A group of 33 presbyterians participated in the Healing and Reconciliation Tour that visited various locations around Winnipeg, Kenora, and Saskatoon from June 12 to 21. We spent time with First Nations and Métis people, listening to their stories and spending time in their company. We were greeted graciously, simply, and with great warmth.
Most of you know the story of the harm done to children and families by churches when they carried out the federal government’s laws of removing young Indigenous children from their families and placing them in church-run residential schools.
When children arrived at the schools, they were systematically stripped of their language, customs, and heritage by means that were sometimes cruel and brutal. Some children suffered illness, poor food, and unhealthy conditions, physical and sexual abuse, and even death. Generations of people have been affected with some of the following results: families and communities are broken apart, drug and alcohol problems are rampant, and suicides and hopelessness are happening all too often.
You might say, “Why should I apologize? I did not do this to anyone!” You are right—you, personally, didn’t do this, but the general population DID, perhaps not directly but by acceptance of the fact that this was going on and not making an attempt to stop it. We are responsible—our Church is responsible! Our apathy has created this generational problem for Indigenous Peoples, and we are now responsible for making the changes necessary to ensure that it never happens again.
The group visited: Winnipeg Inner City Missions; Kenora Fellowship Centre; the last site of the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School; Shoal Lake and the original location of the Cecilia Jeffrey School; the ACCESS program at the University of Manitoba (U of M); the National Centre for Healing and Reconciliation at U of M; the Bird Tail Reserve in Saskatoon; Birtle, MB, the location of the second Indian Residential School run by the PCC; Mistawasis; and Saskatoon Native Circle ministry.
Each night, we had an opportunity to share our thoughts and impressions of our day. We prayed together for a better understanding of the problems and issues facing First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. We were encouraged to think deeply and to share our concerns. Our sharing circles were times of tears and laughter. Each person was challenged to consider what needs to change and how we can help.
Elder Terry at Bird Tail Reserve encouraged us all with his words, “It’s worthwhile to reconcile.”
by Janet Brewer, Susan McLennan and Joan Smith