Six emotional years, thousands of sad stories, and 94 recom- mendations later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commis- sion (TRC) released its final reportin Ottawa in early June.
The executive summary, almost 300
pages long, called Honouring the Truth,
Reconciling for the Future, outlines the
commission’s findings and includes several recommendations aimed at churches.
Reconciliation is not about “closing a
sad chapter of Canada’s past,” the report
reads, “but about opening new healing
pathways of reconciliation that are forged
in truth and justice.”
Among those present at the Ottawa
event were staff from The Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada and leaders of affili-
ate denominations including Christian
Reformed, Mennonite, Christian & Mis-
sionary Alliance, and Salvation Army.
Other church leaders who could not at-
tend have been following the hearings
and reflecting on the churches’ part in the
story of residential schools in Canada.
Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
is important to Christians, says Darren
Roorda, Canadian ministries director of
the Christian Reformed Church, because
“reconciliation is important to God. It’s
our chief instruction given to us in the
New Testament. We are to be reconcilers.”
Before reconciliation can be fully realized, however, there needs to be a whole
lot of truth. During its hearings across
Canada, the commission received more
than 6,750 statements from survivors,
family members and others.
Just listening to the stories of residential
school survivors was draining for many.
“You almost want to shut down emotionally and say, ‘I can’t hear this anymore,’ ”
says Willard Metzger, executive director of
Mennonite Church Canada.
For Cheryl Bear of the Nadleh Whut’en
First Nation in northern British Columbia, the stories hit close to home. The
band councillor and associate professor at
Vancouver’s Regent College attended
many of the hearings, listening to the
testimonies of people from communities
she was familiar with.
“People I knew were so distraught,” she
says. “One of them said, ‘My heart physically hurts.’ ” Others were fine before
they testified and broke down afterwards.
For some, it was the first time they had
told their stories.
“I asked God what was happening,” says
Bear. “I felt like I heard the words, ‘This
time, these events, are the answers to the
prayers of your ancestors.’”
If Canadians don’t yet know the sad his-
tory of residential schools, they should. An
official policy of assimilation adopted in the
19th century in the newly established
Dominion of Canada essentially amounted
to what some have called cultural genocide.
Aboriginal people experienced loss of
language, cultural practices, dignity and
freedom to make their own decisions.
Nowhere was this more evident than in
the residential schools established all
across the country and run primarily by
churches between 1820 and 1996. In their
testimonies survivors gave litanies of these
losses – brand new beaded moccasins
thrown in the garbage, long hair lopped off,
numbers replacing names, punishment for
using their own languages, aching home-
sickness. In addition, physical and sexual
abuse was rife in some schools.
Whole families were destroyed. Parents
mourned the loss of their children. As
adults, those children didn’t know how to
parent. Coping strategies including alcohol and violence born of frustration ensnared many. And so it went through the
In part, the TRC report gives vindication to Indigenous Peoples, says Terry
LeBlanc, director and co-founder of several nonprofits including Indigenous
Pathways and NAIITS: An Indigenous
Learning Community. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology in
2008 on behalf of the Federal Government, it was like admitting the government was wrong. The apology led to the
commission, which was then a way for
Aboriginal Peoples to say, “We were right”
– right to resist the strictures put upon
them that resulted in loss of culture, religion and language.
The long list of recommendations is
directed at governments, industries,
educational institutions, church organizations and other groups. “The recommendations are targeting multiple levels of
society because breakdown occurred at all
HEARING THE TRUTH,
Evangelical leaders reflect on the TRC report
BY DEBRA FIEGUTH