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Residential School Healing

Iram Khan

a s I read the following "The Apology to First Nations" on the The Ministry of The United Church of Canada website, I was taken by how eloquent and touching the words that I was reading were... until I reached the ending of the last sentence:

Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your elders an understanding of creation, and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich and to be treasured.

We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.

We confused western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.

We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the Gospel.

We tried to make you like us and in doing so we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result, you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred and we are not what we are meant by God to be.

We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the spirit of Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God's creation healed.

The 31st General Council
August, 1986
The United Church of Canada

Hmmm, now did you read what I just read? The United Church of Canada asked the First Nations peoples to "walk with [them] in the spirit Christ so that [their] peoples may be blessed and God's creation healed!" Isn't this what the United Church of Canada is apologizing for in the first place?

The Government, in partnership with various religious organizations, ran residential schools until April, 1969. At this time the Government assumed full responsibility. Most of the residential schools closed down by the mid- 1970's and the last was closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. In recent years, many Natives have come forward with horrifying stories of physical, sexual, and mental abuse at the hand of residential schools. How can the Canadian Government and The United Church of Canada themselves pay for the destruction that they caused? (note: I have decided to focus on The United Church of Canada, because they seem to be doing the most for this cause, maybe others can learn from their example)

In 1994 the General Council of the United Church of Canada, took some responsibility of "the legacy of pain" 1 and established The Healing Fund. The Healing Fund is a five year (1995-1999) fund-raising and educational campaign where the money raised is to be used by applicants "to address the impacts of residential schools on Aboriginal people." As of March 1999, they raised $825,056.93 and by the end of the year they plan to raise $1 million dollars in total.2 Some examples of projects that already have been approved are:

On May 4, 1998 the Canadian Government, in the same vein as the United Church of Canada's Healing Fund, formally launced the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This Foundation was created to "design, implement, and manage the healing strategy, including providing financial support to eligable community-based healling initiatives that complement existing Aboriginal and government programs." 3 In total the Government transferred $350 million to the foundation for these initiatives. At this time the Candian Government also finally apologized:

"The Government of Canada acknowledges the role it played in the development and administration of these schools. Particularly to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of sexual and physical abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened. To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry." 4

Additionally, the Government encouraged that claims of physical and sexual abuse to be brought to the attention of the authorities and that lawsuits be dealt with in a "non-confrontational manner outside the court system... [to] protect the privacy of all parties 5

Hopefully, the Canadian Government and the United Church of Canada have been acting with the best intentions in mind. I will not even bring up the possibilities of underhandedness from either parties because the point is that allegations have gone on long enough, it is time to solve them and move on. The healing process must be supported and encouraged at any cost. So far, more than 1,600 claims have been filed across Canada and the government has already paid out $20 million to settle 200 cases outside of court.6 The Canadian Government and The United Church of Canada are helping in the best way that they can and know of, money and money and God respectively. We just have to wait and see if this money, these "initiatives" and the offering of that "walk" work...

1 "The Healing Fund Connection": from The United Church of Canada:

2 "Donations to The Healing Fund Connection": from The United Church of Canada:

3 September 1998 "Backgrounder The Residential School System": from: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

4 "Statement of Reconciliation": from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

5 September 1998 "Backgrounder The Residential School System": from: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

6 "Residential Schools - Lawyers Pressure Natives": from: The Assembly of First Nations:

Iram Khan manages the acclaimed teacher resource website CanTeach

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