PRINCE ALBERT, Sask.- During a weekend in Saskatchewan spent listening to stories from survivors of Canada’s residential schools, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned in a church service that rules and structures must not become more important than people.
“That is the tragedy of residential schools, the mystery of no one objecting, the mystery of no one saying, ‘This is outrageous,’ the addiction to process over people,” Rev. Justin Welby told congregants at St. Albans Cathedral in Prince Albert.
Welby, who is the senior bishop and the spiritual head of the Church of England, has said that a significant purpose of his visit to Canada April 29 to May 3 is to repent and atone for the harm the Church of England has caused to Indigenous peoples.
He said during the service on Sunday that he has been “overwhelmed by the faithfulness to God” that he’s heard in the testimonies from survivors, and noted there are two parties in forgiveness.
“We cannot put a burden, or the obligation, on those who suffered and say it’s your job to forgive. But I will tell you from my own experience that being forgiven is often harder than forgiving,” Welby said.
“Our pride gets in the way and we blame the survivor and the victim, and not the perpetrator. We allow ourselves to make excuses to ourselves.”
The Anglican Church says it ran about three dozen residential schools in Canada between 1820 and 1969. In 1993, the Anglican Church of Canada apologized for operating residential schools.
On Saturday, Welby attended a ceremony held in a gymnasium on the James Smith Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, where he was presented with an eagle feather by the vice-chief of the province’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, David Pratt.
Welby, in return, presented Pratt with a replica of the statue “Reconciliation” which is at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry.
The original statue was conceived following the Second World War, during which the 14th Century cathedral, whose remains are next to St. Michael’s, was destroyed by German bombing.
“We give very few of these, but we would like to present one to the community here, not as a symbol that (reconciliation) has been achieved, but as the beginning of a journey we hope will lead to peace, hope and reconciliation for you,” Welby said on Saturday.
“And this comes with our prayers, our sorrow and our gratitude for this welcome.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse.
The number is 1-866-925-4419.
– By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2022.