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Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada

Church apologies: 1947 to 1991


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1947 to 1986: Past comment and apologies by the United Church of Canada:

The United Church of Canada is one of Canada's largest Christian denominations. It is also the most liberal of the major Christian faith groups. The following three generic apologies by the United Church shows an evolution in the church's recognition of its past contempt of Native spirituality:

  • In 1947: "However, we do not feel that any church has to justify its missionary work. In spite of failures, we believe the change from paganism to Christianity is such that we can let the work speak for itself." Part of a submission by The United Church of Canada's Board of Home Missions to a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons1
  • In 1986: "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 of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality."  Part of the apology issued to First Nations members of the United Church of Canada (1986). 2
  • In 1986: "Overall, the nature and impact of the residential schools can be described as a tragic paradox. While they may have been understood by the churches as a means to 'save' Native people both physically and spiritually, the residential schools were part of a social and economic system driven both by the assumption of European superiority as well as by the desire to take over the land and other resources that were part of the traditional territories of the Native people."  Moderator's Task Force report. 3
  • In 1998: The text of a specific apology for abuse in residential schools appears below.

1986-AUG: Apology by the United Church of Canada:

The Church's 31st General Council issued what is believed to be "the first of the religious organizations to apologize" for its treatment of Native Canadians. 4 The statement did not specifically mention residential schools:

"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." 5


1991-JULY: Apology by the Oblate Conference of Canada, a Catholic order

Father Douglas Crosby, OMI, then president of the Oblate Conference of Canada, delivered a detailed apology to approximately 25,000 natives at Lac Ste. Anne, on the occasion of their annual pilgrimage. He said in part:

"We apologize for the part we played in the cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious imperialism that was part of the European mentality and, in a particular way, for the instances of physical and sexual abuse that occurred in these schools. We recognize that in spite of the good that came of them, the residential schools have caused pain to so many. For these trespasses we wish to voice today our deepest sorrow and we ask your forgiveness and understanding. We hope that we can make up for it by being part of the healing process wherever necessary."

The apology might have been far more effective if the final words in the above paragraph, "wherever necessary" was replaced with "wherever possible."

The missionary Oblates operated most of the Roman Catholic residential schools in Canada. 6


If you know of any church apologies that we have missed, please let us know.


References used:

  1. "Response to Recent National Post Articles on Residential Schools," 2001-MAR-23, United Church of Canada, at: http://www.uccan.org/airs/010323.htm 
  2. "Apology to First Nations," United Church of Canada, at: http://www.uccan.org/HFApology.htm (1986)
  3. "The United Church of Canada: Residential Schools: Questions and Answers," at: http://www.uccan.org/airs/qa.htm 
  4. "Pop up Residential Schools," at: http://www.ammsa.com/classroom/
  5. "Apology to First Nations," The 31st General Council, The United Church of Canada, at: http://www.united-church.ca/HFApology.htm
  6. "Residential School Project Newsletter," 2000-MAR, at: http://www.wob.nf.ca/alberta/Newsletters/

Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUN-03
Latest update: 2008-JUL-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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