Church calls for Healing and Reconciliation Month

It’s becoming a kind of “secular season” for reconciliation between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in Canada. The weeks between May 26 (National Day of Healing and Reconciliation) and June 21 (National Aboriginal Day) also includes the June 11 anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for residential schools and is often a time when the Assembly of First Nations organizes days of action to highlight Aboriginal issues.

This clustering of dates is why the Anglican Church of Canada and others are calling for Canadians to mark this period “Healing and Reconciliation Month.”

The idea was sown by prominent Aboriginal rights activist Dr. Maggie Hodgson, and germinated by the Ecumenical Planning Team (EPT), the group that brings together the Assembly of First Nations, the National Residential School Survivors Society, and the historic churches that administered Indian residential schools (Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and Roman Catholic).

“We’ve set ourselves two goals,” said Maylanne Maybee, Anglican representative on the EPT and General Synod’s ecojustice coordinator. “We want to make sure that no member of the church can say ‘I never knew about the history of residential schools’ and that no residential school survivor can ever say ‘I’ve never had the chance to tell my story.'”

Between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada helped administer around three dozen schools for Aboriginal children. The goal was to assimilate children into the dominant European culture.

In 1993, the Anglican Church apologized for its involvement in the schools. It was also later held financially accountable through theIndian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Recently the church has worked to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which aims to hear the stories of all involved in residential schools. The work of the commission has since been delayed by the resignation of the three appointed commissioners.

Although this has been frustrating for many, especially survivors, Ms. Maybee thinks differently: “I think the delay in the TRC was a kind of indirect gift to the churches to make them realize that they have a role in initiating work on their own without waiting on the TRC to set the agenda.”

Healing and Reconcilation Month is just such a time for churches to initiate work on their own. Ms. Maybee suggests the following activities:

  • Obtain the DVD for Niiganibatowaad: FrontRunners, a movie about former residential school students denied entrance to the Pan-Am games. Copies can be borrowed from General Synod by emailing [email protected], and the study guide is available online.
  • Have your church ring bells at 3:00 PM on June 11 (or play the organ), with a period of silence to remember those affected by residential schools and to reflect on how to respond.

“I would say that as people of faith and spirituality of the Christian tradition, the core of what we believe has to do with repentance and forgiveness,” said Ms. Maybee. “We need to understand that deeply as part of the human psyche in some ways. That forgiveness doesn’t just happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen just because it’s declared, but it’s ongoing and a renewing process that we say every time we say the Lord ‘s Prayer.”

For more information on Healing and Reconciliation Month or the Ecumenical Planning Team contact Maylanne Maybee by email or phone (416) 924-9199 ext. 219.

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