The legacy of the Indian Residential School System was the focus of prayer, reflection and discussion during a diocesan Congress Day in three locations: Saskatoon, Humboldt and Kindersley.
A diocesan committee has been established by Bishop Donald Bolen to encourage and prepare for diocesan involvement in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event this summer in Saskatoon. Members of the committee – which includes representatives of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish and of the diocesan Justice and Peace commission, as well as other volunteers – led the Congress Day presentations.
Bishop Donald Bolen stressed that the issue of residential schools affects all Canadians. “Indian residential schools are not something that First Nations people simply need to deal with: this is part of our collective history, and we all need to deal with that history and with its pain, and with its hurts. It’s an issue for all of us,” Bolen said.
“A number of Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, were specifically involved in residential schools,” Bolen added. “Therefore it’s very important that we be involved in the truth and reconciliation process, and play our part in fostering a deeper education about residential schools and assisting in the work of healing.”
Committee member Gayle Weenie, elder and pastoral associate at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, described how the roots of the TRC process can be traced to the action of Manitoba Chief Phil Fontaine in 1990, when he stepped forward and asked the churches that ran residential schools to acknowledge the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse endured by students at those schools.
The government of Canada and representatives of the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches were party to an Indian Residential Schools Agreement, by which former students could apply for compensation, called “common experience payments”.
As part of the Agreement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed, in order to collect and record the history of residential schools and chronicle the impact that the schools and their policy of assimilation had on generations of children, families and communities.
Rev. Mick Fleming, CSsR, Priest Moderator at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Saskatoon, spoke about the work of the TRC, and the hearings being held throughout Saskatchewan in preparation for the June 21-24 national TRC event.
“It is an honour for us as a community to be able to hold the national event this summer. It is an opportunity for all Canadians – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – to learn about and to bear witness to the legacy of the school systems and to find the truth,” said Fleming.
He described the impact of attending a recent TRC hearing in Regina. “It was an incredible moment to sit there and to listen to the pain, and to hold the sacred stories of these people”, he said, noting the resilience of the human spirit, and the hunger for healing and reconciliation.
Fleming stressed that Christian churches and their members are called to be involved in the process; to participate, to volunteer, to be present, to listen at the TRC events, and to help bring healing.
A panel that included Gayle Weenie, Irene Sharp of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, and Harry Lafond of the Office of Treaty Commissioner then presented an overview of the history of residential schools in a question and answer format, before sharing their own stories and experiences.
Irene Sharp shared how childhood abuse by a priest left her struggling for years with relationships and addictions. After years of struggle, she said she finally found healing by returning to her faith, and through healing programs such as “Returning to Spirit and Lay Formation. “I’m thankful to God for helping me through this. If we truly believe, we have to find ways to help others, and not to find fault,” she said. “It isn’t pity that a troubled person needs, it is understanding and listening to the best of our ability.”
She urged her listeners to have empathy for those who have experienced hurt. “For a few minutes, try to put yourself in the position of being taken away from your family and being put in a strange home or school, not being able to see your family and being abused in some way”, Sharp said. “So much has been taken away from our people. It is time we get into action and have them heal by what God gave us: understanding, listening, giving hope and love.”
Congress participants were asked to consider how they might take further action – whether as individuals or as parishes. Suggestions included prayer, attending the upcoming TRC national event, volunteering to help with that event, telling others about the opportunity, listening to the stories of residential school experiences, and checking out the trc.ca website.
Remembering the Children Prayer
God of our Ancestors, who holds the spirits of our grandmothers and grandfathers, and the spirits of our grandchildren, remembering the children, we now pledge ourselves to speak the Truth, and with our hearts and our souls to act upon the Truth we have heard of the injustices lived, of the suffering inflicted, of the tears cried, of the misguided intentions imposed, and of the power of prejudice and racism which were allowed to smother the sounds of laughter of the forgotten children. Hear our cries of lament for what was allowed to happen, and for what will never be. In speaking and hearing and acting upon the Truth may we as individuals and as a nation meet the hope of a new beginning. Great Creator God who desires that all creation live in harmony and peace. Remembering the children we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart and the chance of restoring the circle, where justice walks with all, where respect leads to true partnership, where the power to change comes from each heart. Hear our prayer of hope, and guide this country of Canada on a new and different path. Amen
Excerpt from an article by Kiply Lukan Yaworski. Reprinted with permission. The entire article can be read on the Diocese of Saskatoon’s website. Click here for the full article.