By: David Phillips
Why are we in the situation we are in today in Canada in respect to our First Nations and Métis? The answer is found in large part in the system of residential schools established in Canada. These schools, in many cases, were a joint venture of the Federal Government and some of the churches. One of these churches was The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Residential schools were established to make “Indians” better citizens in Canada and to “take the Indian” out of them. The schools were established in many areas across Canada. Some were close to the homes of the young children but others were many kilometers away. These schools left a lasting impression not only on the children who attended them but also on future generations as the horrors were relived and the lack of parenting skills became evident in future generations. The residential schools are not as widely known as they should be in Canada but it is an important part of our history that everyone should know and acknowledge so that it never happens again. The abuse of the children took many forms in residential schools, ranging from verbal to physical to sexual. The stories told by survivors are very difficult to hear, but need to be told and we need to listen.
As a note, the focus in Canada has been on residential schools but there were also day schools that were established for a common purpose.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada had 11 such schools between 1884 and 1969. These schools were located from Vancouver Island to North Western Ontario. From 1925 until 1969, The Presbyterian Church in Canada had just two schools; one in Western Manitoba (Birtle) and the other in North Western Ontario (Cecilia Jeffrey). The others were either closed or became associated with the United Church of Canada.
In 1994 The Presbyterian Church in Canada offered an apology to Aboriginal peoples that acknowledged some of the mistakes of the past. There is a recognition that within the schools “there are those whose lives have been deeply scarred by the effects of the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. For our church we ask forgiveness of God” (The Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada).
The response was to establish two funds. The Native Ministries’ Healing and Reconciliation Fund is a fund for established “National Native Ministries” in Canada to continue and expand their work in three areas—healing, education, and /or reconciliation. One example is a project in Prince Albert and the Mistawasis Reserve in Saskatchewan. This project has benefitted the church, schools and communities, ensuring a seamless approach to the citizens of the area and in particular to children and youth. The church and school work very closely together to benefit the children of Prince Albert and Mistawasis. This program is administered by a staff person who represents The Presbyterian Church in Canada. The evidence is clear as we look at the number of children who attend Camp Christopher, a Presbyterian church camp.
Our second fund in response to the needs of healing and reconciliation is the seed fund. This fund was set up to provide seed funding for individuals, congregations and different courts of the church to build relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in their communities. The seed fund allowed for new initiatives to be formulated and completed in various areas across Canada. Many projects have been completed and many new links have been established. Some of these links are with children, while others are related to youth and adults.
Two examples of our seed funding will give an overview of the relationships that we are establishing. One project was to promote healing and reconciliation through workshop interaction between the Presbyterian Church and Aboriginal people. Through these workshops, a response is given to the needs identified by Aboriginal people by providing workshops on topics as requested. These workshops can tie in Native Spirituality and Christianity, identifying the role of culture within the church and many other areas of interest. This particular project took place in British Columbia.
A second project took place in Ontario at the grade six level between two schools. The premise was based on the bad experience related to schools, especially the “Indian Residential Schools.” The project was to create a good experience related to schools. As a way of contributing to healthy relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, an exchange program was established that would bring children together. The children were able to learn about and from one another. The program contributed to a better understanding of the world of the other.
There were and are many projects across Canada to further the growth in relationships. Each of them is a small step in the journey of healing and reconciliation. There is much more to do that will allow us to keep the journey before us. The path is long but through the strength that the Creator gives to us we must keep moving to full healing and reconciliation.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada so far has sponsored eight projects in the amount of $374,520 from the Native Ministries’ Healing and Reconciliation Fund and 56 projects in the amount of $198,246 from the seed fund. These are wonderful projects, but only a beginning.
David Phillips was born and raised in Galt, Ontario (Cambridge). He received his BA from Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfred Laurier), his BPHE from University of Waterloo and his M.Ed. from Brock University. For 34 years, he taught in the Durham District School Board in Southern Ontario and was the physical and health department head at Anderson Collegiate in Whitby, Ontario. For the last eight years, David has coordinated the Leading with Care program for The Presbyterian Church in Canada. On September 1, 2011, David became the animator for Healing and Reconciliation in Justice Ministries