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Inuvik—Archbishop Fred Hiltz on July 1 paid tribute to former residential school students, saying he heard “many expressions of courage” from them as they gathered here for the Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
Many showed courage in telling their stories and “taking first steps on the journey of healing,” Archbishop Hiltz said, addressing former students—many of them now in their 60s and 70s, who travelled by land, air and sea to attend the event. Others, he added, showed tremendous courage in “persevering in that journey even when the steps are hard,” and others, “in declaring yourselves no longer a number but an individual, a person, with a name given to you by your parents, with a right to live, to be healthy and happy.”
Speaking at a session on Gestures of Reconciliation, the primate reiterated the church’s “deep remorse over the wrongs committed” in the residential schools and renewed the Anglican church’s commitment to “truth-telling, healing, reconciliation and a new life.”
He presented, as a symbol of the church’s commitment to healing and reconciliation, copies of the 1993 Anglican apology issued by then-primate Michael Peers, translated into Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun and Inuktitut languages.
“This week we’ve heard many moving stories of utter loneliness in the schools and deep longings for the love of dad or mom,” said Archbishop Hiltz, who spoke at a session on Gestures of Reconciliation. “I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the pain we inflicted upon you. Sorry for the terrible injuries that so many of you have carried for so many years.”
He added: “When we took your clothes from you and uniformed you, we denied your ancestral dress and your individuality. When we said you couldn’t speak your own language and celebrate your own culture, we devalued your heritage and that of your grandmothers and grandfathers.”
These acts, he said, were done “in an aggressive effort to remake you in our image.”
The Anglican Church of Canada administered about three dozen Indian and Eskimo residential schools and hostels between 1820 and 1969.
Archbishop Hiltz also assured the TRC that the church was taking the issue of reconciliation “very seriously.” The TRC is mandated to document the testimonies of former students, to educate the Canadian public about the legacy of residential schools and to promote reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
“I stand before you today renewing the pledge of the Anglican Church of Canada for the long journey of truth, healing and reconciliation,” Archbishop Hiltz told TRC commissioners and survivors.
He cited that, over the last decade, the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation has funded healing projects amounting to $3.7 million, and Anglican clergy and laity have participated in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, of which the church is a signatory.
The church, through the Council of the North, also has hired a national coordinator for suicide prevention to help address the issue in aboriginal communities. Archbishop Hiltz said there is “a growing realization” within the Anglican church that it needs to be “mindful of the need for long-term mental health care programs in indigenous communities,” particularly those that are suffering from the long-term effects of Indian residential schools.
“As a church we are renewing our commitment to work with the Assembly of First Nations in addressing long-standing indigenous justice issues,” said Archbishop Hiltz. He added that the church’s governing body, General Synod, passed a resolution last year that repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of charters and acts developed by colonizing Western societies more than 500 years ago. That doctrine, many have argued, formed the basis of residential schools.
The primate also said that the church is requiring anyone who serves on its national committees and leadership positions to undergo anti-racism training, even as he acknowledged that much remains to be done “to make sure that racism is eliminated.”
Archbishop Hiltz also noted the church’s campaign, along with other denominations, to have the federal government sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now that Canada has signed the document, he said, the next step is to make sure that it is fully implemented.
Archbishop Hiltz said he mentioned these actions, “not to boast, not at all, but to give you an indication of our church’s commitment.”
Meanwhile, the area bishop of northern Ontario, Lydia Mamakwa, also spoke at the session and talked about how the Anglican church has trained indigenous people such as herself for ordained ministry.
Bishop Mamakwa, who attended the Mennonite-run Poplar Hill Development School in northwestern Ontario, urged her fellow survivors “not to give up, to keep walking and searching for healing…. We are a strong people and we will continue to be.”
She also asked for prayers as the church continues to address the legacy of abuses against aboriginal people. “It has been hard,” Bishop Mamakwa said, “but by the grace of God, I stand before you as a servant of God.”