Church responds to aftermath of residential schools, urges government participation in aboriginal healing

Twenty-five years after the last residential school for Native Canadians closed, their legacy remains among the most serious barriers to a just relationship with Aboriginal Canadians, an Anglican Church brief says.

The residential schools were run by churches and funded by the federal government. The schools were the most prominent feature of a set of policies designed to assimilate Aboriginal people into European culture and to eliminate Aboriginal culture. The results of these policies have been broken family relationships, loss of individual and community self-esteem, loss of identity and culture, and loss of spiritual roots. The residential schools are now recognized as a significant contributing factor to the high levels of substance abuse, community and family dysfunction, and suicide among native communities.

Now the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People has requested a special consultation with the historic mission churches — Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United — which operated the schools. The Anglican brief will be presented at the two-day consultation which begins Monday [8 November 1993]. It says the church and government shared responsibility for operating the schools, and now must share responsibility for helping to bring healing.

The Anglican Church administered 26 residential schools between 1820 and 1969. In 1969, after a major review of its relationship with Aboriginal people, the church refocussed its efforts away from assimilation toward shared advocacy with Aboriginal people related to self-determination, treaty rights, and environmental concerns.

In its submission, the Anglican Church of Canada reaffirms its support for “the inherent dignity and intrinsic value of the cultural and spiritual traditions of Aboriginal peoples; the rights of Aboriginal peoples to self-determination in political, cultural, economic, social and spiritual spheres; and the rights of Aboriginal peoples to control their own land bases.”

The submisson draws attention to the church’s own apology for its role in the residential schools, and its commitment to support the healing process for Aboriginal healing programs for people harmed by the schools.

Non-Aboriginal Canadians also need help to acknowledge their deep sense of shame that often leads them to deny the oppression of Aboriginal peoples, says the brief. Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people need to work together on mutual healing and developing a new partnership.

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