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Anglicans reflect on impact of TRC events (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada)
an article by Marites N. Sison, Anglican Journal

For National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, participating in the national events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has been “a strange mixture of Good Friday and Easter.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald are blessed by an elder at the first TRC national event in Winnipeg in 2010. Photo: Marites N. Sison

click on photo to enlarge

It has been “very painful, very challenging” to witness how the 150-year legacy of residential schools has affected former students and their families, but MacDonald says he has also seen “resilience, hope and the idea that we have reached a point from which we can’t turn back.”

What Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation whispered to him in 2010, at the first TRC national event in Winnipeg, has been ringing in his ears, says MacDonald: “We’re going to make it.”

Archbishop Terry Finlay, the primate’s special representative on residential schools, describes his experience of having attended these events as “painful, challenging, truth-revealing, humbling and unsettling,” but also one that has contributed to his own spiritual life.

General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn, who has been to all TRC regional and national events, says she is feeling “a little bit sad” that these events are coming to an end, but is hoping that there will be other opportunities for the Anglican Church of Canada to share its residential schools- related materials.

The last of seven TRC national events will be held in Edmonton, March 27 to 30.

A key component of the 2007 revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, part of the TRC’s mandate is to gather the statements of former residential school students and others affected by the schools and to educate Canadians about the impact of the residential school system. The TRC’s ultimate goal, “is to lay the groundwork that will help us to close the divide between aboriginal people and the rest of Canadians,” TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair has repeatedly stated. From the mid-19th to the 20th century, churches—including the Anglican Church of Canada— operated 130 schools for more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children as part of the Canadian government’s forced assimilation policy.

“I think the TRC has really given a voice, a face and a presence to a very, very painful and unjust period of time in our Canadian history,” said Finlay.

TRC events have had the effect of “raising consciousness and healing of all people, especially the survivors,” says MacDonald. He adds that there has been a growing understanding among non-indigenous Canadians that healing needs to happen not just among former students and their families but in all of Canada.

MacDonald says he was impressed by church involvement and participation at events, which grew “in terms of numbers and quality” at each event. “We have a long ways to go, but it has been steady growth.”

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)

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Finlay says church participation at the local level was mixed, starting slowly in some provinces and taking off quickly in others. “It is a painful story and therefore sometimes we find it hard to accept it and to recognize that perhaps people we knew personally were part of that painful story,” he says. However, “gradually we have become more and more aware of the history and the tremendous journey that we’ve had with our indigenous Anglicans and I think that’s good.”

The full participation of former residential schools staff at the events is something that both MacDonald and Anglican Healing Fund co-ordinator Esther Wesley wish had happened, but they acknowledge that it wouldn’t have been without risks. While some staff joined the events, most stayed within the confines of the churches’ listening area; one or two gave public testimonies to TRC commissioners, but were met with open hostility and weeping by some former students in the audience. “It would have been very good if more staff at the schools had been able to participate, but for various reasons, they felt afraid and intimidated,” says MacDonald. “It would have been very good to get the larger picture.”

The church could facilitate a process “in which we gave proper due to [staff] who worked there and many worked courageously and sacrificially and displayed kindness,” says MacDonald. “Churches are probably the safest place for that kind of dialogue to happen.”

Hurn, meanwhile, would like to see the church’s “frontline archives work” to continue; she was astonished at the impact that the residential schools-related photographs, drawings, memorabilia and documents, which church archivists shared at TRC events,  have had on former students and their families. General Synod Archives and the Anglican Healing Fund have shared exhibit space, which has been popular with former students, their families and the general public.

“It’s something I’ve enjoyed so much—that people would take us into their confidence to describe their experience and also share their incredible stories of their time at the schools, some very sad, some very funny,” Hurn says. . ...more.

This report was posted on April 2, 2014.