Church commits increased funding to Aboriginal healing

Continuing a 30-year-old commitment to reconciliation with and healing of Indigenous people the Anglican Church of Canada has increased by $75,000 the budget of a fund for healing projects to help Aboriginal people overcome their experiences with residential schools.

The projects funded in recent years range from a residential school conference in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation in northern Ontario, to setting up a toll-free telephone counselling referral line for Aboriginal people who have been sexually abused.

At a recent meeting of the church’s Council of General Synod, the healing fund for Indigenous people was one of the few church programs to get a budget increase. It has risen to $113,000 in 1999 from $38,000 in 1998.

The Anglican involvement with residential schools dates back to the 1800s when the church entered a partnership with the federal government in their administration. Under this arrangement, the government provided funding for the schools while the Anglican and other churches operated them under contract with Ottawa.

Government policy in respect of Aboriginal peoples at this time was to assimilate them into the mainstream culture.

The Anglican church moved away from this partnership in the 1960s when it became apparent that the policy was harmful and that it was not working. The church eventually ended its involvement with the schools altogether. In 1993, the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, on behalf of the church, delivered a formal apology to native people for the church’s involvement in the schools and for its role in the harm they had done.

To date, more than $350,000 has been distributed to church and secular groups for programs of healing and reconciliation in communities affected by the residential schools.

Most recently, in the past three years, $133,500 was granted to 11 healing projects.

One such project was the Pelican Lake Healing Gathering, a three-day event which brought together hundreds of people last July. There were guest speakers and a special workshop on healing using spiritual and traditional ceremonies like pow wows. The gathering took place at the site of the former Pelican Lake Residential School, an Anglican church-run school near Sioux Lookout, Ont.

The church contributed $10,000 to the event, but it was not the only contributor.

“We fund in partnership with other funding sources,” said Donna Bomberry, the church’s Indigenous Ministries Co-ordinator. “For some members from communities in the North to participate (in these events) is a costly venture, one the Anglican Church of Canada can’t cover alone, but we welcome the opportunity to work in partnership.”

Those partners have included Health Canada and provincial community and social services ministries.

Another project assisted by the healing fund was an annual healing seminar sponsored by Equay-Wuk (Women’s Group), also in Sioux Lookout. Twice in the last three years it has received $10,000 in church funding.

The seminar, featuring speakers on family violence, sexual abuse, poverty and the residential school experience, brings together women, young people and elders to learn about the issues in their homes “so that their communities might become healthy and free of abuse,” said Ms. Bomberry.

Speaking of individuals at the seminars, she said, “I have a real sense of their healing and their strength and what they have to teach us and what they can take home to teach others.”

The healing fund is administered by a residential schools working group under the auspices of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. Funding applications may be made by both former students and staff.

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