From the 1870s to as late as 1996, residential schools for Aboriginal people existed in Canada. These government funded, church run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. Over 150,000 children were taken from their homes and communities. The consequences of these schools on Aboriginal people groups is disheartening. Though many teachers had the best of intentions, their attempts to "get the Indian out of the child" has left a cultural void, resulting in a loss of identity for many Native children. Unfortunately this was not the only negative part of these schools. Often Aboriginal children were abused - psychologically, physically and sexually. These traumatic experiences have had profoundly affected Native people to this day. A public apology by the Canadian government was made in 2008, and from that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was created, to discover the truth about residential schools, make that truth known to all Canadians, and work toward healing and reconciliation for both Aboriginal people and Canadians.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend one of the statement gathering sessions hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These are events hosted across Canada, open to the public, which give the opportunity for survivors of residential schools, and their families to make a recorded statement about their experiences. It was very powerful to sit and listen to people share their truths. The incredible courage that was shown as people opened up, and vulnerably expressed what they knew was inspirational. It was raw. It was emotional. It was real.
And it was all told so that healing and reconciliation could happen.
And we listened because to listen brings credibility and dignity to a person's story.
And we had our eyes opened, and our hearts moved, as we were reminded again and again about the horrific things that happened, and saw the resilience of people who would not let evil have the final word.
As deacons we have the responsibility to lead our congregation in acts of justice. Our Aboriginal neighbours need us to stand beside them, to support them, to listen, to hear, to be present, and to bear witness to their stories. Diaconal Ministries of Canada has identified Aboriginal people as one of eight people groups that our vulnerable in our society. You can access the resources they have by going to the justice section of their website.
As members of a church community we have the responsibility to not stand idly by. I strongly encourage those of you in Canada to find out when the TRC will be near your location, and to attend - so that you can become more educated about this issue.
Sometimes the road to healing seems daunting - as this one can. At one point during the truth-sharing I turned to the person next to me and asked "can we ever do enough to fix this?". She just shook her head. I turned away, feeling defeated, and wondering if it was even worth going on. I stopped myself there, because as Christ followers we are always called to work for justice and reconciliation EVEN when our efforts seem hopeless. We are not in this alone - God, is making all things new, and we can trust that where truth and reconciliation are, he is, and we should be too.
There was a small group of CRC attendees at this event - some of whom were CRCNA staff members with Canadian Aboriginal Ministries. Although we as a denomination were not directly involved in the running of residential schools, we should not view this as a "get out of jail free" card. Rather, we need to see this as an opportunity to join in the efforts of reconciliation for the hurt that was caused by the church. As such, our denomination will be making a statement of reconciliation at one of the future National events (perhaps Saskatchewan and/or Ottawa). I think it is incredible to be part of a denomination that sees this as important and valuable. However, there is much more to be done - and you are part of that.
One woman in her public statement offered multiple ideas for what reconciliation would look like. A simple, yet beautiful request was that everyone in Canada know how to say "hello" in their Aboriginal neighbour's native language. What a profound example of loving our neighbours - saying hello.
How is your church (you) being a good neighbour to our Aboriginal friends?