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Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada

Church apologies: 1992 to mid-1994


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1992-DEC-06: Apology by a Roman Catholic Archbishop to a congregation:

The Archbishop of Halifax, Austin E. Burke, delivered a homily to the congregation at one of the parishes in his diocese: St. Catherine's Church, Micmac, NS. He said, in part:

"THE GOSPEL WAS BROUGHT TO NORTH AMERICA BY WHITE EUROPEANS, WITH THE BLESSING OF GOVERNMENT, AND THE CHURCH THAT WAS ESTABLISHED CARRIED THE LANGUAGES AND TRADITIONS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE PEOPLE.

"MISTAKES WERE MADE. PEOPLE HAVE SUFFERED. THE STRAIGHT PATH HAS BEEN DESCRIBED IN MANY WAYS. THE CHURCH IS MADE UP OF PEOPLE WHO ARE SINFUL, EVEN THOUGH WE ARE REDEEMED. WE HAVE NOT ALWAYS UNDERSTOOD THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOSPEL AND CULTURE. WE HAVE CONFUSED LANGUAGE AND FAITH. THIS HAPPENED WITH ALL GROUPS. IT IS PART OF THE PAIN OF THE HISTORY WE SHARE.

"I AM AN ACADIAN. THE LANGUAGE OF MY HOME IS FRENCH. PEOPLE HAVE LIVED IN THIS LAND SINCE 1500’S. THERE WAS A TIME WHEN FRENCH COULD NOT BE SPOKEN IN THE SCHOOLS OR THE CHURCHES OF THIS LAND. IN MANY FAMILIES, THE LANGUAGE WAS NOT PASSED ON TO THE CHILDREN. THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MAKING A STRAIGHT PATH.

"IN CAPE BRETON, THE STORY OF THE BREAKING OF THE FIDDLES IS OFTEN TOLD. ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN TO CAPE BRETON KNOWS THAT THE FIDDLE SINGS THE SONGS OF THE ISLAND. AND YET THE FIDDLES WERE FORBIDDEN IN THE CHURCHES. THEY WERE BROKEN SO THEY COULD NOT BE PLAYED. THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MAKING A STRAIGHT PATH.

"YOU TELL THE STORIES OF THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL. YOU WERE NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE, TO WEAR YOUR CLOTHES, OR TO PLAY YOUR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. THIS TOO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MAKING A STRAIGHT PATH.

"WE CAN SEE NOW THAT THIS WAS WRONG. THE STRAIGHT PATH IS NOT ABOUT CORRECT LANGUAGE OR PERFECT POSTURE OR SPECIAL MUSIC. THE GOOD NEWS IS ABOUT THE GOD WHO CREATED US IN INFINITE VARIETY, WITH A GREAT NUMBER OF BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGES. WE ARE MADE WITH A MARVELOUS CAPACITY FOR SHARING THE BEAUTY OF CREATION THROUGH OUR MUSIC AND OUR ART AND OUR STORYTELLING. OUR FAMILY AND OUR TRADITION ARE PART OF GOD'S GREAT GIFT TO US. WE ARE NOT TO BE SEPARATED FROM OUR ROOTS.

POPE JOHN PAUL II, IN HIS ADDRESS TO THE NATIVE PEOPLE OF NEW ZEALAND, SPOKE SOME WORDS WHICH RING TRUE HERE TODAY:

 'THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST SPEAKS ALL LANGUAGES. IT ESTEEMS AND EMBRACES ALL CULTURES. IT SUPPORTS THEM IN EVERYTHING HUMAN AND, WHEN NECESSARY, IT PURIFIES THEM. ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE THE GOSPEL UPLIFTS AND ENRICHES CULTURES WITH THE REVEALED MESSAGE OF A LOVING AND MERCIFUL GOD. ... AS YOU LISTEN TO THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, SEEK OUT THE BEST THINGS OF YOUR TRADITIONAL WAYS. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL COME TO REALIZE MORE AND MORE YOUR GREAT HUMAN AND CHRISTIAN DIGNITY. LET YOURMINDS AND HEARTS BE STRENGTHEND TO BEGIN A NEW LIFE NOW'."

"LET US FOLLOW THE WISE COUNSEL OF OUR HOLY FATHER. LET US TRUST EACH OTHER, SHARE OUR GIFTS AND BROADEN OUR PATHS, SO THAT WE MAY LEARN TO FIND THE LORD IN EACH OTHER."

"I CANNOT CHANGE THE PAST. I CANNOT ERASE THE DAMAGE THAT HAS BEEN DONE. I CAN EXPRESS MY OWN SORROW, AND THE SORROW OF YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN OUR CHURCH OF HALIFAX, FOR YOUR SUFFERING. I APOLOGIZE FOR WHATEVER PAIN THE CHURCH ITSELF MAY HAVE BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING IN THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL.. THE CHURCH IS NOT MEANT TO HURT, BUT TO HEAL – AND I MUST SAY THAT I AM TRULY SORRY IF PEOPLE CAUSED SOME LINGERING HURTS IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH."

