Reflections from Elders
May 30, 2021
“This discovery of the children affects all of us…still… we need to pray for their safe arrival to the other side…these children need to be children This should never happen again. We need to spread the word of love and kindness to everyone.”
Alberta Billy, Elder
As people around the world are learning of the tragic findings in Kamloops and reacting with their strong feelings it is important to acknowledge the dark history which is not yet behind us. It is important also to offer prayers and participate in ceremony even as individuals. If it is possible, gatherings in circle are powerful for sharing feelings, paying tribute to the memory of those children and adults who have been missing but not forgotten by their families. Lighting fires, candles, drumming and singing laments are all healthy ways of grieving and showing support. In the short term we must hold each other up in these ways of our people. In the long term we call on our leaders to keep on with the TRC calls to action so there may be justice and a better life for us all. Thank you to those in the United Church who stand and act in support of the TRC calls. Love and prayers to our people and all who are in mourning.
Doreen Angus, Elder
We are all processing the devastating and heartbreaking news about the remains of 215 children buried at the Kamloops Residential School in different ways. I know that you join me in deep reflection and respectful witness of this news and its impact, especially on our Indigenous families, friends, colleagues and communities.
As I see the various different ways of remembering the children expressed across the Region; orange shirts, teddy bears, candles, smudges, ceremonies, memorial walks to name but a few, I am most struck by the tiny shoes. Rows upon rows of empty shoes on the steps of important buildings, reminding us that these are real people, real casualties, real losses. I was similarly affected by a visit to the holocaust museum some years ago, where there was another display of tiny shoes, these shoes also a symbol of unimaginable grief and loss. So many shoes. Early in my time with the United Church I had the privilege of attending a potlach ceremony welcoming home the survivors; people who had been ravaged by the impact of residential schools telling their stories and welcoming the healing power of the community. I heard stories of small children being ripped from their families… my children were the same age as some of those kids. I can imagine how broken I would have become if someone had ripped my children away, and like in the cases of the 215, never brought them back. Tiny shoes, a symbol of hope not fulfilled, dreams not realized, generations impacted.
When we engage in the sacrament of holy communion, it is an act of Remembrance. We are being invited into the sacrament of remembering these lost 215, knowing that they symbolize many more tiny shoes whose owners didn’t make it home, or whose lives were impacted by the experience of attending a Residential School.
We invite you into rituals of remembering:
- Read the Reflections from Elders, the letter from Rev John Snow, and President Rev Blair Odney, prayers and resources from the National church
- Enter into a moment of silence in your upcoming worship
- Giving your financial resources to the Regional Thomas Crosby Fund to support Indigenous Ministry, the national church Healing Fund or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society
- Write to the government calling for appropriate recognition of the Indigenous experience in the BC, AB and Yukon school curriculums
- Attend this week’s Calls to the Church: Listening to the Wisdom of the Elders offering from LeaderShift
All those tiny shoes, remind us that the legacy of Residential Schools is real. The United Church of Canada has apologized for its role in running of Residential Schools. The apology has been read many times in many different communities. It was read at the Potlach I referred to earlier. As a church, we are truly sorry. But this discovery reminds us that we need to do more than be sorry, we need to do more than read the apology we need to take seriously the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We need to act on the Calls to the Church. We need to live the apology. We need to lead the work of healing in our communities. We need to listen to our Indigenous siblings and respond to their calls.
Executive Minister, Pacific Mountain Regional Council
Letter to the Pacific Mountain Region
John Snow, Indigenous Minister, PMRC
Kamloops Gathering for the Children of Residential School
Scripture and Reading, Isaiah 53, NSRV
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one who from others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord, has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
We look to the mourning of our dear children, and we seek forgiveness and guidance, direction, and healing. We are lost and we seek the guidance of our Creator. There is a need to heal the sick, feed the poor and to now raise the dead.
We are called in this time and in this place to witness and we are called to action. We are called to support all in their healing. Today we renew the calls and the real implementation of the TRC calls to action. We advocate call 71-76, TRC Commission of which we are a signatory.
Call 71, TRC.
“We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the Deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of the residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.”
My Elders from Morley and my family worked on various projects, and we would be confronted with Indigenous burial sites.
I reference these reburials of Children in Alberta that I and my people have had to bring closure to; the work has been very difficult and draining with slow or no government response to the patriation of bodies. In many cases, we have been fighting with government since 1965 to re bury bodies in Alberta. Our family has been called to several sites from our former occupations working in land and environmental, the Stoney have been coordinating re burials since 1965. My brothers and I have been part of many ceremonies to rebury the children.
