Dear friends in Christ,
Shocked, dismayed, heartbroken, but sadly not surprised.
That was my feeling, shared I’m sure by many of you, as news broke of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves – graves of small children – on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Shocked, dismayed and heartbroken because the sheer number of bodies speaks to the extent of the atrocities in the Indian Residential Schools system, a volume of horror that we have only begun to catalogue. Even the survivors of the schools – those who carry tragic personal stories of neglect, abuse and violence – may not yet realise the full extent of the crimes that were perpetrated across the entire country.
But, sadly not surprised. We in the Church have been aware of these outrageous injustices for generations, although it has only been very recently that we have started to acknowledge them, to repent, grieve and make our first feeble attempts at reconciliation with the First Nations. The dreadfulness of the Indian Residential School System, of which the Anglican Church of Canada was a willing partner, points conclusively towards a systemic intentional genocide. The foundational principles of the residential schools, borne from a toxic bias of colonial assumptions and racist white supremacy, perpetrated abuses of unchecked power. We in the Church weaponized our faith, inflicting indignities upon the First Peoples of this land, justifying our racist attitudes with a perversion of Christian evangelism and outreach. Physical, mental, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse followed. As Archishop Michael Peers historically declared in our Church’s “Apology to Native People” in 1993: “I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God.”
Let there be tears for what you have done.
Let there be sorrow and deep grief.
Let there be sadness instead of laughter,
and gloom instead of joy. James 4.9
These little children cry out for our collective lament. Every Child Matters. I ask your prayers for the repose of the 215 souls in Kamloops, and all those who are yet to be found and identified – for surely there will be more – who had their lives tragically cut short. I ask your prayers for the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia, who in losing these children lost a part of their future. I ask your prayers for all of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, as these fresh revelations raise renewed grief and anger at the attempted annihilation and enforced assimilation that settlers inflicted upon them.
The Rev. Leigh Kern, our Right Relations Coordinator in the Diocese of Toronto, has compiled a list of resources and I invite you to use them in this month of June when we are called to observe National Indigenous History Month, and the Indigenous Peoples’ Day and National Indigenous Day of Prayer on June 21. Let’s uphold our Indigenous communities in prayer during this time of grief and mourning. Additional liturgical resources will also become available soon to support parish efforts in listening and education going forward.
Following this time of lament and learning, there must then be a time of action. Regret and remorse are necessary, but are not sufficient. I call on the Church for a renewed commitment to establishing right relations with the First Nations of this land where we are privileged to reside. We must insist that the Government of Canada adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and immediately prioritizes the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. We must lobby for and work together in providing basic necessities of life in Indigenous communities, including clean drinking water, stable housing, appropriate medical services and local schools.
A deep healing is required, one that will involve painful honesty, a complete re-evaluation of our shared history, and an intense examination of how we want to be in relationship with each other going forward. We need to engage in this work with humility and an earnest desire for renewal.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to do nothing less.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto