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From truth to reconciliation

In the last meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), held in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3, stories from survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools erased any doubt about the truth of what happened in those schools. More challenging, however, is the reconciliation part, which is only beginning and will be a long process. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission  spent six years listening to former students, teachers and others, while they researched thousands of documents to verify what happened to several generations of indigenous children. More than 150,000 indigenous kids in total were forcibly taken from their homes to attend residential schools designed to “take the Indian out of the child.” A summary of the TRC’s final report was presented on June 2 by Chairman Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild. It makes a clear link between acknowledging uncomfortable and heart-breaking historical truth, understanding present realities and changing the future for both indigenous and settler peoples in Canada.

As the report documents, generations of indigenous children suffered under a “coherent policy to eliminate aboriginal people as a distinct people.” In 1920, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott told parliament in explicit terms: “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed,” and in that way gain control of their land and put an end to treaty obligations. (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, p. 2-3. Available at www.trc.ca.)

This is our history. Settlers benefitted from the unjust treatment of indigenous peoples. While we can’t change the past, we can change the future. For everyone who has walked with indigenous people through this process, including the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and other denominations, the future is now the focus.  Genuine reconciliation involves truth, justice and healing. The truth has now been told and should be learned by every Canadian. Justice and healing are on-going work that starts with taking the TRC report’s recommendations seriously.  Churches played a major role in the schools.  Will they now play an equally significant role in reconciliation?  

New momentum

The TRC specifically asks Canadian churches to educate church members and to advocate for equitable funding for the education of aboriginal children, which is one of the priorities of the CRC’s justice work. Churches have also been asked to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which was a church teaching that justified taking control of indigenous lands. The CRCNA will consider a report on the Doctrine of Discovery at Synod 2016. Putting children first, the recommendations to reform child welfare are also a high priority because there are more indigenous children in the child welfare system today than there were in residential schools in the past.

All 94 recommendations are worthy of careful consideration and response, including those with implications for faith-based education in Canada.

The greatest fear at the moment is that the report will be filed away, as was the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996. I worked on parliament hill when the government of that day successfully buried that report. My sense is that the momentum behind the TRC report by both indigenous and settler organizations will not permit that. It was encouraging to witness a wide range of societal groups make specific formal commitments to take action. The CRC will not be alone in this work. The silence of the federal government is out of sync with Canadians who want to see a more just way of working with the growing population of indigenous people, especially young people.

Together, settler and indigenous children planted a heart garden at the Governor General’s residence during the TRC’s closing ceremonies on June 3. The garden is a fitting symbol of restored, respectful relationships, growing and blossoming together in Canada. We cannot afford to let these children down.

CRC commits to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Danielle Rowaan
OTTAWA, Ont. (CRC News)
– On Monday, June 1, Canadian Ministries Director Darren Roorda and Board Chair Kathy Vandergrift took the stage at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

In front of a crowd of more than 1,000, including survivors of Indian residential schools, other Indigenous people and witnesses of various ethnicities, they committed to continuing to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, naming concrete steps that the denomination is taking and will take in the future.

In speaking, Roorda and Vandergrift emphasized the hope that the church and its people have in God. “We have been honoured to witness the expressions of truth in the TRC, and in them have seen a sacred momentum of reconciliation and hope. Because of this hope, and with the help of our Indigenous neighbours and Creator God, we are committed to turning from the systemic evils behind colonialism and living into a sacred call of unity and reconciliation.”

[…] Roorda and Vandergrift also presented the commission with a painting from the reForming Relationships art tour and a plaque from the Milestones Project, representing the work of the Holy Spirit to bring the CRC towards reconciled relationships.

Danielle Rowaan is the Justice Communications and Education Coordinator with the CRC’s Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee and the Centre for Public Dialogue.

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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