Royal commission on aboriginal peoples: time for federal government to accept its responsibility

TORONTO, November 14, 1996 — Next week, after four years of work, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples will release its final report to the government and the people of Canada. The Anglican Church of Canada and its Council of Indigenous Peoples encourages the Canadian Government to respond to this report with a formal apology for the role the government played in administering residential schools.

The work the Royal Commission did in preparation for the report to be released next week involved visits to more than 100 native communities. Most urged that the government follow this course. We hope and pray that the government will have heard those voices and that it will respond accordingly. It would be an important step in the journey towards healing and reconciliation which must still be travelled.

Much of this church’s efforts in the time during which the Royal Commission has been at work has been devoted to atoning for its role in the administration of residential schools. The church has formally apologized to aboriginal peoples for this and it has taken important steps to promote healing and reconciliation. It has allocated considerable resources to these ends.

But residential schools were a partnership: the churches administered them under policy set by Ottawa — and both acted in accord with the views of mainstream Canadian society at the time. “Now it’s time for a new partnership of church and government,” said Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the church’s General Secretary, ” a partnership focused on healing and reconciliation.

“We look to the release of the Royal Commission’s report as an opportunity for the federal government to do as the churches have already done,” said Boyles, “own up to the role it played in formulating policies of assimilation and apologize for those policies and for the damage they created.”

The residential schools system is acknowledged to be a significant contributor to problems of alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual abuse in the indigenous community, said Donna Bomberry, the church’s Indigenous Ministries Coordinator. “People lost their culture and their languages. They were alienated from their parents and had no opportunity to learn parenting skills. The damage has been passed on now to the third generation. It is vital that the government provide resources directed to education and training that will support long-term healing.”

Residential schools only part of the story

The Royal Commission will devote an entire volume of its six-volume report to the residential schools, but its scope is significantly broader. It will address issues of justice for indigenous peoples, including land claims, economic issues, health care, and education. “We hope and pray that the federal government will address those issues as well, ” said Bomberry.

“We expect that the Royal Commission report will become an invaluable tool for the education of the Canadian public in the history, hopes and aspirations of indigenous peoples,” she said.

In a magisterial study of residential schools entitled “Shingwauk’s Vision” published this year, historian J.R. Miller wrote: “As Canadians wrestle with the heritage of failed Aboriginal policy in the 1990s and beyond, they should remember both the nature of the problem and their legal and moral responsibility.”

“We hope and pray that the commission’s report will be successful both in revealing ‘the nature of the problem’ and in persuading Canadians, through their government, to accept its ‘legal and moral responsibility’, said Archdeacon Boyles.

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