“Opportunity is at our doorstep,” said the Rev. Canon Murray Still, speaking on the phone from Winnipeg, where he has been juggling emails, phone calls and meetings in preparation for the first public Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event, set for June 16 to 19 at the Forks, Winnipeg.
Thousands are expected to attend the festival-style event about the residential schools experience. In over a dozen tents, former students, their families, and interested Canadians can learn about life in the schools, share their stories, and participate in healing activities such as sports, art, and traditional ceremonies. Former students will also be able to add their personal stories to the official TRC record.
The TRC event will begin with the lighting of a sacred fire, and each day will open with a pipe ceremony. The Forks is situated at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, a traditional Aboriginal meeting place.
“I think this is a time for Anglicans to get on the bandwagon, to get involved and strengthen our church overall—the Aboriginal community and the non-Aboriginal community,” said Canon Still, who is coordinating Anglican involvement in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land along with the Rev. Canon Bob Webster.
Legacy of residential schools
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools, which operated across Canada from the late 19thcentury to 1996. The government-funded schools were operated by churches, including the Anglican Church of Canada, which administered about three dozen schools at various times between 1820 and 1969.
Many students suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in these schools. In 1993, Archbishop Michael Peers, then Primate, made an apology for the church’s involvement.
The 2007 revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement mandated that former students receive compensation. It also established a five-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission to share stories of the schools.
The Winnipeg event is the first of seven major national TRC events scheduled for the remaining four years of the TRC. Anglicans will continue to be active at many levels. In Winnipeg, church representatives will present archival material in a learning tent, deliver their apologies in an “apology tent,” and share their reconciliation work in an interfaith tent.
Anglicans are involved
The Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Mark MacDonald, plan to attend the Winnipeg TRC event.
Canon Still notes that this event is part of a larger movement of healing and reconciliation in the Anglican Church of Canada. He points out that his diocese has set up the Rupert’s Land Aboriginal Circle and Wechetowin Incorporated, an agency that provides pastoral and spiritual care for Aboriginal people.
Much is happening at the national level: Indigenous Ministries supports self-determination for Aboriginal Anglicans, while General Synod’s Partnerships department and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) focus on advocating for Indigenous justice. In March 2008, the Anglican Church of Canada participated in an ecumenical multi-city tour, Remembering the Children, to promote the TRC.
“There’s so much work left to do,” said Canon Still of the national and diocesan work, “but I think we’re headed in the right direction. I encourage Anglicans to support us in this TRC process, to take ownership of it, and to be as proud as we are.”
How can you support the TRC?
-Attend TRC events, watch them on television, and read the Anglican TRC updates
-Work with Aboriginal communities, other churches, and community groups to host local TRC events
-Learn more about the history of residential schools
For more information, email Henriette Thompson, director of Partnerships, or call her at (416) 924-9199 ext. 213.
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