The Kamloops and Cowessess discoveries are confirmation of the costs of a determination by the society to make Indigenous peoples Canadian. The mission is called “civilizing,” but it is cultural genocide. The foundational attitude is that we are to be pitied for who we are and the only solution is to make us “fit in.” Some churches have apologized and the Canadian government has expressed regret for its involvement in residential schools. At best, the statements have acknowledged historic mistakes but deep racism has continued.
We are given charity instead of justice. We face batteries of government lawyers when we attempt to raise the spirit and intent of our treaties. Our poverty is entrenched in government policies that are designed to maintain the status quo. The jails are crowded with Indigenous youth and our children are in the web of provincially controlled child and family services.
The United Church apologized in 1986 for its role in colonialism and the words rang out to us announcing a new era of liberation from colonial captivity. Thirty-five years later, there are continuing efforts by churches to find a path to reconciliation. The language that is used is changing but the institution resists transformation. The reality is that Indigenous peoples are colonized. We live with trauma and generations of marginalization have caused us to question our teachings.
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- 4 questions Christians need to ask if we’re to make good on reconciliation
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- How United churches mourned the Kamloops residential school victims
Alberta Billy was a member of the National Native Ministries Council in 1985 when she asked the General Council Executive for an apology. She was concerned about the effect that the United Church’s disrespectful colonial missionary actions were having on Indigenous peoples. Members of the National Council and many others did educational workshops with congregations and at United Church gatherings long before the word reconciliation was used in describing the work of building right relations. The United Church of Canada (UCC) apologized in 1998 for its involvement in residential schools. This apology led the churches into a long process with Canada that eventually led to the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The apologies made by the UCC did not have a significant impact on people in the pews. In my opinion, it was because there was no strategic planning about what was to be done in light of this history of cultural genocide. The church courts did not refer to the apologies in their vision statements and congregations did not engage in the task of transformation that was implied in the apologies. Even after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, there are United Church congregations that do not comprehend what this has to do with them.
It is likely that there will be many more graves discovered in days to come. I am prepared to continue the work of healing in our society and in the United Church.
The Creator has work for us and I am reminded of a chorus taught to me in Sunday School 70 years ago:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
The Very Rev. Stan McKay was the moderator of The United Church of Canada from 1992 to 1994. He lives in Fisher River, Man.
Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.
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