Here are the links for all the reburial we/Stoney have been involved with ……
Red Deer Residential School 2010
My people, family and I worked with projects in the past, we would be confronted with burial sites. There are many times we had to help hold and conduct ceremonies and it was a difficult task.
- I think it is important to call for a letter writing campaign to law makers for implementing laws to protect Indigenous Burial sites, (none exist in the country)
- We call on support for all burial projects to be funded for research and provide closure to these gravesites, for Indigenous communities
I believe your contributions may be sent to Pacific Mountain Region marked for mission and service for supporting important events.
May the peace of Christ be with you in your time of need.
Reverend John Snow Jr., Indigenous Minister, Pacific Mountain Regional Council
Pastoral Letter from Blair Odney
“Generations have been looking for their children, asking, ‘where did they go? Can you imagine your children taken away, never to return?”
Treena Duncan and I, together with Regional Indigenous Minister Rev. John Snow, were gathered in sacred circle with the leaders and the elders of the Pacific Mountain Indigenous Ministries. An elder shared from deep within, tears streaming. Everyone in the circle shared similar feelings. Heartbroken. Helpless. Betrayed. Unsure of what to say. And I find myself in the same situation: Unsure of what to say. Heartbroken. Also betrayed. Waves of nausea. How indeed could I survive my kids not coming home?
Late last week, we heard the testimony; Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation found the remains of children as young as 3 on the site of what used to be Canada’s largest residential school at Kamloops British Columbia. Another abhorrent layer of the Canadian political agenda of assimilation and cultural genocide peeled back for the world to feel.
As one of the leaders in the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church of Canada, I am a player in this tragedy, giving testimony and holding with unspeakable grief, the church’s culpability. There is no getting around it; we are all implicated – not just as church members, but as the beneficiaries of the “good” that has come with colonial power. As one wise leader observed “what is not acknowledged can not be healed.”
So yes, I hang my head in confession on behalf of all my relations. I put an orange frame around my Facebook profile in an attempt to communicate my solidarity and allyship. And I trust in God’s unfailing grace to loosen my joints and unhinge my jaw. Hanging my head in shame is only useful in so far as it allows my heart to ache and my body to heave the anguish of moms and dads, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandmas who hearts are tied forever to these wee ones. Hanging my head also causes me to look at my feet, to consider the very next step I take, and to think about whose feet will be with me as I take that step.
I look up and there are the elders, the leaders of the Indigenous ministries, the ones whose lives are riddled with intergenerational trauma, calling me, calling us into relationship. A holy mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description, in love, seeking relationship. Given what they’ve experienced, how is that even possible, I wonder? And the elders speak. Long before “Christ” arrived packaged in blonde hair, blue eyes and European social values, we knew the Holy Mystery. And that’s why they stand with me calling for my help to seek justice and love kindness.
And so friends, beloved people of the region, I write to you in my heartache. I think its time for us to be who we claim ourselves to be; the body of Christ, meeting people right where they are, calling those people into the very best of who they can be. We are challenged by the Spirit to stand with those whose voices have been silenced – those with us now, and those whose spirits can not rest until their names are known and their voices heard.
Many of you have already begun. Walks for justice and peace. Drumming circles giving voice to rage and healing. Letters to politicians. Calls to speak the name and tell the story of each of those children whose precious little bodies have been discovered. Calls for forensic exploration of every other residential school site across the country. Calls to protect these residential school sites as keepers of a sacred mystery of sinfulness that their inherent trauma can heal. Feasts Festivals. Music I will walk along Mosquito Creek with an elder of the Squamish first nation – a survivor of Kamloops.
My beloved friends, there is no us and them. What happens to one of these, the least of our brothers and sisters, happens also to us. I invite us all to look down at our feet and consider the very next step we take. What does it mean for us now to unite in one common quest, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope? The elders say make relationships.
We don’t really have an option now. There is only one response.
Here I am, send me. Here we are, send us.
I love you all. I pray for your healing. I hope for the kingdom coming.
Rev. S. Blair Odney
President. Pacific Mountain Regional Council
From Indigenous Ministries and Justice at The United Church of Canada.
Kamloops Residential School: A Time for Mourning and Support
Reflection and Prayers from Rev Murray Pruden and Moderator Rev Richard Bott