One of the first steps individuals can take towards reconciliation is getting to know the residential school that once stood nearest you and what communities were affected by it, members of General Synod heard July 11.
Kaila Johnston, acting manager for education, outreach and public programming at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) in Winnipeg, delivered a presentation to General Synod outlining the Centre’s work and suggesting actions that can be taken toward reconciliation.
“The question I have for you today is, how many of you know the closest residential school to you?” Johnston asked. “Was it an Anglican school? Or another denomination? What were the years of its operation, and what communities had children attend it?”
Answering these questions is “one of the first steps you can take on your journey of reconciliation,” Johnston said, noting that the best place to start is the NCTR’s online database, which holds documents, materials and statements gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Our goal is to ensure that survivors and families and Canadians will have access to the shared history of residential schools,” said Johnston. According to Johnston, the collection houses more than 5 million records, an amount still growing as more documents from institutions like Letters and Archives Canada continue to be received. The Centre also holds more than 7,000 hours of recorded audio and video of survivors sharing their residential school experience.
“The TRC has closed its doors after releasing its final report in December of 2015, but this does not mean it is the end of the commission’s work. On the contrary, we are now able to see the long road ahead of us,” said Johnston.
The final report of the Commission included 94 Calls to Action highlighting areas of need to continue reconciliation efforts in Canada.
“Often we’re asked at the Centre, ‘What can I do? We’ve read the Calls to Action, but what is the next step?’” said Johnston. “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is, you don’t have to do all 94—just do one. So I encourage you to look through the calls to action and find that call that speaks to you.”
Johnston’s presentation outlined steps for “reconciliaction” including: Learning the history between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples; understanding the history and legacy of residential schools; exploring the unique intersections between treaty, constitutional, Indigenous and human rights in Canada; recognizing the rich contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to Canada; taking action to address historical injustices and present day wrongs; and teaching others.
In her presentation, Johnston also highlighted a letter from the Centre’s archives, which she characterized as the only letter she has found thus far in the public archive of a staff member advocating publicly for her students’ health. In the letter, a teacher at the All Saints Anglican School reported the students were being fed a deficient diet. According to the letter, of the $100 allowed by the government for each child in the school, only $22.52 was being spent per child per year.
Johnston said the reason she included the letter in her presentation was because it is important “to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.” In order for reconciliation to occur, “The truth of the past needs to become known,” she added.
Specific actions that can be taken to help bring about the TRC’s calls to action include engaging letter-writing campaigns, contacting area Members of Parliament, or volunteering or donating to organizations like the First Nations Child and Family Care Society, Johnston said.
She also encouraged those gathered to learn about the residential school nearest them, and find out if any activity has been done to protect its cemetery.
It is estimated that there could be upwards of 400 unidentified graves in Canada where residential school children were buried, Johnston noted.
It is important to acknowledge not only the difficulties Indigenous peoples have faced due to church-run residential schools and federal government policies, but the “resilience of Indigenous peoples to overcome this painful legacy and reclaim their cultural identity,” said Johnston.
“Reconciliation should not be seen as a finite goal to be achieved…but should be recognized as an ongoing process to be acknowledged and renewed year after year.”
Johnston’s address was followed by an apology by the primate for the spiritual abuse of Indigenous peoples by the Anglican Church of Canada. General Synod voted July 12 to approve measures to make Indigenous ministries more self-governing and to make the Vision Keepers—a commission of elders and youth that monitor how the church is acting in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—a permanent forum.