In early June, like so many other Canadian ministry organizations, the EFC struggled to find the right words to express our lament over the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s confirmation of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. This announcement was quickly followed by the Cowessess First Nation’s confirmation of 751 unmarked graves at the former site of Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission included the opportunity for survivors of the Indian Residential Schools system to share their stories and experiences. The final reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are available for reading and learning, and are meant to help provide a way forward toward reconciliation. They include stories and even statistics of some of the Indigenous children who lived and died in Canada’s residential schools.
In our June 2, 2021 statement of lament and recommitment to reconciliation, we committed to listening, learning and then acting. We can turn to the significant body of material, including first-hand accounts recorded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to learn more.
Visit www.nctr.ca to view all the reports that are available (and instantly downloadable), including a 2016 report entitled Missing Children and Unmarked Graves. That report includes first-hand survivor accounts of witnessing the deaths of classmates, records of school fires, and insight into the process of locating unmarked graves. The report “is a systematic effort to record and analyze the deaths at the schools, and the presence and condition of student cemeteries.…” The report also acknowledges that its report of 3,200 deaths is likely too low, a reality we are likely going to see made visible in the months to come as more Indigenous communities search former residential school sites across Canada.
In the report entitled simply Reconciliation we can understand better what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission means by the word “reconciliation,” and then become familiar with the Calls to Action (churches and ministry organizations will want to pay special attention to #48, 58-61, and 73-75).
In the Reconciliation report we read:
…To others, “reconciliation,” in the context of Indian residential schools, is similar to dealing with a situation of family violence. It is about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that over- comes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people going forward. It is in the latter context that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (trc) has approached the question of reconciliation.
To the Commission, “reconciliation” is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. For that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.
We are not there yet. The relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples is not a mutually respectful one. But we believe we can get there, and we believe we can maintain it. Our ambition is to show how we can do that.
In 2016, as part of the EFC’s ongoing journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, we gathered Indigenous and non-Indigenous Evangelicals to provide a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically to Call to Action #48.
Subsequent meetings with representatives of denominational affiliates and Indigenous leaders led to the establishment of the EFC Indigenous-Settler Relations Working Group, who presented a paper, Stewarding Sacred Seeds, at the 2020 NAIITS Symposium. The paper includes seven commitments around which the EFC would prompt conversation and action among its affiliates, which were embraced by the EFC.
Established in March 2021, the Seven Commitments Working Group s comprised of leaders and influencers from a broad spectrum of evangelical communities and interchurch contexts. Its members represent several of EFC’s denominational affiliates and partners.
The Seven Commitments can be found at TheEFC.ca/SevenCommitments.
In recent weeks, many of us have committed to “learn and to listen.” The resources we need are already readily available.