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Remembering the Children — Reflections

Church Leaders each reflect on a Remembering the Children city stop.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

“Something new was born”: where do we go from here?

Moderator of the 133rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada the Rev. Dr. Hans Kouwenberg reflects on the fourth and final leg of the Remembering the Children tour

It was fitting the Marketplace Court at the Forks in Winnipeg should be the last stop in our national Aboriginal and Church Leaders’ Tour. For it was here, at this traditional stopping place at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, that Aboriginal peoples gathered for centuries to meet, to share food and medicine, to discuss issues of common concern and to trade. It was here, too, that new inhabitants of Canada met with the Aboriginal peoples and shared their cultures, thereby offering an opportunity to grow together as peoples and become enriched as individual human beings in building bonds of friendship and new understanding.

But it didn’t continue to happen. Sadly, our Euro-Canadian culture sought to dominate, subjugate and assimilate the Aboriginal peoples, especially by means of the infamous Residential Schools. Now, after our churches have apologized and re-covenanted with Aboriginal peoples, and with the federal government’s apology and appointment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission just around the corner, we have an historic opportunity to build better, more equal partnerships.

Each event in our tour had a life of its own, yet perhaps this event was the most informal – seated, as we were, among the shops, inspired by moving traditional opening prayers and ceremony, and entertained, as we were, by foot-stomping fiddlers and great Aboriginal singers and dancers. It was, perhaps, also the most intense – as we heard again the stories of terrible pain and loss, and then realized that this all too brief beginning of a new journey that we are making with each other was coming to an end. As Fred Hiltz, the Anglican Primate, reminded us we were now on the threshold of Holy Week, the last week of our Lord’s life, as he prepared for his death upon the cross by which God seeks to reconcile all humankind. All of us who travelled to Ottawa, Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, have realized just how important this walk has been, symbolic of other, longer walks of reconciliation that all Canadians need to make with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, as we really hear the truth about the sad legacy of Residential Schools and seek new levels of understanding and partnership as peoples who are invited to live in multicultural harmony upon this great gift of land given to all of us by our Creator God.

Elder, the Honourable Elijah Harper, with his children and grandchildren by his side, reminded us how Aboriginal people have shared this gift as an act of gracious hospitality. He also spoke from his heart with a greatness of spirit, that no one could compel from another, about the forgiveness he was willing to offer so that personal and corporate healing and new conversations could begin. Yet, a grandmother reminded us of how difficult it was to say words of forgiveness when she couldn’t forget how she had been beaten as a seven-year-old child, so much so that she couldn’t get up for eight weeks. Ted Quewezance, executive director of the National Residential Schools Survivors Society, spoke of the reasons why many Aboriginal peoples are the way they are and of the tremendous hope he had that a new day was coming.

Those of us who walked this short journey together – Aboriginal and Church leaders alike, as well as many in the large crowds that attended each session of this ten-day tour—felt, as National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said, “something new was born here today; something that is bigger than any one of us.” We have been changed by this trip. Our prayer is that many others will also be changed by what the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will bring to all of Canada.

The Rev. Dr. J.H. (Hans) Kouwenberg
March 12, 2008

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Monday, March 10, 2008

“A most holy day”

Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada the Most Reverend Fred Hiltz reflects on the third leg of the Remembering the Children tour

In welcoming more than 500 people to the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, on Sunday March 9, elder Ethel Ahenakew described the Remembering the Children event as "a most holy day." I have to say that for me, this stop on the Church and Aboriginal leaders' tour to raise public awareness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be named by the Government of Canada was an incredible, holy experience. There was a real sense, as a contemporary song puts it, that we were "standing on holy ground" and that the angels of God and the spirits of our ancestors were all around.

As leaders and participants gathered, there was an opportunity for smudging. Early in the program, Alison Iuti sang a song "we were all treaty people." She introduced her composition saying, "There will be healing when there is repentance." Church leaders shared excerpts from the apologies they have made to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, and gave examples of their ongoing commitment to healing and reconciliation.

But for me, by far the most powerful of the sacred moments came during remarks made by Chief Lawrence Joseph of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Network and by Ted Quewezance, the executive director of the National Residential Schools Survivors' Society. The chief moved us from a consideration of the horrors associated with what he called "the holocaust of the residential schools" to the hope represented by the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the telling and recording of the whole story of the residential schools. He then challenged everyone present to tell at least ten other people what they would see and hear that day.

