Remembering the Children is a March 2008 multi-city tour by Aboriginal and Church leaders to promote the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.
Originally submitted by +Sylvain Lavoie, OMI for the INFO Lacombe Weekly newsletter.
Recently, a four city tour, under the title "Remembering The Children,", was organized by an Ecumenical Working Group to promote the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as to demonstrate their support and approval of the TRC. Starting in Ottawa on March 2, 2008, it went on to Vancouver and Saskatoon and ended in Winnipeg on March 10.
The Saskatoon event drew a capacity crowd of over 450 persons at the Western Development Museum. Chief Lawrence Joseph, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, shared a forceful talk on the abuses of the IRS; the need to pressure the government to apologize, the need for forgiveness and an invitation for all to work together to move beyond staying victims. The Church leaders and other Aboriginal speakers took turns speaking about the IRS experience, offering apologies and sharing healing initiatives.
Though the leaders of the other Churches traveled with the tour across the country, the Catholic entities participated in a different way. Because of the decentralized structure of the Catholic Church, local Catholic leaders participated in location. I believe that the Oblates, dioceses and women religious were represented at each event.
Though the diocese of Saskatoon did not have any residential schools, Bishop LeGatt decided to get involved and stand in solidarity with us. At the event itself he explained the involvement of the Catholic organizations with residential schools in the province of Saskatchewan. I presented a statement entitled "Truth-telling, Healing and Reconciliation." Sr. Rita Bisson pm., stood with me and spoke on healing initiatives.
I must admit that I felt pulled apart by two opposites. On the one hand, many former students in our diocese have expressed appreciation for the IRS and the benefits they received. I also hear the painful voices of our religious brothers and sisters who staffed the schools, gave of their lives and goodness to the children, and now see their life's work devalued and discounted.
On the other hand, I know that the schools were part of a history of colonization that had the assimilation of the Aboriginal peoples as one of its goals and led to a loss of language, culture, parenting skills, family life and human dignity. I also know that for many the schools were not a safe place, and that physical and sexual abuse happened. As recently as a few days before the event, a lady from our diocese asked me for a reference to teach in the Catholic school system in the south, but asked me not to talk about Jesus as her wounds from the abuse she experienced at her residential school were still too raw.
In my statement I tried to strike a balance. I expressed sorrow for the loss; apologized for the wrongdoing; recognized those missionaries who learned and promoted the languages, and expressed gratitude for the staff who showed great love and caring within a flawed educational system.
The general feeling at the end of the evening was that this was a historical meeting of Church and Aboriginal leaders and people, and also a critical event. The presence of the media helped achieve a goal of the tour which was to promote the upcoming TRC.
This federally-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008, in response to a recommendation from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, which called for a public inquiry into the Indian Residential Schools.
The TRC is a mandated part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Guided by the principles established by the Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation, the commission's five-year mandate includes: establishing a research centre, preparing a report to the Canadian public with recommendations and developing a historical record of the residential schools legacy in Canada from 1831 until the last school closed in 1998.
Members on the three-person commission are currently being appointed by the federal government through an Order of Council. They will be assisted by an Indian Residential School Survivor Committee. The commission will travel to seven major locations in Canada and reach out to smaller communities and groups. The TRC should become an important step toward healing and reconciliation between Canadian society and the Aboriginal people.
Our hope is that it will be a forum in which all perspectives on the flawed IRS system can be examined and discussed. I believe it is important that the Oblates, indeed the whole Church, participate in the TRC to help insure that it remains a balanced, inclusive process in which everyone's voice - former students, their families, staff both lay and religious - is heard with openness and respect in a genuine process of truth-telling for the historical record to be accurate.
It is also my hope that the focus of the Commission will be on educating the Canadian public, gathering information and writing the missing chapter of the residential school legacy in a balanced way. By our participation and cooperation, together we can make an important and positive contribution to our Canadian society.
For the official website of the Remembering the Children tour, click here
Other links: The Legacy of Hope Foundation
Legacy of residential schools remembered
SASKATOON Some 500 people attended the Saskatoon portion of a national Remembering the Children tour of Aboriginal and church leaders held as a promotion and preparation for the much-anticipated Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The establishment of the commission is one element of an Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement reached between the government, churches and Aboriginal organizations in 2006. Once established, the commission will spend five years promoting public education and awareness of the residential school system and its legacy, as well as providing former students, families and communities with an opportunity to share their experiences.
