Dear people of the Catholic Dioceses and Eparchy of Saskatchewan,
Today, in a context of great tension, the Saskatchewan bishops are launching a province-wide Appeal to raise funds to support Indian Residential School Survivors and their communities, as a way of engaging more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process. Information about the Appeal will be available on our respective webpages, and you can visit this website to make a contribution or for ongoing updates on the funds collected: https://dscf.ca/catholic-trc-healing-response/
The funding priorities are guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action involving a financial commitment, and here I would highlight #61, which calls for support of community-controlled initiatives for healing and reconciliation, language and culture, education and relationship building, and dialogue between Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth; and the Calls to Action which address cemeteries of former residential schools (#73-76). We would look to be guided by Indigenous communities here in Saskatchewan in terms of the allocation of funds, with a goal of building and strengthening relationships along the way.
Conversations are already under way with Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Chiefs and communities. The conversations themselves are important steps forward. Nothing is as helpful in charting a way forward as listening to the experience of Survivors, and hearing directly from Survivors and Elders where we can be of assistance in addressing the needs of their communities.
This province has many wounds in its history, but this is the deepest, beginning with the First Peoples of this land, their experience of colonization, and most acutely, their experience of the Indian Act and the residential school system. Taking children out of their family context, depriving them on their language, culture and spirituality, caused waves of suffering which continue to be felt today. Other forms of abuse experienced by many, as witnessed through the TRC process, deepened that pain. The investigation of grave sites brings that before our eyes in a way that beckons a response, and in recent weeks, we have heard a strong request for the Catholic Church to take ownership for its involvement in the schools, for wounds that have their origin there but continue on in intergenerational trauma and in systemic injustice. It is our profound desire to do so, continuing past efforts and undertaking new initiatives of commitment and solidarity.
Various controversies have emerged in the past weeks. There are intense emotions being expressed, unlike what many of us have ever experienced, and they swirl around a series of questions which I think it is helpful to name, and put into context, as we launch this Appeal.
First, there are questions about the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools. We do not believe that the public narrative has consistently been accurate and there is work to be done speaking constructively about this deep wound in our history, while honouring the experience of Indigenous People, especially survivors. The way that we tell our history matters tremendously. That work needs to continue, accompanied by education called for by the TRC.
There are many important questions about who was fundamentally responsible for residential schools and why were they allowed to function for so long. Stories have surfaced about efforts from 100 years ago to name and put a stop to the disastrous consequences of the residential school policy, drawing attention to voices that should have been heeded. In the society at large and in the church there were voices that said this was wrong, this should stop, or at the very least, we should stop being complicit in what is happening here. Those voices haunt us now.
It doesn’t help when either the church or the government deflects their proper responsibilities. With this in mind, we are working earnestly to support healing and reconciliation through this province-wide Appeal.
There are controversies around what is being found at grave sites, including conflicting voices from Survivors themselves in some places. Chief Cadmus at Cowessess has asked us to stand by their community, to walk with them, as they continue the work at the grave site, including the work of locating and wading through all historical files that help us to better understand what the grave sites tell us about the past. That work needs to be supported, in all of the First Nations where there were residential schools.
Finally, several churches have been burned to the ground or vandalized in the past weeks, and controversy has stirred about how political and church leaders have responded. We are grateful to the many Indigenous leaders and Survivors who have spoken out against the burning of churches and acts of vandalism. We need to pay heed to the anger and frustration that are being felt by many in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, but also to say, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that “violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness” and in the words of Mohandas Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Enflamed rhetoric leads to enflamed buildings. On two evenings in the past week, I have been privileged to gather with Survivors and Elders around a bonfire. That has been a very different and life-giving experience for all of us, as we lay down wood together, sit around a fire, listen deeply, especially to the experiences of pain, and build relationships on the path to healing and reconciliation. May those, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are experiencing a great deal of anger and frustration at the present time, find places of respectful dialogue, attentive to the hurt, but open to life-giving ways forward.
These controversies each point to important areas of ongoing work, but they also have the potential to distract and derail us. As we launch this campaign, I think we need to be reminded that all efforts to address the broken relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church need to begin by listening to Indigenous people - Elders and Knowledge Keepers, Survivors, Chiefs, youth, and whole communities. Chief Cadmus Delorme has commented how Indigenous and church people of today have inherited the present situation. I quote, “Nobody today created residential schools. Nobody today created the Indian Act. Nobody today created the 60's scoop. We all inherited this.” It’s helpful for us to hear that. But it is for us to rise to the occasion to be instruments of healing and reconciliation.
Every crisis comes with opportunity for change. Amidst controversies and intense emotions coming from diverse perspectives, let’s not lose sight of the opportunity of the present moment. As a diverse church with many languages, cultures and experiences, let us find a common voice to say to Survivors and their communities, we want to listen to you, to hear you; we want to do our part in the long journey of overcoming this legacy of suffering; we want to work with the Calls to Action as a blueprint for restoring right relationship between peoples; we want this Appeal to help us take steps on the long walk from truth to reconciliation.
May this be remembered as a time when we opened our ears and our eyes, when we acknowledged the sufferings of the past and responded to them with compassion, when we turned apologies into concrete initiatives, and built relationships that would build a better future. May we learn to walk together in a good way, and dwell peacefully on this land that the Creator has given us, in the words of treaties signed long ago, for “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and waters flow.”
Watch video message HERE
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