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To Apologize
Linda Cauchy
Métis Women's Circle
April 29, 2022


From a very young age we hear the words to apologize. We are asked to apologize and demand apologies. We indirectly learn that these words hold power; power to undo, make better, right a wrong. We don't necessarily learn that to apologize is more than a simple action. For many this action never goes beyond merely saying some select words to make wrongs go away. In a most simplistic setting, that might be enough. But perhaps we aren't aware that there are associated expectations to fulfil and steps to take in order to complete the action of "to apologize". Think about when you've apologized to someone; what were your goals, your desired outcomes, what did you do, was the other party satisfied, were you?

Recently I came across a description of what "to apologize" could look like and it stuck with me. When defining "to apologize", educational leader Cornelius Minor described it as follows:
  1. Craft an apology that names next steps and outlines permanent institutional changes
  2. Devote resources - time, money, personnel, energy to your solutions. Apologies are not a statement of remorse. They are a reallocation of resources, a shifting of priorities, and a commitment to action (Cornelius Minor, ILA Literacy Today, March/April 2018 Vol.35, Issue 5).
Not a statement of remorse... In the context of the recent and ongoing horrendous discoveries of hundreds of unmarked, hidden or abandoned graves of Indian Residential School victims and the demands from Indigenous people for apologies from the perpetrators of these deaths, I want to look chronologically at significant church apologies made to Indigenous peoples of Canada for the atrocities of the Indian Residential School system through the lens of Minor's definition. Are these actual apologies and will they measure up? For more than 30 years and subsequent to both the historical class action suit, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA,2007) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, 2015, there have been statements of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and apologies made to Indigenous peoples by various church organizations. The United Church of Canada was the first. This much lauded event stems from the surprising unplanned and unexpected actions of Alberta Billy from the Laichwitach We Wai in British Columbia. In 1981, Billy, a member of the National Native Ministries Council, asked the United Church General Council Executive to apologize for what they did to Native people in the Residential Schools (https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/movementtowardsreconciliation/chapter/history-of-the-apology-from-united-church-of-canada/).

- 1985 the Right Reverend Bob Smith of the General Council of the United Church of Canada responded to Billy's request with a statement asking for forgiveness, but never saying the words "we apologize"

- 1991 The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, through their President of the Oblate Conference of Canada, Reverend Doug Crosby, made a moving apology for certain aspects of their involvement with Indigenous people and for the actual existence of the schools themselves (https://omilacombe.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/AN-APOLOGY-TO-THE-FIRST-NATIONS-OF-CANADA-BY-THE-OBLATE-CONFERENCE-OF-CANADA-w-intro-1991.pdf).

- 1993 Primate Archbishop Michael Peers of the Anglican Church expressed deep sorrow and apologized for specific named wrongs (https://www.anglican.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Apology-English.pdf). -1994 The Presbyterian Church of Canada presented a confession and asked for forgiveness, no apology offered (https://caid.ca/PresChuApo1994.pdf)

- 1998 the Right Reverend Bill Phipps Moderator of the United Church of Canada issued another statement, this time using the words "I apologize"(https://caid.ca/UniChuApo1998.pdf" target="_blank)

- 2009 Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI met with Aboriginal leaders and expressed sorrow, no apology offered (https://www.facinghistory.org/stolen-lives-indigenous-peoples-canada-and-indian-residential-schools/chapter-5/churches-apologize) NB: the Roman Catholic Church is not one single entity in Canada, it is said to have a decentralized and complicated legal structure. The Catholic Bishops repeatedly state that they had no direct involvement with Indian Residential Schools, rather the Church's involvement was through individual Dioses and entities. The Bishops have however offered various apologies to specific communities- see CCCB.ca/indigenous-peoples

- 2021 Roman Catholic Bishops issue a sorrowful acknowledgement and an unequivocal apology to Indigenous people in Canada for the abuses and lingering trauma suffered by former residential school students and their families (https://www.bishop-accountability.org/2021/09/indigenous-organizations-conflicted-about-catholic-bishops-apology/)

- 2022 Roman Catholic Pope Francis meets with Indigenous people in Rome and expresses, " "sorrow and shame" for the actions of some Catholics involved in the residential school system. "For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry,"..."And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.""(https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/pope-apology-reaction-1.6405706), the word apology not given.

It may be splitting hairs, but is asking for pardon and forgiveness equivalent to giving an apology? Asking for versus giving to. Using Minor's definition, no. However, over the years through church efforts and the legal requirements of the IRSSA, there have been some concrete actions of reparation: offers to accompany Indigenous peoples as they progress through the path of God's healing; mechanisms for accessing grants for local level healing; mandating education and training of clergy for the understanding and appreciation of Indigenous cultures and beliefs; fundraising and release of millions of dollars for compensation and ongoing personal and community healing.

When looking for evidence of permanent institutional change the current situation is not encouraging. After the scandalous court proceedings of 2015 whereby the Canadian Catholic Entities sidestepped paying their millions in obligations prescribed by the IRSSA (at the same time paying huge undisclosed amounts to legal counsel), in 2021 the Catholic Bishops pledged to renew their fundraising efforts to contribute $30 million to healing and reconciliation. What shaming and public pressure forced the Bishops to take this action after vigorously defending the Catholic Entities' court actions earlier? First Indigenous and former United Church of Canada moderator, the Very Reverend Stan McKay of Fisher River Manitoba says that statements from the Church acknowledge historic mistakes but the Indigenous people are given charity instead of justice, the institution resists change, the apologies did not have an impact through lack of strategic planning about what was to be done in light of cultural genocide (https://broadview.org/united-church-residential-schools-apology).

Dire as it may sound, we cannot lose hope for real and actionable apologies. Indigenous leaders continue to engage and dialogue with church and government leaders making clear demands for them to live up to their obligations under treaties, the IRSSA, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some leaders see the recent statements by Pope Francis as a hopeful new starting point for the real work of sincere and operational apologies to begin. Let that be so; and the work continues for all of our relations, past, present, and future.

Meegwetch.

Posted



ARCHIVE

April 29, 2022 To Apologize
April 28, 2022 Developing Healthy Water Routines
April 25, 2022 Water is Not a Noun
May 12, 2021 The Flower Beadwork People
May 1, 2021 Good Riddance Beyak
April 1, 2021 Another Day in Paradise
March 1, 2021 All My Relations Matter More Now Than Ever
January 21, 2021 "Look Out The Window, Quick"





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The purpose of Trade Beads is to inform and inspire our readers within the overall theme of Indigenous experience. Broadly, themes will follow the four seasons, but posts are not limited by these categories. We consider submissions by students, artists and community members at large. TradeBeads is supported by the Métis Women's Circle, whose mission statement is as follows;
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