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The spiritual leader of the Anglican Church told survivors gathered at a meeting of First Nations in Saskatchewan on Saturday that he regretted that the Church allowed a “terrible crime” to occur in residential schools.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby began his visit to the James Smith Cree Nation east of Prince Albert around noon when he met with dignitaries from James Smith’s Indigenous Governments and the Federation of Indigenous Nations Sovereigns, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
“I want to acknowledge, for myself and my colleagues, the level of pain that you are willing to go through, so that your story is heard,” Welby said.
“I will say that I come in ignorance, needing to hear every shame, needing to signify that shame and to respect those upon whom such terrible injustices have been committed.”
Survivors from across Saskatchewan shared their stories of how the residential school system tore families apart, raised issues of self-doubt and self-confidence, and left them with trauma from sexual and physical abuse. Many said they blamed not the church, but those who acted on behalf of the church.
After listening to their stories, Welby apologized.
“The grace that you showed by saying it wasn’t the church that did this – I guess that’s amazing grace. I guess I mean that’s maybe the only thing that I question. That it wasn’t the church that did it. But it was the church that allowed it. Who allowed it. Who turned a blind eye to it. And still does. , sometimes,” Welby said.
“And for this terrible crime, sin, evil to consciously deliberate stupidly – because evil is stupid. To build hell and put children in it. And staff it. I’m more sorry than I could ever begin to express it…I’m sorry.I’m more sorry than I can say.I’m ashamed.I’m horrified.
He said it would be impossible to understand the suffering of the survivors, but he hoped to move from “unconscious ignorance” to a deep awareness of their experiences and move towards humility before those gathered.
Survivors like Dennis Sanderson gathered at James Smith to share their stories with the Archbishop.
Sanderson attended Gordon Indian Residential Schoolabout 100 kilometers northeast of Regina, for three years before attending the All Saints Boarding School in Prince Albert. Both were operated by the Anglican Church.
“It’s a good thing for them to come and say ‘I’m sorry,’ you know? It makes you feel good and I hope our community members are feeling good,” Sanderson said Saturday morning.
Sanderson said he was able to deal with the trauma that 11 years of residential school left him by exploring its First Nations culture, ceremonies and way of life.
The Anglican Church was part of his life outside of residential schools; Sanderson said his father was actively involved in the activities of the Anglican Church of the Cree Nation of James Smith.
Several survivors shared stories with the Archbishop on Saturday about the abuse they suffered in residential schools and its lasting impacts and trauma.
Between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church ran about three dozen boarding schools in Canada, and has also run more than 150 Indian day schools, according to a list compiled for Federal Indian Day Schools class action lawsuit.
The Anglican Church issued an apology for its role in the residential schools in 1993 and 2019. It also paid $15.7 million in compensation.
The church also received a refund of $2.8 million, which it said it invested in Indigenous ministry programs, after a different compensation formula was negotiated with the Roman Catholic Church.
Earlier this week, survivors and advocates questioned the purpose of the visit and whether it would result in meaningful action.
Other planned Canadian visits
Welby, who as archbishop is the religious head of the Church of England, but not the head of the church – a title that belongs to the British monarch – also plans to visit Prince Albert on Sunday before going in Toronto.
His visit coincides with the 50th session of the provincial synod, which is hosted by the Diocese of Saskatchewan in Prince Albert until Sunday. Delegates from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, as well as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, will be present.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, Welby will meet with Anglican and non-Anglican Indigenous leaders.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and those triggered by the latest reports. A National Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.