The United Church has issued two apologies to the First Nations Peoples of Canada. The first, in 1986, addresses issues related to the church's role in imposing European culture on First Nations' peoples. The second apology, from 1998, addresses the legacy of Indian Residential Schools more specifically.
In 1986 the Moderator apologized to First Nations peoples within the United Church for the times in which the church had linked acceptance of European culture and the corresponding suppression of First Nations cultures to the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (While there was no direct reference to residential schools in this apology, it is clear that the schools were an important part of the national policy of assimilation.)
The apology was acknowledged but not accepted, and at the 32nd General Council, 1988, a response to the apology was made by Mrs. Edith Memnook, a representative of the All Native Circle Conference.
In 1997 the General Council committed the church to a journey of repentance in relation to its role in the residential schools system. In 1998, the General Council Executive formally apologized for its complicity in the system. It did so because the church had heard the stories of suffering wrought by the separation of children from communities and families, the suppression of culture and spirituality and cases of sexual and physical abuse which occurred in many residential schools. The apology arose out of a sense of a corporate sin of commission for those times in which we had participated in the system. It was also tied to the sin of omission for those times in which we had not spoken out corporately against the national policies and practices which gave rise to the school system.
It is important to note that an acknowledgement of wrongdoing is just the first step in walking the road of repentance. Apologies need to be followed by concrete acts that demonstrate that the church is committed to living in a new way in its relations with First Nations peoples.
It is also important that, wherever possible, words of apology are lifted from the printed text and spoken person to person, church to First Nation. This is a challenging venture for the church, since there is not one First Nation to which the apology needs to be delivered but many. It is for this reason that the General Council in 2000 commissioned past Moderators to deliver words of apology on behalf of the church.
Words spoken by the Right Reverend Robert Smith at the 31st General Council of The United Church of Canada
The Moderator of the United Church apologized to Canada's First Nations peoples for the church's complicity in the operation of Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
2008 marked the 10th anniversary of the United Church's apology to Indian Residential Schools survivors, and to their families and communities. Congregations are invited to use the Toward Truth and Reconciliation Worship Service to mark the occasion.
The year 2006 was the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Apology to First Nations. To mark the occasion, letters from Moderator Peter Short and Aboriginal Ministries Coordinator Laverne Jacobs were sent to United Church congregations, along with related resources. Please commemorate the apology in worship, in study, with children, by supporting the Healing Fund, or by developing a Justice & Reconciliation project.
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