We are Remembering the Children
by the Rev. Dr. Jan Bigland-Pritchard,
Director of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism
It all began in the middle of the night, sometime in December. The previous day I had email to say that very senior aboriginal and church leaders were going to cross the country together to promote the work of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was exciting. The TRC struck me as a courageous way to help heal this wound in our national soul.
My heart sank, however, when I read the proposed itinerary. No mention of Saskatchewan. “How typical”, I thought, the chip on my prairie-girl shoulder well in place. I thought: it doesn’t matter to those people ‘down east’ that Saskatchewan has a very large native population, that many residential schools were located here. With a fatalistic sigh, I went to bed.
And woke up in the middle of the night. There was no question: I had to write to the organizers and urge them to come to Saskatchewan. A few minutes on the internet brought up the email address. I wrote at once, urging our case and offering the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism as the local partner.
How could I make such a commitment in the middle of the night, with no hesitation and no consultation? It was simple: the amazing PCE network. 24 years of building inter-church partnerships paid off. The PCE‘s Restorative Justice Committee usually just do one workshop in November, but 2007 was different. Our focus was the continuing racial divide in our region. The question we asked was how can we, as native and non-native people, walk together to heal our communities? It was clear that this would not be a one-off event, but a process. We began to seek aboriginal partners and found them. There was a growing sense that God was taking us somewhere, well out of our comfort zones. The stage was set.
On January 11 we got word that the national tour, impressed by the strength of our invitation, was coming to Saskatoon on March 9. Hastily the Restorative Justice committee assembled, and others were invited on board — including Ethel Ahenakew of the Saskatoon Native Ministry, Alan Jacques, who ministers on the Dakota Whitecap First Nation, Mary Ann Assailly, of the Anglican diocesan outreach network.
We were excited. Someone asked how many people will come. I said I wasn’t sure, but we should prepare for up to 400. There was incredulous laughter. (We are used to disappointment.) But we persuaded ourselves to think big, and got to work — especially Carol Zubiak our chair, and Carol Penner, our office manager. We were delighted when FaithLife Financial stepped up to the plate and gave us $1,000 to help.
Four churches ran residential schools on behalf of the federal government — Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United. Their local church leaders were enthusiastic about the March 9 visit, and promoted the event among their people. Chief Lawrence Joseph, head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, flew to Ottawa to check out the national launch of the tour. That convinced him that the churches were sincere. He agreed to speak in Saskatoon, and promoted the event with Saskatchewan native leaders.
Invitations went out far and wide — oh the wonders of email. The press releases went out. We held our breath.
Then the phone began to ring. The computer went crazy. Media said they were coming. By the week of the tour, we were arranging overflow seating and urging the Western Development Museum to squeeze in more seats and stand by with extra food.
On the day we counted 471 going past the registration desk. People were streaming in, white and native, old and young. There was a line-up of those wanting to smudge. The perfume of sweetgrass filled the air. People sat at round and long, tables, filling the hall. Expectant and a little nervous.
On stage the national tour’s display featured a young native boy’s face, with a very institutional haircut. His face appeared on the podium as well. When Ted Quewezance, residential school survivor and head of the survivor’s society, stood at the podium and told his story. I felt I was time travelling, for Ted — a man in his fifties or sixties — bore an uncanny resemblance to that little boy.
Each church leader spoke well, with words of clear apology for a very serious wrong. Chief Joseph had called it a ‘holocaust’. The uncomfortable truth, new to me, was that many children never came home from those residential schools. Many died or disappeared. We must remember. There is so much that most non-native people don’t know.
The program ran long, but the audience stayed with it. There were tissues placed on each table. They were needed. Many were touched — the audience, the museum serving staff, the media people, the local sound technician. A young Métis prison worked shared her sense of delight about the event. A school survivor in her sixties told me about the great sense of lightness and peace that had come upon her as the afternoon unfolded.
We finished with a meal and a round dance. When I went to the microphone and asked “Who’s ready for some singing and dancing?” there were whoops and shouts and applause. As ‘Young Thunder’ drummed and sang, a circle of people formed, holding hands, dancing around the edge of the hall. Native and white together, moving to the drum, a ring reaching not just once around the hall, but in places two lines thick. A moment of declaration. A moment of hope.
