Primate asks residential school staff to share experiences

On May 2, Archbishop Fred Hiltz will send letters to 20 former staff of Anglican-run Indian residential schools, encouraging them to share their experiences with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Primate’s letter is the first stage in the Anglican Church of Canada’s focused effort to engage former staff with the TRC.

“Any memories, no matter how simple or detailed, will be an important contribution to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” says the Primate.

The invitation will be extended to more former staff as they are identified.

Leaders at the Anglican Church of Canada have also encouraged other people impacted by residential schools—from former students to family members—to share their experiences.

The TRC’s mandate is to learn the truth about the residential schools experience and to inform all Canadians. From the 1870s until 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children attended 130 residential schools across Canada. The schools were funded by the government and run by Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and United churches.

The Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC chair, has acknowledged that gathering staff accounts is an important part of the TRC’s work.  In a letter to be included alongside the Primate’s, Mr. Sinclair writes, “Residential school staff can provide us with a unique insight into the operations of the schools, the relationship between students and staff, and the day to day challenges of working in difficult circumstances.”

Mr. Sinclair assures staff that they can share their experiences in a “safe and supportive environment.” Staff members may choose for their interview with the TRC to be recorded by audio or on film, at a convenient time and location. Health supports will be available, and friends and family may attend.

At the end of the TRC mandate in 2013, all testimonies and records will be made available to the public through the TRC’s national research centre.

Nancy Hurn, General Synod archivist, said researchers have identified the names of more than 2,300 former Anglican residential school staff, by examining staff lists, employee records, and newsletters from 1920 on, held in the General Synod Archives. Most of these former teachers, supervisors, matrons, principals, nurses, and other staff have passed away.

At various times between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada administered close to three dozen residential schools and hostels for Indigenous children. In the late 1920s the Anglicans ran as many as 24 schools, primarily in the northern regions of central and western Canada.

In the 1980s, former residential school students began to come forward with claims of abuse in the schools. Some filed lawsuits.

In 1993, then-Primate Archbishop Michael Peers apologized for the Anglican Church of Canada’s involvement in the schools. Since then, leadership at the Anglican Church of Canada has worked to address the legacy of residential schools in various ways, including through a healing fund, projects for Indigenous self-determination, and advocacy.

In 2007, the Anglican Church of Canada signed the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, committing to pay $15.7 million for compensation and healing work.

Former residential schools staff and others who are interested in sharing their stories can contact the TRC directly through Helen Harrison, senior research analyst, by email or phone: (613) 947-1093. Alternately, they can contact General Synod Archivist Nancy Hurn by email or phone: (416) 924-9199 ext. 279.

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