After listening intently to the harrowing accounts from former students of Saskatchewan’s Prairie residential schools, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams apologized to them on behalf of the Church of England, the world’s largest Christian church.
The head bishop of the Church of England, Reverend Justin Welby, visited the James Smith Cree Nation and Prince Albert, Sask., over the weekend. He said his journey was to enable the church “to repent and atone” in places where its acts had done more damage than good.
However, the Archbishop’s journey to Ontario, which was scheduled to begin on Monday, will not go as originally planned since survivors of one of Canada’s major Anglican-affiliated residential institutions refused to meet with him.
Some of Canada’s federally financed residential schools were managed by the Anglican Church, while others were run by the Catholic Church. He offered his own apologies for the “deplorable” behaviour of certain church members at institutions a month ago at the Vatican. Preparations for the Pope’s visit to Canada this summer are under underway by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Canada.
Last year, many First Nations said that they had discovered unmarked graves at the locations of previous residential schools in western and central Canada, which they believe to be those of children.
“For building hell and putting children into it and staffing it, I am more sorry than I could ever, ever begin to express,” Rev. Welby said to residential school survivors and community leaders on Saturday in a community school gymnasium on the James Smith Cree Nation.
“I am more sorry than I can say. I’m ashamed. I asked myself where does that come from? That evil? It has nothing to do with Christ. It is the rawest, wickedest, most terrible thing to molest a child while you read them the Bible.”
Some 150,000 students from Canada’s indigenous communities were compelled to attend Canada’s residential schools over the course of more than a century, many of whom were forbidden from speaking or practicing their native languages.
In addition to the 4,100 confirmed fatalities in residential schools, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation believes that many more perished as a result of neglect, hunger, and abuse. Between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada was in charge of more than 30 institutions for Indigenous children.
Apologies for residential schools were made by Michael Peers, then primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in 1993. A successor, Fred Hiltz, apologized in 2019 for the “spiritual hurt” done to Indigenous people in Canada in the wake of his predecessor’s apologies in 2018.
It was Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who apologized to the 80 million Anglicans and Episcopalians who call themselves Anglicans and Episcopalians throughout the globe during a service on Saturday in Saskatchewan.
”You’ve opened a window into hell. And you’ve called us to look into hell, where you were,” he said.
It was first stated that the Archbishop’s schedule included an informal visit with survivors of the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario on territory belonging to the Six Nations of the Grand River. Residential schools linked with the Anglican Church were some of the biggest and oldest in the country.
At least 48 pupils have been identified as having perished at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, pupils who attempted to flee the Institute were held for up to a week in “punishment chambers” in the basement.
Mohawk Chapel, Canada’s first Anglican Church, was slated to host an evening prayer session for Indigenous leaders after Monday’s gathering.
When Rev. Welby was invited to speak at the Mohawk Institute in New York City, however, a group driving a search for unmarked graves in that area rejected down the invitation, citing the lack of advance notice and the lack of assurances of actual action.
“Mixed emotions” were voiced by a group of Mohawk Institute survivors who met in early April, according to Kimberly Murray, executive lead of the Survivors’ Secretariat and former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Through an email, she said that “Survivors indicated they were not looking for more empty words of regret but want action.”
To Rev. Welby, a letter sent on April 12 stated that survivors would only meet with him if the Anglican Church in Canada was prepared to discuss how it could financially support Indigenous language revitalization and help retrieve records from New England Company, the Anglican-affiliated group that founded the Mohawk Institute, which was founded by the New England Company.
A postponement of the visit was requested by the secretariat “to give time for relevant Indigenous procedures to be followed.”
That doesn’t imply that more can’t be done, according to Donald Worme, a Cree lawyer who served as general counsel for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The fact of the matter is that while the Anglicans may have been less unco-operative than the Catholics they did not live up to their obligations in totality, and we know that because there are still demands upon them for records,” Mr. Worme said.
“Survivors of residential schools need more than pleasant words from the Church of England,” he concluded.
“We’ve had 25 years and more of apologies, and the healing that has been done by Indigenous people has largely been on their backs, by their efforts. That is simply unacceptable … words are not enough. It must be followed by concrete action.”
rather than canceling the trip, the Archbishop will not be going to Six Nations territory at all, instead. On the other hand, he’ll be in Toronto to meet with members of the Six Nations and the Indigenous clergy.
“The broader consultations proposed by the Survivor’s Secretariat were not possible within the time frame of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit,” Joe Vecsi, a spokesperson for the Anglican Church of Canada, said by e-mail Sunday.
He refused to reveal who the Archbishop of Toronto would be meeting with.
A small delegation of Six Nations Mohawks, led by warden and historian Barry Hill, plans to travel to Toronto on Monday to meet with Rev. Welby. Hill is a Mohawk from Six Nations and the warden and historian at the Mohawk Chapel.
In early March, the primate of the Anglican Church requested him to assist organize the Six Nations aspect of the tour, he said.. For Mr. Hill, it was “disturbing and flabbergasting” that the visit was organized so quickly and with so little apparent input from Canadian authorities, as reported by The Globe and Mail.
“They should have formulated this ahead of time,” he said of the church. “It should have involved the Governor-General, who’s Indigenous … it should have probably had a word from our Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.”
The Archbishop asked Mr. Hill, whose grandmother attended the Mohawk Institute, whether he thought it was important to talk with him about the delicate relationship between the Six Nations people and the Anglican Church.
Martha Stonestand was the first to share her tale with the Archbishop at the James Smith Cree Nation community school on Saturday. During an interview, the 79-year-old revealed how she and three of her relatives fled Gordon’s Indian Residential School in September 1954. On their 200-kilometer trek north, she added, the teenagers walked in the rain and got rides.
RCMP police threatened to arrest her father if she didn’t return to school, according to Ms. Stonestand, who was only allowed to spend a few hours with her family before they took her away. To serve as a message to anyone who may try to flee, Ms. Stonestand was beaten, strapped, and had her long hair chopped off, she claimed.
Ms. Stonestand also informed the Archbishop of her experiences of sexual abuse at the residential schools she attended, as well as the fact that school officials had withheld her mother’s letters and that she had been confined to the institutions for 10 months a year, “without even coming home for Christmas or Easter.”
The George Gordon First Nation said last month that it has discovered 14 prospective burial sites on the school grounds. Since May, this is the ninth community to make such a statement.
“It was hard to tell the people about what happened. And emotional,” Ms. Stonestand stated in an interview after her meeting with the Rev. Welby that it was both emotional and enlightening.
“It was a good feeling to tell the Archbishop what happened. And I wish there could have been more elders who could have told what happened.”