As mentioned in my earlier blog, yesterday I was given the honour of speaking on behalf of The United Church of Canada at the Opening Session of the first national gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with TRC Commissioners and other leaders (Aboriginal, government, and church leaders). I began by making clear that I spoke not only for our church as Moderator but also for myself. First Nations members of our United Church Residential Schools Steering Committee had encouraged me to also introduce myself by my Gitxsan name (it sounds like this: Skeegagum Niganus) meaning “Sister of the East,” so I did that and followed our United Church practice of expressing gratitude for the First Peoples who had welcomed us to their territory. Here is what I said following those opening comments:
I am here as someone with a broken heart who has witnessed truth about how others’ hearts, bodies, minds, and souls have been broken by residential schools. I’m here to witness more truth in the hope that pain may be transformed and that we may take heart together. That we may come to understand the nature of reconciliation together.
As a mother I pray for my children every day. Since 1986, for almost 25 years, I’ve been praying for your children as well—and for you too. August of 1986 was when The United Church of Canada’s General Council empowered then-Moderator Bob Smith to make our first apology as a community of faith. I was there and returned home changed. Like others, I returned trying to figure out how to live into our words of apology. What would it mean to truly live by them? In 1998 then-Moderator Bill Phipps spoke for us as we added more words of apology—words that very much needed to be added—that spoke specifically of our lament over our involvement in the Indian residential school system. In Manitoba that means our involvement in the Brandon, Norway House, and Portage La Prairie schools.
My heart continues to break at the thought of how your children were taken from you, and the damage that was done to your children, to your children’s children, and to you. Some of your children never returned home. The churches—including my church—were among those responsible for your pain. We were, and are, twisted by pain that was inflicted in the name of love. We are sorry, and we commit ourselves to remain on the road of living into our words of apology, of listening to your guidance on this road.
We are blessed as a church by strong First Peoples leaders who guide us, as we are blessed in Canadian society by strong Native leaders.
Thanks to a challenge from George Erasmus, since 2004 we as a church have pursued a public inquiry on residential schools, now the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
You inspire us—residential school survivors—and others of your strong spirit and your strong community. You inspire us to pursue the vision of a healed nation. We are strengthened and guided by your courage and your integrity.
You are sharing your truth for the sake of full truth-telling and for the sake of reconciliation with all Canadians.
This event is a very significant step in a long journey. Our hearts will be broken again so that we may take heart together. This is an opportunity for all Canadians to accept an invitation into broken-heartedness for the sake of whole hearts that make reconciliation possible.
May we all have the courage—the heart—to live by Creator’s ways of truth and reconciliation.
Meegwetch, merci, thank you for listening.