People asked me, “Are you coming back next year?” The question was about whether the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when it shapes its itinerary for the major city events, will remember to come to Saskatchewan. We need them to come.
At the PCE, we’ll be standing by for the phone call.
• For background on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission go to www.residentialschoolssettlement.ca
• The tour website is www.rememberingthechildren.ca
• A Most Holy Day – The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reflects on the Saskatoon stop of the tour.
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Posted: March 13, 2008 • Permanent link: ecu.net/?p=436
Categories: News • In this article: Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Transmis : 13 mars 2008 • Lien permanente : ecu.net/?p=436
Catégorie : News • Dans cet article : Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Justice LaForme chosen to chair Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Justice LaForme chosen to chair Truth and Reconciliation Commission
[Marites S. Sison • Anglican Journal] Justice Harry S. LaForme, an aboriginal Ontario Court of Appeal judge, has been appointed by the federal government to chair an independent commission that will hear the stories and promote public education about the 150-year legacy of the now-defunct Indian residential schools.
“This is an important step in our commitment to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, and another example of our government doing the right thing for former students, and all Canadians,” said Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl who announced on April 28 Justice LaForme’s appointment as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa. Mr. Strahl said that Justice LaForme, who is a member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nations in southern Ontario, “brings a wealth of respect and leadership experience and is the most senior aboriginal judge in the country.”
Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine hailed Justice LaForme’s appointment saying, “Not only is he a proud First Nations citizen, he is an outstanding jurist and a compassionate and understanding person.” He added: “I have no doubt he will leave no stoned unturned in his investigation of exactly what happened in residential schools, the harm caused, why and how it happened and who was responsible. At the same time, he will bring the grace and compassion required in the truth commission’s work so necessary for healing to begin.”
The Canadian Press quoted Justice La Forme as having said that the TRC is important “not so we can punish, but so we can walk forward into the future.” He also said he was proud to live in a country that was willing to examine a “horrendous” chapter of its history.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, sent his envoy for residential schools, retired Archishop Terence Finlay, as his representative to attend the announcement of Justice LaForme’s appointment in Ottawa. Archbishop Hiltz is currently attending a meeting in Chennai, India of the Anglican-Lutheran International Commission.
Last March, Archbishop Hiltz and Bishop Mark MacDonald, national Anglican indigenous bishop, joined other church leaders in a national tour to raise awareness about the commission.
Justice LaForme was unanimously chosen from more than 300 nominees by a panel composed of representatives from national native organizations and parties to the revised settlement agreement that came into effect last September. He will help select the two other members of the commission, which is part of the revised settlement agreement between the government, representatives of former residential schools students and churches who operated the boarding schools.
The TRC is meant to provide former students and their families with a chance to share their experiences in a “holistic, culturally-appropriate and safe setting.” Representatives of government and churches that operated the schools will also be invited to share their stories. (The Anglican church operated 35 of about 130 boarding schools attended by aboriginals from the mid-19th century into the 1970s. In recent years, hundreds of former students have sued the church and the federal government, which owned the schools, alleging physical and sexual abuse.)
During its five-year term, the commission will produce a report and recommendations, and establish a national archive/research center regarding residential schools.
Justice LaForme, 61, began his law career as an associate of a corporate commercial law firm before specializing in aboriginal law. He has litigated and focused on matters involving the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, now the Superior Court of Justice, in 1994. At the time of his appointment, he was one of three native judges appointed to this level of trial court in Canada. He was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2004.
In 1989, he was appointed commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario, and in 1991, as chief commissioner of the Indian Specific Claims Commission on Aboriginal land claims.
Justice LaForme has taught “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples” course at Osgoode Law School, where he graduated in 1977.
He has been awarded with the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1997) and aboriginal elders have, on three occasions, presented him with an eagle feather, symbolizing the virtues of honesty, integrity, and respect.
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Posted: April 28, 2008 • Permanent link: ecu.net/?p=450
Categories: Anglican Journal • In this article: Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Transmis : 28 avril 2008 • Lien permanente : ecu.net/?p=450
Catégorie : Anglican Journal • Dans cet article : Canada, healing, Indigenous peoples, Truth and Reconciliation Commission