UAICC responds to United Church of Canada statement on Residential Schools
Photo: Hundreds gather in Toronto to honour 215 Indigenous children found buried in British Columbia. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) has responded to a statement released last week by the United Church of Canada, following the discovery of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools for Indigenous children.
Addressing the survivors of residential schools and their families and communities, UCC Moderator Right Rev Dr Richard Bott acknowledged the pain and trauma being felt after the remains of 215 Indigenous children - students at Canada's largest residential school - were first discovered in May this year.
More than 1,300 other unmarked graves have since been found with searches ongoing, prompting national outrage and mourning. Right Rev Dr Bott also acknowledged the complicity of the Church in the legacy of residential schools and spoke of the journey towards reconciliation and justice the UCC is engaged in under the leadership and guidance of First Nations communities.
"We acknowledge that our role in the residential school system and colonisation is an abuse of power through our Christian faith. We hope that our ongoing work for reconciliation, which has been guided by United Church residential school survivors, more truly reflects what our faith calls us to be and do," the statement reads.
Interim National Chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Ps Mark Kickett acknowledged and responded to the statement on behalf of the UAICC.
In recent years Uniting Church in Australia and the United Church of Canada have together shared insights and dialogue towards reconciliation and healing for First Nations in their respective countries. The UCC hosted a delegation of Assembly and UAICC leaders in Vancouver and Winnipeg in 2017, with the Uniting Church reciprocating in 2018. You can watch two videos of these visits below.
"Please convey our deepest appreciation to the Moderator and the United Church of Canada for the response regarding ‘Residential School Burial sites'," said Ps Kickett.
“Colonialism and colonisation have devastated our First Nations people in both Australia and Canada, especially when it was wrapped in a Christian framework (at the time) that denied our humanity and failed to live out the compassionate and loving presence of Christ.”
“We are so grateful to hear of the dedication and commitment to not just acknowledge the ‘sins of the past’, but to find a way through truth telling and justice, to re-discover healing, forgiveness and restoration.”
"We pray for you as you embark on and continue this very important journey for all. May you all continue to know and experience the Grace, Blessing and Peace of our Creator both now and for the days that lie ahead."
Read the full text of the United Church of Canada statement below, or find it online here.
Moderator’s Statement on Residential School Burial Sites
Bringing these children the honour we denied them in life
To Residential School Survivors, Families, and Communities:
I want to acknowledge the pain that you, as survivors of residential schools, families, and communities, are experiencing. We understand that the pain endured at these schools went far beyond their walls and grounds into community and through generations.
The United Church of Canada operated 15 residential schools: Alberni, Ahousaht, Coqualeetza, Kitimaat (Elizabeth Long Memorial Home), and Port Simpson (Crosby Boys’ and Girls’ Home) in BC; Edmonton, McDougall Orphanage/Morley, and Red Deer in Alberta; Cote (formerly Crowstand), File Hills, and Round Lake in Saskatchewan; Brandon, Norway House, and Portage la Prairie in Manitoba; and Mount Elgin in Ontario.
We are aware of cemeteries on some of these sites, and we know that there are also unmarked and likely undocumented graves of children.
We acknowledge that our role in the residential school system and colonization is an abuse of power through our Christian faith. We hope that our ongoing work for reconciliation, which has been guided by United Church residential school survivors, more truly reflects what our faith calls us to be and do. We are committed to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, especially those directed to us as perpetrators. These include those related to burial sites and missing children.
In the spirit of truth telling and transparency, we want to share the work that we have done, in consultation with community, on identifying and restoring graveyards. The United Church in southwestern Manitoba has actively supported ongoing work on the identification and preservation of gravesites related to the residential school in Brandon; this includes the 104 graves identified off-site in 2018. In Saskatchewan, we supported the community of Okanese in preserving its graveyard and honouring the children buried there. The United Church of Canada has also been a partner in the preservation of the Regina Industrial School cemetery. (Regina was operated by the Presbyterian church, but the United Church shares responsibility.) United Churches in Red Deer, Alberta, worked to preserve the residential school cemetery in cooperation with the communities whose children were sent to Red Deer. There has also been research into possible graves at the Edmonton Residential School.
This work is just a beginning, and we understand that it must continue. Steps are required to properly locate, identify, and honour these children, and for the truth that Indigenous people have always known to finally be heard. Any work we do to help search grounds of and surrounding United Church residential schools must be done with respect for, the consent of, and with the guidance of Indigenous leadership, communities, survivors, and families.
We know that we are not the experts in this work. We will continue to share all the documents and knowledge we have. If anyone in community wishes to share information and expertise with us, we will gratefully accept it and be committed to transparency.
We are committed to meeting with leadership to hear how they wish to proceed, and whether they would like our assistance at any stage. This includes financial assistance for what community leadership deems appropriate.
The United Church of Canada is committed to reconciliation and to transparency in our efforts to support Indigenous leadership, communities, survivors, and families in bringing these children the honour we denied them in life.
The Right Rev. Dr. Richard Bott
The United Church of Canada