By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan July 13 released more details about a province-wide fund-raising appeal among Catholics for support of residential school survivors and their communities.
Online donations can be accepted immediately at dscf.ca/catholic-trc-healing-response.
“As a diverse church with many languages, cultures and experiences, let us find a common voice to say to survivors and their communities, we want to listen to you, to hear you; we want to do our part in the long journey of overcoming this legacy of suffering; we want to work with the Calls to Action as a blueprint for restoring right relationship between peoples; we want this Appeal to help us take steps on the long walk from truth to reconciliation.” – Archbishop Donald Bolen
Priorities for the “Catholic TRC Healing Response” fund-raising effort are being discussed with Indigenous leaders, and include healing and reconciliation, cemeteries on the sites of former residential schools, and education and cultural support.
“The overall goal of this campaign is to support Residential School survivors and their communities, and to engage more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process,” wrote the five bishops in a July 13 update about creating the fund-raising appeal, signed by Archbishop Donald Bolen of the Archdiocese of Regina, Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, and Bishop Stephen Hero of the Diocese of Prince Albert.
“We have heard the strong request, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in various quarters, to initiate a new fundraising campaign to support survivors and engage more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process,” the bishops reported when first announcing plans to launch a fund-raising appeal on July 3.
In the July 13 update, the bishops stated that they are “collaborating with various potential participants, and consulting with Indigenous dialogue partners, including Survivors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Chiefs, and other community members.”
“Out of these conversations, each diocese and eparchy will discern and communicate separately how they will proceed with the Appeal in their respective dioceses and communities,” the bishops said, noting that a province-wide goal and timeline will be announced by September 2021.
“As we noted in our July 3 letter, we are deeply grateful for the signs and indications of encouragement and commitment that we have been hearing from the people of Saskatchewan and beyond. It is for all of us to rise to the occasion to be instruments of healing and reconciliation, moving forward in humility, truth, and justice.”
In a video message released July 13, Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen spoke about the fund-raising appeal, and reflected on the continuing call for Catholics to respond to the long-lasting damage of residential schools in Saskatchewan
Video message from Archbishop Donald Bolen: “Launching Appeal for Survivors and their Communities”
“The funding priorities are guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action involving a financial commitment, and here I would highlight #61, which calls for support of community-controlled initiatives for healing and reconciliation, language and culture, education and relationship building, and dialogue between Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth; and the Calls to Action which address cemeteries of former residential schools (#73-76),” said Archbishop Bolen.
“We would look to be guided by Indigenous communities here in Saskatchewan in terms of the allocation of funds, with a goal of building and strengthening relationships along the way.”
Bolen said that conversations with residential school survivors and Indigenous communities about the appeal and its priorities are themselves important steps forward. “Nothing is as helpful in charting a way forward as listening to the experience of survivors, and hearing directly from survivors and Elders where we can be of assistance in addressing the needs of their communities,” he said.
“This province has many wounds in its history, but this is the deepest, beginning with the First Peoples of this land, their experience of colonization, and most acutely, their experience of the Indian Act and the residential school system,” Bolen stressed.
“Taking children out of their family context, depriving them on their language, culture and spirituality, caused waves of suffering which continue to be felt today. Other forms of abuse experienced by many, as witnessed through the TRC process, deepened that pain. The investigation of grave sites brings that before our eyes in a way that beckons a response, and in recent weeks, we have heard a strong request for the Catholic Church to take ownership for its involvement in the schools, for wounds that have their origin there but continue on in intergenerational trauma and in systemic injustice. It is our profound desire to do so, continuing past efforts and undertaking new initiatives of commitment and solidarity.”
In his video message about the Catholic TRC Healing Response Appeal, the archbishop of Regina also addressed controversies that have emerged in the past weeks, since the discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools.
“First, there are questions about the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools. We do not believe that the public narrative has consistently been accurate and there is work to be done speaking constructively about this deep wound in our history, while honouring the experience of Indigenous People, especially survivors. The way that we tell our history matters tremendously. That work needs to continue, accompanied by education called for by the TRC,” he said.
“There are many important questions about who was fundamentally responsible for residential schools and why were they allowed to function for so long. Stories have surfaced about efforts from 100 years ago to name and put a stop to the disastrous consequences of the residential school policy, drawing attention to voices that should have been heeded. In the society at large and in the church there were voices that said this was wrong, this should stop, or at the very least, we should stop being complicit in what is happening here. Those voices haunt us now.”
He added: “It doesn’t help when either the church or the government deflects their proper responsibilities. With this in mind, we are working earnestly to support healing and reconciliation through this province-wide appeal.”
Bolen expressed gratitude to the many Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors who have spoken out against recent burning of churches and acts of vandalism. “We need to pay heed to the anger and frustration that are being felt by many in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, but also to say, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that ‘violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness’ and in the words of Mohandas Gandhi, ‘an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.’ Enflamed rhetoric leads to enflamed buildings.”
He then pointed to another, personal experience of fire. “On two evenings in the past week, I have been privileged to gather with survivors and Elders around a bonfire. That has been a very different and life-giving experience for all of us, as we lay down wood together, sit around a fire, listen deeply, especially to the experiences of pain, and build relationships on the path to healing and reconciliation. May those, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are experiencing a great deal of anger and frustration at the present time, find places of respectful dialogue, attentive to the hurt, but open to life-giving ways forward.”
Bolen emphasized the importance of listening. “As we launch this campaign, I think we need to be reminded that all efforts to address the broken relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church need to begin by listening to Indigenous people – Elders and Knowledge Keepers, Survivors, Chiefs, youth, and whole communities.”
He noted: “Chief Cadmus Delorme has commented how Indigenous and church people of today have inherited the present situation. I quote, ‘Nobody today created residential schools. Nobody today created the Indian Act. Nobody today created the 60’s scoop. We all inherited this.’ It’s helpful for us to hear that. But it is for us to rise to the occasion to be instruments of healing and reconciliation.”
The archbishop also pointed to the “opportunity of the present moment,” saying: “As a diverse church with many languages, cultures and experiences, let us find a common voice to say to survivors and their communities, we want to listen to you, to hear you; we want to do our part in the long journey of overcoming this legacy of suffering; we want to work with the Calls to Action as a blueprint for restoring right relationship between peoples; we want this Appeal to help us take steps on the long walk from truth to reconciliation.”
The archbishop’s comments echo other previous statements and apologies by the Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan.
Following recent announcements about the discovery of unmarked graves on former residential schools, including at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Catholic bishops had previously sent a message to Indigenous leaders, committing to “walk in solidarity with you, and to stand by you.” (Letter of June 24). “We are here to listen to you as you communicate those ways we can walk with you in addressing the Calls to Action, rebuilding relations, addressing issues of justice, and working towards a more just society.”
In that June 24 message to Indigenous leaders, the Saskatchewan bishops stated: “We offer our condolences but we know that this is not enough and our words must move to concrete action.”
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