"LET US LEARN FROM TODAY'S GOSPEL, TO 'BEAR FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTANCE.' HEALING COMES WITH HONESTY AND TRUTH, EXPERIENCED IN DIALOGUES OF MUTUALITY. THE CHURCH OF HALIFAX AND THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE ARE A PART OF EACH OTHER. WE HAVE BEEN BONDED TO EACH OTHER FOR MANY YEARS. OUR PARTNERSHIP HAS WEATHERED MANY STORMS."

"WE REJOICE WITH YOU IN THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF MI'KMAQ PRAYERS. THE ARCHDIOCESE AND THE SISTERS OF CHARITY WERE PLEASED TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COSTS OF PREPARING THIS MATERIAL FOR PUBLICATION AND DISTRIBUTION."

"IN THE REPORT ON FUTURE PASTORAL LEADERSHIP IN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF HALIFAX, OUR TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS THAT 'NEW MODELS OF PASTORAL LEADERSHIP WHICH ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR CULTURE AND TRADITIONS BE DEVELOPED AMONG THE MI'KMAQ PEOPLE.' WE CAN ONLY DO THAT IN DIALOGUE WITH THE PEOPLE OF THIS COMMUNITY. WE MUST DO THAT WORK TOGETHER."

"THE CHURCH IS ALWAYS GROWING AND CHANGING, AND WE BELIEVE THE SPIRIT LEADS US IN THIS LIFE. THE RISK THAT GOD HAS TAKEN IS TO ENTRUST SINFUL HUMAN BEINGS WITH THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOOD NEWS, AND IN OUR SINFULNESS AND OUR FRAILTY, WE HURT EACH OTHER. BUT BECAUSE THE LORD NEVER ABANDONS US, WE ALWAYS HAVE ANOTHER DAY IN WHICH TO CARE FOR EACH OTHER, UNTIL WE ALL COME TO THE HOLY MOUNTAIN WHERE THERE WILL BE NO MORE HURT OR DESTRUCTION AND WE WILL BE WITH THE LORD FOREVER AND EVER. MAY GOD BE WITH US AS WE WORK TOGETHER TO THAT END." 1


1993-FEB-14: Apology by a Roman Catholic Archbishop to a congregation:

The Archbishop of Halifax, Austin E. Burke, delivered a homily to the congregation at another of the parishes in his diocese: Sacred Heart Church, Millbrook Reservation, NS. He said, in part:

"WE CAN SEE THAT MUCH THAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST WAS WRONG. IN NORTH AMERICA, WHITE EUROPEAN SETTLERS BROUGHT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. THAT GOSPEL WAS PRESENTED IN THEIR LANGUAGE, FILTERED THROUGH THEIR TRADITIONS AND CULTURE. THE GOVERNMENTS THEY ESTABLISHED SUPPORTED ALL OF THAT. THIS HAS LED TO INJUSTICE FOR MANY PEOPLE."

"BUT THE FACT THAT WE ARE HERE TODAY TELLS US THE GOOD NEWS, THAT THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST IS STRONGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN CULTURE OR LANGUAGE OR OPPRESSION OR POLITICS OR ANY EVIL."

"I AM AN ACADIAN. MY PEOPLE HAVE LIVED IN THIS LAND SINCE THE 1500’S. AT ONE TIME, THE ACADIANS WERE EXPELLED FROM THEIR HOMES, CHILDREN AND PARENTS WERE SEPARATED, AND THEIR WAY OF LIFE WAS COMPLETELY DESTROYED. THERE WAS A TIME WHEN FRENCH COULD NOT BE SPOKEN IN THE SCHOOLS OR THE CHURCHES. TODAY WE CAN WE SEE THAT THIS WAS WRONG."

"IN PAST TIMES IN NOVA SCOTIA THE NATIVE PEOPLE HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN RESPECTED. YOUR LANGUAGE WAS TAKEN FROM YOU, YOUR WAY OF LIFE WAS ALTERED, AND YOUR FAMILIES WERE DISRUPTED. STORIES ARE TOLD OF THE PAIN AND SORROW SOME PEOPLE SUFFERED IN THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL. IN THE LIGHT OF TODAY'S WORLD, WE CAN SEE THAT THIS WAS WRONG."

"IN DECEMBER I WAS ABLE TO VISIT WITH THE PEOPLE OF ST. CATHERINE'S PARISH IN INDIAN BROOK. WHILE THERE I EXPRESSED TO THEM MY SORROW, AND THE SORROW OF THEIR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE CHURCH OF HALIFAX, FOR ANY SUFFERING CAUSED BY PEOPLE WORKING IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH."

"THESE ARE THE WORDS I SAID TO THEM: 'THE CHURCH IS NOT MEANT TO HURT BUT TO HEAL. AND I AM TRULY SORRY IF PEOPLE CAUSED SOME LINGERING HURTS IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH'."

