The news of the Kamloops residential school graves discovery continues to flood my mind, and my heart…
How can we process such a thing? Layering in the fact that the United Church of Canada was a part of this unfathomable piece of Canadian history makes this even more challenging to piece together.
But it prompted me to continue my own research, specifically as it relates to the United Church’s response(s), focus, and commitment. With no pretense that this is sufficient, the timeline that follows provides some key things that I felt were important for me to understand and contemplate on.
Between 1849 and 1969, the United Church (or its predecessor denominations) ran 15 residential schools, part of a federal system of 130 schools designed to remove Indigenous children from their families, communities, and traditional way of life in the name of “assimilating” them into mainstream Canadian culture. Over the years, 150,000 children were sent into these schools. Approximately 80,000 are alive today, 5,000 of whom attended United Church schools. We honour all those who survived, all who did not, and all who have suffered the intergenerational trauma of schools they did not attend.
United Church Apology to First Nations
“Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured. “…(W)e did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality…”
United Church Apology to Former Students, Their Families and Communities
“…As we travel this difficult road of repentance, reconciliation, and healing, we commit ourselves to work toward ensuring that we will never again use our power as a Church to hurt others with attitudes of racial and spiritual superiority…”
That We May Know Each Other, Final Statement
“The Bible teaches that the Word and Wisdom of God are not limited to Christians, and the Spirit of God is free and faithful. We therefore affirm and cherish the differences between traditions as gifts of God, which can be life-giving and transformative”.
United Church Statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Alberta National Event)
“…(W)e have learned that ‘good intentions’ are never enough, especially when wrapped in the misguided zeal of cultural and spiritual superiority. Thus, we have learned that we were wrong to reject, discredit and yes, even outlaw traditional indigenous spiritual practice and ceremony”
Affirming Other Spiritual Paths
“We know we have a long journey ahead of us. We are committed to make that journey in humility and partnership, engaging in the healing work of making “whole” our own spirituality, and acknowledging that holding both your spirituality and ours is possible through listening and learning with open hearts” (Aboriginal Ministries Council & Committee on Indigenous Justice & Residential Schools)
General Council Executive passed a proposal from the Committee on Indigenous Justice and Residential Schools that the 30th anniversary of the United Church’s Apology to First Nations People be recognized at all Conference annual meetings. Meetings are asked to put aside a half-hour to: read the 1986 Apology to First Nations Peoples; read the 1988 Response from the Indigenous Church; reflect on the Apology and Response in light of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Braiding Reconciliation & Prayer Ritual to mark the 20th Anniversary of the 1998 Residential Schools Apology
“We pray that you will hear the sincerity of our words today and that you will witness the living out of our apology in our actions in the future.”
“Plan a time to do this ritual in worship. Explain and read the Apology. Create braids and read Braiding Prayer: “God of struggle, and of reconciliation, Be with us as we remember what we have been a part of: Cruel and unjust systems. Efforts to say “sorry” … and to mean it. Remind us that our history as people is like a braid. We are wrapped together. And there is tension in that, and pain But there is also strength. Remind us of the beauty and sacredness of braids. The beauty and sacredness of relationships Remind us to never again sever these braids But to honour them in everything we do. God of struggle, and of reconciliation, Be with us as we recognize what we must be a part of: Loving and just relationships. Saying “sorry” … and actively meaning it. Amen.”
It is important to note that the church received not an acceptance of the 1986 Apology but an acknowledgement, with the expectation that the church would try to walk a more faithful path: “We…pray that the Apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity. We appreciate the freedom for culture and religious expression. In the new spirit this Apology has created, let us unite our hearts and minds in the wholeness of life that the Great Spirit has given us.”
I have read through these interactions, responses, and decisions multiple times and it has given me much to ponder. Mostly, it confirmed to me that I know so very little on this topic and there is much to learn. And as I do so, I will keep my focus on the following:
Key Areas of Focus
- Open minds and hearts (we therefore affirm and cherish the differences between traditions as gifts of God)
- Humility (we will never again use our power as a Church to hurt others with attitudes of racial and spiritual superiority)
- Listen & learn (listening and learning with open hearts)
- Reconciliation (we have learned that we were wrong)
- Sincerity of action (we pray that you will hear the sincerity of our words today and that you will witness the living out of our apology in our actions in the future)
- Commitment to partnership (we have a long journey ahead of us. We are committed to make that journey in humility and partnership, engaging in the healing work)
Indeed, the older I get, the more I realize how much more I have to learn – even if it is uncomfortable. With an open heart, an open mind, and ears to listen,
Links & Additional Reading:
The historical information provided here is based on the United Church of Canada’s website, namely:
The UCOC’s response to the Kamloops residential schools graves discovery can be found here (posted on June 4):
For more information, consider listening to a highly informative talk called entitled ‘Reconciliation 101’ that we have been given permission to use (1hr7)