Aboriginal leaders joined church leaders from the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Church denominations in the Remembering the Children tour, which also included stops in Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Rev. Jan Bigland-Pritchard of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, which hosted the Saskatoon stop March 9 at the Western Development Museum, greeted participants and Elders Ethel and Hector Ahenekew led the gathering in prayer.
Hector Ahenekew described how he had been asked to come early to lead a traditional smudging ceremony. When my dad was young this was looked down upon, he said. To see the bishops come up for smudging was really something. I want to thank them for not looking down on it.
David MacDonald, the United Churchs special advisor on residential schools, invited all survivors of residential schools attending the gathering to stand and be acknowledged. When we say we are Remembering the Children, we are remembering you, he said.
Chief Lawrence Joseph of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) welcomed the tour to Treaty 6 territory on behalf of the 122,000 registered status Indians he represents and all First Nations peoples. Church and state must work together, he asserted. We ask for your prayers that we will come out of this in the loving way that the Creator has willed for us.
Both Aboriginal and church leaders spoke poignantly of the legacy of the residential schools and their policies of assimilation.
Between 1857 and 1969, thousands of children were removed from their families and taken to residential schools. Established across Canada by the federal government, the schools were largely administered by church organizations. Children attending the schools were forced to relinquish their language and culture; family ties were broken, sometimes forever. In the process, many endured physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
The devastation caused by those institutions is not something of the past, said Joseph, describing how the effects can be seen today in addictions, in dependency, in children on the street and in prison. When media covering First Nations issues tell us its got nothing to do with treaties, its got nothing to do with residential schools, think again. That intergenerational pain and suffering are alive and well today.
Joseph said that when news of the tour came out, FSIN members were reluctant to participate, in light of so many past failures and broken promises. However, he said, he has discovered sincerity in the words of church leaders. He called for a process of reconciliation that includes the righting of wrongs and resources dedicated to rebuilding lives that have been ruined.
Were not asking for pity. Were asking for acknowledgement and understanding.
Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald spoke of the experiences of a friend who had been taken from her family as a child. He described some of the conditions she endured, but the real pain came later, when she realized she had no home to go to.
Church involvement in the schools was was a denial of who we were, said the bishop. It was a denial of our deepest commitments, of our fondest hopes and of the promises we made to the people of the land when we as church entered into this area.
He said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a way to welcome the survivors home as well as a way for the institutions that took part to return home to their deepest ideals. We have to acknowledge that the strength of our future is dependent on remembering these children.
Ted Quewezance, executive director of the National Residential School Survivors Society, related his own experience, of being taken away from his grandparents. All I had was my grandparents, and the government of Canada, Indian Affairs, came and dragged me away and they told my grandpa, If you dont let this little boy go, youll be going to jail.
Sexually abused from the age of five by people in positions of trust, he spoke of the trauma of eventually revealing his experiences to his wife and five daughters, and of being called a liar in court.
Im still here, he said, and many, many survivors across the country are still here.
The legacy of the Residential Schools continues to haunt society, he said. A lot of people were institutionalized when they were little boys and little girls, and they graduated into the correctional centres, into the penitentiaries.
Hoe expressed hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would assist in healing and in raising public awareness about what happened.
The 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement has been reached and common experience payments are going into the hands of survivors, Quewezance said. Elders are investing money in their children and grandchildren, and many of our survivors have injected those dollars in their local economies.
But money alone will not bring about healing, he stressed. Ensuring that the truth about the Residential Schools be told is an important part of the agreement.
Church representatives described their denominations involvement in the system and shared apologies and words of regret with the gathering (see related story). Speakers included Rev. Hans Kouwenberg, moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada; Rev. David Giuliano, moderator of the United Church of Canada; Rev. Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Bishop Albert LeGatt of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon; Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, of Keewatin-Le Pas; and Sister Rita Bisson, PM.
The Saskatoon event included a performance by the choirs of Mayfair United and St. Andrews Presbyterian churches and the drumming group Young Thunder who led the gathering in a round dance to conclude the evening.