April 2, 2014

EDMONTON – Christian communities "have often fallen short of living the love and service of Jesus" in their long history of relations with indigenous peoples, says a statement of reconciliation by the Canadian Council of Churches.

The Church-run Indian residential school system, in particular, "had disastrous effects on students, their families and communities," the CCC said in a statement delivered at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event in Edmonton March 28.

The statement was signed by representatives of the 25 member denominations of the CCC, including Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The statement was read by Salvation Army Lt. Colonel Jim Champ, president of the Canadian Council of Churches, along with vice-presidents the Rev. Dr. Das Sydney and the Rev. Susan Eagle, Karen Hamilton, the CCC's general secretary, and Joy Kennedy, chair of its Commission on Justice and Peace.

The TRC held four days of hearings March 27 to 30 in Edmonton, the last of seven national events intended to spark reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians over the legacy of the residential schools.

The national event included testimony from more than 100 survivors of the schools as well as gestures of reconciliation toward aboriginal people from a wide variety of groups, governments and churches.

The CCC statement said when "our ancestors in the faith" arrived in North America, First Nations people welcomed them and showed them how to survive in a new environment. Yet, the settlers often failed to show gratitude for this welcome and, at times, displayed "an attitude of superiority and domination."

Christians sometimes exploited aboriginal people and did not show their traditional cultures "the respect they rightly deserve.

"Even when you adopted the beliefs, practices and ways of the settlers, you were not always welcomed in the heart of our communities or included in partnership arrangements to share in the rich resources of this vast land."

Christians were part of communities and governments that brought pressure to bear on aboriginal people, the statement said. As well, they sought to assimilate indigenous peoples "through actions of privilege, prejudice and discrimination."

Indian residential schools were one of the most destructive of those actions, the CCC said. The system was disastrous despite the presence of "some well-intentioned and even caring and loving school staff."

The CCC said the churches take seriously the challenge of reconciliation. They want "to deepen bonds of friendship and solidarity, to strive to 'walk together' in the present and future, and to consult with you about how we can take that journey together."

They committed themselves to promote and facilitate ongoing research into the legacy of residential schools. They will also undertake education programs in their churches to increase knowledge of the past, particularly the attitudes that contributed to the wrongs committed against indigenous people.

"We commit to respect the right and freedom of indigenous communities to practise traditional spirituality and teachings.

"We commit to value the gifts of indigenous traditional teachings in Christian worship and pastoral practices, where appropriate, in consultation with your elders.

"We commit to recognize and combat racism, discrimination and unearned privilege wherever they may be found in churches in Canada and the wider society."