An article published in the April 27, 2016, edition of The Globe and Mail (“Churches escape residential school settlement obligations in wake of Catholic deal”) merits some clarification.

Throughout the negotiations leading to the signing of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the United Church always placed the interests of the survivors of residential schools first and foremost in the conversations among defendant parties regarding the division of financial contributions in the agreement.

The matters referred to in The Globe and Mail article concern the financial obligations shared by defendants in the residential schools case (Canada and the churches and religious entities that ran the residential schools). They do not directly impact the compensation received by survivors. Despite the Catholic Entities’ fundraising shortfall, residential school survivors received all the compensation agreed to under the Settlement Agreement. It is our understanding that if the $450,000 had been contributed by the United Church, it would only have reduced the government contribution by the same amount. The survivors would not have received any additional compensation.  

All defendants were obliged to contribute in a proportional manner. The United Church’s obligation was as follows:

  • $4.7 million in cash and in-kind contributions
  • $1.75 million related to the Catholic fundraising campaign, which the United Church agreed to contribute regardless of the success of the campaign
  • $450,000 in the event that the Catholic fundraising campaign surpassed $20 million

The Catholic fundraising initiative fell short of its goal, so the United Church’s obligation remained $6.45 million. The church met this obligation.

The legal obligations under the Settlement Agreement are not the extent of the church’s commitment. Since 1994, the United Church Healing Fund has supported grassroots projects in Indigenous communities. Over the last twelve years, the United Church has contributed $1 million annually toward healing and reconciliation initiatives. We have also directed financial resources to Aboriginal ministries and reconciliation on an average of $3 million to $4 million per year, and are striving to maintain that level. This comes at a time when other areas of the church’s work are experiencing significant reductions.

Reconciliation continues to be central to the life of the church, to how we live out our call as Christians. At the 42nd General Council of the United Church in August 2015, the church named reconciliation as its priority. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and Calls to Action and final report, our work has turned to animation of the Calls to Action. This includes:

  • Continued education of our constituency on the history and legacy of colonization, residential schools, and the church’s role.
  • Addressing the racism that still dominates our relationship.
  • Educating about inequities in and advocating for policy reform in areas of social welfare, education, and health care.
  • Continued participation in mobilization on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
  • Adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation. This includes examining church structures, policy, and programs to ensure that they comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the Declaration and engaging in dialogue and action to promote broader Canadian implementation of the Declaration.

“Going forward our hope would be that the commitment of the United Church to healing and reconciliation will be assessed by everything we have done and spent, not on the narrow terms of a legal Settlement Agreement, ” says Nora Sanders, the church’s General Secretary.

She adds, “This will be best demonstrated in the leadership we have shown, the finances we have committed, the internal changes we have made, the relationships we have built, and the long-term commitment we have made to the work of healing and reconciliation.”