"I HAVE COME TODAY TO MILLBROOK TO SAY THE SAME TO YOU. I CANNOT CHANGE THE PAST. I CANNOT ERASE ANY DAMAGE THAT HAS BEEN DONE. I CAN ONLY EXPRESS SORROW AND PRAY THAT THE GRACE OF RECONCILIATION WILL BE GIVEN TO US. IN THE LIGHT OF TODAY'S GOSPEL, WE CAN SEE THAT WE ARE CALLED TO BE RECONCILED TO EACH OTHER"

"RECONCILIATION AND HEALING COME TOGETHER. THEY COME WITH HONESTY AND TRUTH AND RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER. THEY COME WHEN WE SIT DOWN TO TALK WITH EACH OTHER. THEY COME WHEN WE AGREE TO LISTEN TO EACH OTHER. HEALING AND RECONCILIATION ARE PART OF THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM. WE CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. WE CAN ONLY COME TO FULL LIFE WHEN WE PARTICIPATE IN THE LIFE OF GOD. TOGETHER WE MUST DISCOVER WHAT THIS CAN MEAN FOR US."

"IN THE REPORT ON FUTURE PASTORAL LEADERSHIP IN THE ARCHDIOCESE, OUR TASK FORCE RECOMMENDS THAT NEW MODELS OF PASTORAL LEADERSHIP WHICH ARE CONSISTENT WITH THEIR CULTURE AND TRADITIONS BE DEVELOPED AMONG THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE. WE MUST WORK TOGETHER TO DISCOVER THESE NEW MODELS. WE HAVE TO LEARN FROM EACH OTHER."

"THE CHURCH OF HALIFAX AND THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE ARE PART OF EACH OTHER. WE HAVE BEEN BONDED TO EACH OTHER FOR MANY YEARS. OUR PARTNERSHIP HAS WEATHERED MANY STORMS. WE WILL GO ON LEARNING HOW TO LIVE AS GOD’S PEOPLE, THE PEOPLE WHO HEAR THE GOOD NEWS. AND WE WILL RELY ON GOD’S GRACE TO LEAD US." 1

1993-AUG-26: Apology by the Anglican Church of Canada

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Michale Peers, made the following apology to students abused in its schools on behalf of his denomination:

"My Brothers and Sisters:"

"Together here with you I have listened as you have told your stories of the residential schools."

"I have heard the voices that have spoken of pain and hurt experienced in the schools, and of the scars which endure to this day."

"I have felt shame and humiliation as I have heard of suffering inflicted by my people, and as I think of the part our church played in that suffering."

"I am deeply conscious of the sacredness of the stories that you have told and I hold in the highest honour those who have told them."

"I have heard with admiration the stories of people and communities who have worked at healing, and I am aware of how much healing is needed."

"I also know that I am in need of healing, and my own people are in need of healing, and our church is in need of healing. Without that healing, we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past."

"I also know that healing takes a long time, both for people and for communities."

"I also know that it is God who heals, and that God can begin to heal when we open ourselves, our wounds, our failures and our shame to God. I want to take one step along that path here and now."

"I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God."

"I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family."

"I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity."

"I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally."

"On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I present our apology." 2


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1994-JUN-9: Apology of the Presbyterian Church (in part):

Four church leaders signed the following apology on behalf of the entire denomination:

"...It is with deep humility and in great sorrow that we come before God and our Aboriginal brothers and sisters with our confession."

"We acknowledge that the stated policy of The Government of Canada was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples to the dominant culture, and that The Presbyterian Church in Canada co-operated in this policy...For the Church's complicity in this policy we ask forgiveness."

"....we...encouraged the Government to ban some important spiritual practices through which Aboriginal peoples experienced the presence of the creator God.  For the Church's complicity in this policy we ask forgiveness."

"...In our cultural arrogance we have been blind to the ways in which our own understanding of the Gospel has been culturally conditioned...For the Church's presumption we ask forgiveness."

"...in Residential Schools...The Presbyterian Church in Canada used disciplinary practices which were foreign to Aboriginal peoples, and open to exploitation in physical and psychological punishment beyond any Christian maxim of care and discipline.  In a setting of obedience and acquiescence there was opportunity for sexual abuse, and some were so abused.  The effect of all this for Aboriginal peoples, was the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self.  For the Church's insensitivity we ask forgiveness."

"We regret that there are those whose lives have been deeply scarred by the effects of the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.  For our Church we ask forgiveness of God.  It is our prayer that God, who is merciful, will guide us in compassionate ways towards helping them to heal."

" We ask, also, for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples.  What we have heard we acknowledge.  It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say.  With God's guidance our Church will seek opportunities to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God's people." 3

The document was signed by:

  • George Vais, Moderator of the 120th General Assembly

  • Kay Cowper, President, Women's Missionary Society

  • Thomas Gemmell, Principal Clerk, General Assembly

  • Tamiko Corbett, Executive Secretary, Women's Missionary Society



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


References used:

  1. "Homily by Archbishop of Halifax Austin E. Burke," Turtle Island Native Network, 1992-DEC-06, at http://www.turtleisland.org/ This is a PDF file.
  2. "A Message from the Primate to the National Native Convocation Minaki, Ontario," 1993-AUG-6, at: http://www.anglican.ca/acip/
  3. "A Confession of the Presbyterian Church, 1994-JUN-9. at: http://www.wob.nf.ca/

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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