Ted spoke of "the little boy" within him—the little boy who was taken from his grandparents, the little boy whose clothes were taken from him, the little boy who was abused. He spoke of the "many secrets" in the residential schools and of the silence with which so many survivors have suffered for so long. He also spoke of the hope this tour and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission represent, and he called on us all to seize this opportunity to build a better Canada.

As the event ran its course, the last few lines of the prayer for "Remembering the Children" kept coming to mind":

"We dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart.... Hear our prayer of hope, and guide this country of Canada on a new and different path."

In reminding us that the Scriptures call us to "an eternal commitment for justice," Bishop Mark MacDonald called on Church leaders and everyone present to renew their baptismal vows "to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being." It was incredibly moving to see everyone on their feet and to hear them say with one voice, "We will, with God's help."

This event ended with a wonderful feast and a round dance led by a local drumming group, "Young Thunder."

Ethel was right. It was "a most holy day."

+Fred Hiltz

More from the event

  • View photo highlights from the Saskatoon event.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Truth and Reconciliation: A Spiritual Movement

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald reflects on the second leg of the Remembering the Children tour

There was much to move us as we gathered in Vancouver for the second session of the Aboriginal and Church leaders' tour, promoting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We witnessed sad and frightening revelations of childhoods lost in the Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The portrayal of the IRS was broad—many mentioning the need to tell the full story, good and bad. But, there was complete honesty about the systemic evil that overshadowed all considerations: the colonialists’ disregard for the full humanity of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Those who spoke, especially the elders, spoke with compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Many were survivors. The spiritual connections that were made between survivors and church leaders were, by the end of the evening, wonderfully manifest. The connections were clearly the fruit of forgiveness, hope, and a growing awareness that our future is bound up with each other.

Those present could sense that something great was happening, something beyond words to describe or predict. The Spirit of a loving Creator was calling us to a surprising new reality and transformation. Pain, regret, sadness, mixed with hope and joy—few moments in life are just like it. It was not just a well-staged media event; we were witnessing the beginnings of a spiritual movement.

More from the event

  • View photo highlights from the Vancouver event.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Moved by suffering, moved by hopefulness

United Church of Canada Moderator, the Right Rev. David Giuliano, reflects on the first leg of the Remembering the Children tour

I chatted with a young couple across the aisle while folks around us were settling in on the flight to Ottawa. “Rick” had just won silver and bronze medals at the Paralympics in London, Ontario. His sport is Bocce Ball, but he has decided to forgo the Olympics in China, in part because of is concern over human rights and environmental issues.

Rick and his fiancée are grad students. They were marking “Introduction to Religious Studies” essays. The assignment had been to “visit a religious culture other than your own”. There were questions to answer about that experience. What a great assignment – entering with curiosity and openness into the religious practices of another culture. If only our ancestors had arrived on this continent with the same sort of humility and curiosity.

In the window seat beside me was an Inuit woman. She was on her way to Ottawa and then on to Iqaluit. She asked about my trip to Ottawa. I told her that I was travelling with other Church Leaders hoping to generate interest in the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I asked her if members of her family had attended Residential Schools. “Yes,” she replied, “My father and father-in-law were taken to Churchill.” They were from Resolute Bay and Bathurst Inlet. It seemed too invasive to ask, but I wondered how her life had been shaped by the dislocation from family and community suffered by her father and father-in-law.

We landed in Ottawa and within hours the sound of a traditional drum thundered in Grand Hall of the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau. Traditional dancers led us into the hall. The procession included National Chief Phil Fontaine, George Erasmus and other First Nations leaders. There were leaders from Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and United Churches. Hon. Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs, and other politicians entered with us. There were 500 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants in the ceremony.

As we walked into the hall, I found myself moved to tears by the drum and the dancers. Moved by the enduring suffering of the Residential Schools legacy we have come to acknowledge. Moved by the inexplicable hopefulness that rises up in that acknowledgment.

More from the event

  • Listen to some sound highlights from the March 2 Remembering the Children event in Ottawa.
  • View photo highlights from the Ottawa event.

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For information on Remembering the Children: an Aboriginal and Church Leaders' Tour to Prepare for Truth and Reconciliation, email

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