommended education strategies “to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families and their communities were necessary.”

The TRC also called on church signatories to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement as well as other faith groups to “formally recognize Indigenous spirituality as a valid form of worship that is equal to their own” in order to address the “spiritual violence” committed in the schools, the effects of which reverberate to this day in Aboriginal communities.

Presentation Day: ‘Reconciliation is about respect and change’


Presentation Day: ‘Reconciliation is about respect and change’


The release of the summary report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Tuesday, June 2 marked a turning point for survivors of Indian residential schools, the Anglican Church of Canada, other churches and the country as a whole.

A residential school survivor and the first bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa’s reaction upon hearing the TRC chair present the findings reflected the cautious optimism felt by many survivors.

“For me, it was very emotional when Justice Murray Sinclair started speaking about the report, about the things that survivors went through,” Bishop Mamakwa said.

“Then I began to listen, really listen to him, and I just felt very hopeful after that—very hopeful that the recommendations in there will be implemented,” she added.

“I just hope that something happens after this—that the call to action really takes place.”

In his remarks to the packed room at the Delta Ottawa City Centre, Justice Sinclair called the residential school experience “one of the darkest, most troubling chapters in our collective history.”

That chapter, he said, constituted “nothing short of cultural genocide” through its removal of generations of Aboriginal children from their families, suppression of Aboriginal language and culture, and attempted re-education of Aboriginal children with non-Aboriginal culture.

“Canadian governments and churches and others sought to erase from the face of the earth the culture and history of many great and proud peoples,” Justice Sinclair said.

Underscoring the horrors of the residential schools, fellow TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson offered the disturbing statistic that at least 3,200 students sent to residential schools never returned home.

In almost one-third of such cases, the student’s name was not recorded; in one-quarter, the student’s gender was not known; in almost half, the cause of death remained unknown.

Commissioners were able to identify a number of factors leading to deaths: poor disease and lack of medical care, suicide (often following neglect and physical, mental and/or sexual abuse), fires in the poorly-maintained buildings, and students who drowned or froze in the wilderness during desperate attempts to escape the oppression of the schools.

Despite the horrific conditions and attempted destruction of their culture, the courage of survivors in coming forward and telling their stories through the public hearings left Chief Wilton Littlechild, commissioner, with one recurring message: “Our spirit cannot be broken.”

The survivors, Justice Sinclair said, entrusted the commission—and by extension, all the people in Canada—with two priorities.

“First,” he noted, “the survivors need to know before they leave this earth that people understand what happened and what the schools did to them.

“Second, the survivors need to know that, having been heard and understood, that we will act to ensure the repair of damages done.”

To that effect, the TRC report offered 94 recommendations to policymakers, which included steps such as the adoption by Canada of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown, an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report by the Prime Minister of Canada, equity in education and health care for Indigenous communities, and educating all Canadians on the history and legacy of the residential schools.

Speaking for residential school survivors, Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that Canada had “come of age” with the release of the TRC summary report.

“What is so very clear today, and was so very clear to us, the survivors and our families and our communities … [is that] the attempt to transform us failed and failed utterly,” he said to applause. “The legacy of the survivors will be the transformation of this beautiful country, Canada.”

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, pointed to unfinished business by calling on the government of Canada to recognize survivors of residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Inuit regions.

Despite suffering “the same indignities as other Canadian Inuit, First Nations and Métis,” such survivors had seen the federal government deny responsibility due to the lack of direct funding for the schools by Ottawa.

Following the release of the TRC summary report, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, delivered a joint statement on behalf of churches involved in the running of the residential schools, standing alongside Presbyterian, Catholic, Jesuit and United Church leaders.

Acknowledging the deep scars that the residential schools had left on survivors and their families, the statement pledged each of the churches to continue working towards reconciliation based on the recommendations of the TRC, in particular through their commitment to respecting Indigenous spiritual traditions.

Speaking afterwards, Archbishop Hiltz stressed that “this day is about the survivors of the residential schools.”

“My sense is that for them, this is a great day—that there’s a sense in which they are feeling they’ve been heard,” the Primate said.

“They’ve been heard by the commissioners. They’ve been heard by the process of the TRC. Their calls for justice, I think, have been heard. Their plea for their children and a better future for them, there’s a sense in which that’s been heard.”

For the parties of the settlement agreement, he added, it was a day of invitation to act with integrity on their apologies and a challenge for Canadians to learn about the history of the residential schools and never deny or dismiss it again.

To those who remained skeptical of the Anglican Church’s apology or its commitment to change, Archbishop Hiltz invited them to help the church by offering guidance moving forward.

“I don’t think we can ever assume that everybody’s comfortable with the apology that was made by our church,” the Primate said.

“I think that there are many people who would say the apology was not empty, and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that that’s in fact true. But I think for those who feel the apology does not make any difference in their lives, then I think the only posture we can adopt is one of listening. So tell us: How can that apology become meaningful for you?”

“It’s not for me to guess what that is,” he added. “It’s for me to listen to them.”