Truth and Reconciliation Commission Gathering in Inuvik

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission Gathering - Inuvik - June 2011

Henrietta Thompson of the National Anglican Church of Canada, Bishop Lydia Mummakwa - Diocese of Keewatin, RC Bisphop Murray Chatlain - Diocese of Mackenzie/Ft. Smith, Bishop Mark Macdonald - National Indigenous Bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada, RC Bishop Gary Gordon - Diocese of Whitehorse, Bishop Larry Robertson - Diocese of Yukon

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Gathering - Inuvik - June 2011

by Bishop Larry

At the end of June, I drove from my home in Whitehorse, Yukon to Inuvik, NWT to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) gathering. This was a meeting to listen to those who attended the residential schools (survivors). This is the second of five gatherings that the Government of Canada has asked the TRC to hold. There were close to nine hundred survivors registered for the event.

As a former suffragan bishop of the Diocese of the Arctic which had five residences and now as the Bishop of Yukon which had four residences I felt I needed to go listen and learn. The following are some of my thoughts and feelings of those four days.

Besides the entertainment and the retail stalls there were three main parts to the TRC gathering.

There was the Listening Circle. These were places where survivors of residential schools had an opportunity to tell their stories uninterrupted and unquestioned. It was an opportunity for others to listen, learn and feel those stories. One was able to get a glimpse at how residential school impacted on their lives. I tried to spend about two hours a day listening to these stories. It was hugely difficult for me to listen and accept what I was hearing. I heard stories of loneliness and students not being allowed to leave the schools. This I expected. The authorities had responsibilities.

But I heard much more. I heard stories of children going hungry, about there not being enough to eat, even worse about food deliberately being withheld as a form of punishment. I heard stories of degradation and humiliation; Children being forced to strip in front of the class and strapped in front of the other students; I heard stories where the student and their family were insulted and the student made to feel like dirt; all in the name of education. Even worse I heard stories of children being used and violated to satisfy the sexual needs of other students or a school worker, teacher or minister. I felt shame to think that the church that I love so dearly would have been an instrument through which so much pain and humiliation could have been given to children.

Regardless of the motives of the Church, which I believe was honourable and in the interest of the people and children, the church has much to account for and apologize for. I have heard many excuses; the church had to accept the government policy of Assimilation to be involved with the children; we were unaware of what was happening; we did what we thought right; we were working on a shoestring budget. None of these or any other excuse absolves us of the responsibility and guilt that is ours by allowing unknowingly or in some cases knowingly the pain and hurt that went on.

It is sad that the powers that be did not listen to Rev. I.O. Stringer who later became Bishop of Yukon. He felt that the children should be educated in the local communities and that the local schools should not be closed down in favour of the Residential Schools. Much hurt and pain would have been avoided if we had listened to the wise words of this minister. Although it is too late, it would seem that the emphasis on local education that we now have reflects Rev. Stringer's ideas.

A second part of this conference was a display of pictures by the Archives of the various groups. This was a very popular segment of the conference and one that brought much joy and sometimes peace. There were shouts of excitement as people saw pictures of uncles, grandmothers or themselves. Copies were able to be made on the spot and people went home with pictures of family and friends. One gentleman was able to get a picture of his mother that had died and he had no previous pictures. The Anglican Church National Archives did a wonderful job and deserves many thanks for their display.

The third part of the conference was made up of "Expressions of Reconciliations" these are stories of actions taken to bring reconciliation to those involved. I wish to tell of two stories.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches spoke of the division caused by the denominations that were passed on to the people. We were able to speak of much better relationships today and a spirit of cooperation that is among us. I was able to apologize for the hurt that our religious differences have had on the people in the past.

Our Primate, the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz reaffirmed the Anglican Churches apology of 1993 and pledged the support of the Anglican Church to work towards reconciliation in the future. He spoke of the Anglican Churches attempts in reconciliation; the formation of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and the Sacred Circle; of the appointment of an Indigenous Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald and he spoke of the Healing Fund.

As Bishop of Yukon, I reaffirm the Churches Apology and publicly apologize for the hurt caused by the Churches involvement in the Residential Schools of the past. I will do all I can to learn of and bring healing where possible. I ask forgiveness for past sins and pray that we can journey together into the future as the people of God. This journey will require continued healing, understanding, and working together. This is my commitment to this process. May God bless us as we journey together as brothers and sisters in the family that the Creator has called together in the Diocese of Yukon.

Larry Robertson

Anglican Church of Canada's Apology to Native People, August 6, 1993

A message from the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, to the National Native Convocation Minaki, Ontario, Friday, August 6, 1993

My Brothers and Sisters: Together here with you I have listened as you have told your stories of the residential schools.

I have heard the voices that have spoken of pain and hurt experienced in the schools, and of the scars which endure to this day.

I have felt shame and humiliation as I have heard of suffering inflicted by my people, and as I think of the part our church played in that suffering.

I am deeply conscious of the sacredness of the stories that you have told and I hold in the highest honour those who have told them.

I have heard with admiration the stories of people and communities who have worked at healing, and I am aware of how much healing is needed.

I also know that I am in need of healing, and my own people are in need of healing, and our church is in need of healing. Without that healing, we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past.

I also know that healing takes a long time, both for people and for communities.

I also know that it is God who heals, and that God can begin to heal when we open ourselves, our wounds, our failures and our shame to God. I want to take one step along that path here and now.

I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I present our apology

I do this at the desire of those in the Church like the National Executive Council, who know some of your stories and have asked me to apologize.

I do this in the name of many who do not know these stories.

And I do this even though there are those in the church who cannot accept the fact that these things were done in our name.

As soon as I am home, I shall tell all the bishops what I have said, and ask them to co-operate with me and with the National Executive Council in helping this healing at the local level. Some bishops have already begun this work.

I know how often you have heard words which have been empty because they have not been accompanied by actions. I pledge to you my best efforts, and the efforts of our church at the national level, to walk with you along the path of God's healing.

The work of the Residential Schools Working Group, the video, the commitment and the effort of the Special Assistants to the Primate for this work, the grants available for healing conferences, are some signs of that pledge, and we shall work for others.

This is Friday, the day of Jesus' suffering and death. It is the anniversary of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima, one of the most terrible injuries ever inflicted by one people on another.

But even atomic bombs and Good Friday are not the last word. God raised Jesus from the dead as a sign that life and wholeness are the everlasting and unquenchable purpose of God.

Thank you for listening to me.

Michael Archbishop and Primate

Response to the Primate at the National Native Convocation

Delivered by Vi Smith on behalf of the elders and participants Minaki, Ont., Saturday, August 7, 1993

On behalf of this gathering, we acknowledge and accept the apology that the Primate has offered on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada.

It was offered from his heart with sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and humility. We receive it in the same manner. We offer praise and thanks to our Creator for his courage. We know it wasn't easy. Let us keep him in our hearts and prayers, that God will continue to give him the strength and courage to continue with his tasks.