Saturday, September 28, 2013

Archbishop apologizes for aboriginal suffering caused by Catholic Church

Archbishop apologizes for aboriginal suffering caused by Catholic ChurchVancouver’s Catholic archbishop apologized for any suffering caused by the church’s involvement in residential schools and called on Canadians to work toward helping heal the wounds left by the schools.

Archbishop Michael Miller, who oversees approximately 400,000 Metro Vancouver Catholics, made a statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Friday and plans to participate in Sunday’s Walk for Reconciliation.

“I recognize that the churches have a particular responsibility to respond to the need for healing and reconciliation in truth, especially with aboriginal Catholics. Five government/religious schools operated within our territory. Although the Archdiocese of 
Vancouver didn’t operate any of these, we acknowledge, regret, and apologize for any suffering caused by the church’s involvement in the Indian residential schools,” Miller wrote in an email response to a request for comment.

“In the closing days of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Vancouver, I’m hoping everyone will reflect prayerfully on how they might participate, whether by attending in person at the PNE grounds, or by watching it online.

“It’s my prayer that all Canadians will walk with them as together we take the next steps toward healing the legacy of painful wounds left by the Indian residential school system,” Miller stated.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is one year away from its five-year-mandate to tell Canadians about the history of residential schools and to create a process of reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginals, will end its B.C. truth gathering event in Vancouver Sunday.

Thousands of people have attended B.C.’s event, which began Wednesday at the PNE, to either tell their stories of being a residential school survivor or better understand that period of Canada’s history. 

Beginning in the 1870s and continuing until 1996, when the last residential school closed, more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and placed in government and church-run schools where many children suffered emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.

Renee Nahanee, a representative for the Catholic Church at the Truth and Reconciliation event, said it has been an opportunity for the church to reach out to aboriginal survivors and develop a new relationship with them.

“We’re not the same people who worked in those schools 50 years ago,” said Nahanee, who is from the Squamish First Nation and is working toward becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church.

Nahanee, 61, said he was too young to have attended the residential school but four of his five sisters and two of his four brothers attended the school.

They have never talked to him about what happened there.

“I still don’t know my siblings’ stories. I suspect something happened because I’ve heard other people talking. I went to three survivors’ conferences and heard very tragic stories,” said Nahanee.

He said at the conference he attended in 2009, he first learned about the abuse that happened to some First Nations people.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone I was Catholic (at the conferences). I couldn’t blame them for their anger. I was quite saddened to hear my church was involved in that,” he said.

Nahanee said he was able to reconcile the past and still remain active in the church because of the mentorship of his grandparents, who also attended residential schools yet were active in the church.

“I just remember my elders’ joy in their eyes serving the Lord. They are my mentors,” he said.

“They had attended residential schools and yet they were still working in the church. Maybe they were able to put it aside.”

Audrey Rivers, 77, who is also from the Squamish Nation, said she didn’t want to let the physical and sexual abuse she suffered while in residential school ruin her life.

“You can’t let all the things that happened to you fester in your heart. You’ll be worse than the perpetrators. If you walk in a good way you can help others,” she said.

Rivers said she and her two siblings spent 10 years in residential schools. She said her brother died at the age of 36, and she believes the abuse he suffered was the reason for his drinking and eventual death.

She said her husband also suffered abuse while in residential school but he never told her about it. She said she only learned about it after his death, realizing he became deaf after being smacked in the ear.

Nahanee said he believes while it is still painful for many people to tell their story it can be a first step toward healing.

Speaking earlier in the week at the Truth and Reconciliation conference, Justice Murray Sinclair — who is one of three commissioners — said “the truth will set you free but it will piss you off.”

“We are still unveiling the truth. Every time we come across a set of documents and reveal more of the truth that upsets people but in order to move forward we need to talk about the past,” he said. 

“We are calling upon you as survivors to talk about the past. We are making you look backwards but it is necessary if we are going to turn around and look into the future,” he said.