New leaders advocate for new relationship with Indigenous communities based on respect and truth

By Bryan Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – Reconciliation between Canadian society as a whole and this country’s Indigenous communities is possible two new Indigenous leaders say.

RoseAnne Archibald, the new leader of the Assembly of First Nations, and Mary Simon, Canada’s new Governor General, both say that reconciliation will be at the forefront of their efforts going forward.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says that true reconciliation can only happen if Canada’s provincial and federal governments and the Catholic Church, which helped to operate numerous residential schools on behalf of the federal government, take full responsibility for their roles in the destruction that the residential school system caused to Indigenous communities and culture in the past.

“For many Canadians and for people around the world, these recent recoveries of our children – buried nameless, unmarked, lost and without ceremony are shocking, and unbelievable,” said Archibald, who was elected AFN National Chief at the beginning of July.

“Not for us, we’ve always known,” she said.

“I ask every Canadian to stand with First Nations as we continue this painful but important work,” Archibald said of ongoing efforts across Canada to recover the remains of Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

“I ask that you listen, learn and reflect on the history we share as a country,” she said. “Please continue to call the Prime Minister, your Premier, your MPs and MPPs to demand reparation, justice and action.”

The new Grand Chief said that there must be a true reckoning for what happened in the past. “Crimes have to be investigated and those guilty must be held to account,” Archibald said. “People and media have been referring to them as discoveries. These are not discoveries, these are recoveries. There must be truth before reconciliation. It’s time to find our children and bring them home.”

She added: “As we continue the painful but essential work of locating and identifying our missing little ones, I urge all levels of government to provide the full breadth of resources and support for any First Nation pursuing investigative efforts.”

During a press conference and briefing after her election as AFN National Chief, Archibald, who was awarded a Canada 125 medal for her more than three decades of Indigenous leadership roles which included being the first woman to serve as Ontario Regional Chief for the Chiefs of Ontario, said that as she meets with First Nations leaders across the country she will focus on key issues such as unmarked burial sites at former residential schools, the national action plan on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, climate change and fighting against systemic racism in Canada’s health and justice systems.

Long-time advocate for Inuit rights and culture, Mary Simon was officially sworn-in as Canada’s new Governor-General on July 26 during a ceremony at the Canadian Senate. The new Governor General’s father was English and her mother was Inuk.

“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together,” Simon said on July 26.

“Every day, inside small community halls, school gyms, Royal Canadian Legions, places of worship, and in thousands of community service organizations, there are ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things,” Simon said.

“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” she said. “Reconciliation is getting to know one another.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Simon’s appointment as Governor General comes at an historic time for Canada.

“In this moment of unprecedented change,” Trudeau said, citing recovering from the global COVID pandemic, issues surrounding climate change and what he called “walking forward on the path of reconciliation”, the prime minister said of Simon that “we need your vision of a stronger Canada for everyone.”

While there are still numerous concerns being raised about the role the Catholic Church played in operating residential schools in Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has repeatedly pledged its support towards further reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples and has helped to set up a meeting in the Vatican in December where representatives of Canadian Indigenous communities are expected to formally call upon Pope Francis to officially apologize for the Church’s role in the residential school system.

“The Bishops of Canada are profoundly saddened by the Residential Schools legacy. We are committed to working with Indigenous Peoples and communities towards a greater understanding of the priorities of healing and reconciliation and how to address them together,” the CCCB said in a statement when the Bishops of Saskatchewan announced a new province-wide fundraising campaign to facilitate further healing and reconciliation.

“The work of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is of fundamental importance to our local and national Catholic communities and to all of us as Canadians. By renewing our commitment to work together with them, the Church in Canada pledges solidarity with the Indigenous communities of this land,” the Permanent Council of the CCCB statement said.

“We lift up our prayers to the Lord for the support and healing of Residential School survivors, their communities, and intergenerational wounds still present.”