Anglican leader apologizes to aboriginal people for residential schools

Minaki, ON Sunday, August 8, 1993 — The primate of the Anglican Church of Canada has apologized to aboriginal Anglicans for the “pain and hurt” they experienced in church-run residential schools.

“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,” Archbishop Michael Peers told nearly 150 native people gathered here for the Anglican Church’s second National Native Convocation.

“I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. 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 … that we tried to remake you in our image … that in our schools so many were abused, physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally.”

The apology came on the sixth day of a week-long gathering of aboriginal Anglicans from across the country. Earlier in the week, the gathering had spent two days listening to participants tell of loneliness and abuse at Anglican-run residential schools, and of family destruction, loss of language and identity, alcoholism and suicides, continuing to this day in the aftermath of the residential school experience.

On the seventh day of the convocation, the elders acknowledged and accepted the primate’s apology. “It was offered from his heart with sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and humility,” said elder Vi Smith, speaking during a closing worship service. “We receive it in the same manner.”

Between 1820 and 1970, the Anglican Church administered as many as 26 different residential schools for aboriginal people. Although they were run by the church, the schools were funded by the federal government under the Indian Act.

The church’s National Executive Council (NEC) had requested the primate to make an apology at an appropriate time and place. After listening to former students share their stories earlier in the week, he felt this was the time to apologize. He also pledged to work with native people to continue the healing. “I know how often you have heard words which have been empty because they have not been accompanied by actions”, he said. He also asked diocesan bishops to continue the healing locally.

The primate acknowledged that without healing for the whole church and its non-aboriginal members, including himself, “we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past”.

In 1991, NEC established a Residential Schools Working Group to focus on “reconciliation and healing”. The church has provided financial support for healing initiatives arising in aboriginal communities and has done educational work among both native and non-native communities about the reality and effects of the residential schools.
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