June 11, 2009
A year ago today, the Prime Minister of Canada rose in the House of Common to make a apology on behalf of all Canadians to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools. He acknowledged that the policy of assimilation of aboriginal peoples was wrong and expressed remorse for the many abuses suffered by those who attended the residential schools. “There is,” he said, “no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever again prevail.”
In the year since, much has happened and much has failed to materialize.
We are grateful for the Prime Minister’s leadership in establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But we also need to acknowledge that the delay in the commencement of the work of the commission is regrettable and has been harmful to many former residential schools students and to their families and to their communities. Many former residential schools students are growing older and some have died without being heard. Former students have paid a price for the delay in the commencement of the commission’s work.
We rejoice in the naming of the new commissioners and hope that the work of the commission can now resume. First Nations, Inuit, Metis people and the churches are eager to move ahead. Though it risks being a painful process for many, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is also a hopeful process. We celebrate the courage of all who may become involved in that work. We pray for them, we pray for the commissioners and we pray that all this work may become another stepping stone on the path of reconciliation.
Today many public events in Ottawa and across Canada will mark the first anniversary of the Prime Minister’s apology. My own hope is that all Canadians will take to heart the words of National Chief Phil Fontaine: “June 11 will now be a day to put meaningful action to the many fine words that have been given to us by way of apologies from the Residential Schools era. We once again offer a hand to work on partnership with the government, the churches and the people of Canada to make the land a better place for First Nations peoples and all Canadians.”
As a member church in the Ecumenical Working Group that represents the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches, we welcome the opportunity to join hands in advancing the work of healing and reconciliation, guiding this country of Canada on a new and different path.
Fred J. Hiltz
Archbishop and Primate