Church urges government to consult native groups about schools apology

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Mississauga, Ont. The Anglican Church of Canada has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging him “to make every effort possible” to consult the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) about the federal government’s long-awaited apology over the now-defunct Indian residential schools system. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate (national archbishop) of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop, signed the letter, which was sent to Mr. Harper on May 23. The Harper government has announced that it will issue an apology on June 11 as part of its settlement with former students of Indian residential schools, but the AFN has said that there has been no consultation with native groups about this. Archbishop Hiltz told a meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body, that he and other leaders of churches that operated native boarding schools hope to be present when Mr. Harper offers the apology in Ottawa. (The Anglican church operated 35 boarding schools attended by aboriginals from the mid-19th century into the 1970s. Hundreds of former students have sued the church and the federal government, which owned the schools, alleging physical and sexual abuse.) In a related development, Archdeacon Michael Pollesel, the church’s general secretary, said that the national office in Toronto is now able to release refunds to dioceses that had overpaid into the residential schools settlement fund. Last March, the government issued the Canadian Anglican church a cheque for $9.7 million to refund a portion of the church’s contribution to the settlement fund, which had been set up under an old schools agreement. In 2003, the federal government and the Anglican church reached a deal that committed the church to a cap of $25 million compensation for proven abuse claims of former residential schools students. A revised agreement that came into effect last September reduced the church’s financial commitment to $15.7 million. In a report to CoGS, Archdeacon Pollesel said that “the residential schools issue is still very much a live one” and will “continue to need our prayerful and watchful attention.” He said that “the work of healing and reconciliation has really just begun and there is a great deal that still needs to be done.” Archdeacon Pollesel said dioceses “will need to think about ways in which both pastoral care and assistance can be made available to people who may want to appear” before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an independent panel that will hear the stories and promote public education about the 150-year legacy of Indian residential schools. The issue of missing residential schools students and “getting more clarity about the burials for these children” will also involve the church, said Archdeacon Pollesel. “This will undoubtedly call on some dioceses to make their own archival records available for scrutiny,” he said. General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn has been working with diocesan archivists to prepare them for possible information requests. Meanwhile, Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, recently announced the final two appointments for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Jane Brewin Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith. Earlier, the federal government announced the appointment of Justice Harry S. LaForme, an aboriginal Ontario Court of Appeal judge, as chair of the commission, which will begin its work on June 1. Ms. Brewin Morley is a lawyer, facilitator, mediator, arbitrator and public policy advisor. She has served as governor of the Law Foundation of British Columbia, public representative on the counsel of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., and chair of the Jericho Individual Compensation Panel, a redress program for victims of institutional sexual abuse at the Jericho School for the Deaf and Blind. She is currently a board member of the B.C. Dispute Resolution Practicum Society. In 2007, she was appointed as an independent adjudicator for the independent assessment program under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Ms. Dumont-Smith is a registered nurse who has been actively involved in the field of aboriginal health since 1974. She has served in various capacities with the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada and the National Aboriginal Child Care Commission. A writer and researcher, her articles have been published by the Health Council of Canada, and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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