On May 27th, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, announced the discovery of the mass unmarked grave of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia Canada. Some of the children were as young as three years old. With the knowledge and funding of the Canadian government, residential schools were run by several groups of churches under the auspices of Christianity. In reality, it had very little to do with Christ. The atrocities suffered by these children are unspeakable, no less that of the suffering parents whose children were ripped from their arms never to be seen again.
This is not a unique situation. It's expected that more sites will be found throughout Canada. The needless loss of life is heartbreaking. I mourn with the families who have lost children.
Growing up, the only thing I knew about the Sixties Scoop, or residential schools was that of my neighbour, a kindly widow. Over the years, she had taken in several First Nations high school students. I was much younger, and really didn't know much about them, except that they came down to Southern Ontario from their Northern communities because they didn't have access to schools on the reserves. At the time, I thought it was a great opportunity for both them, to get an education, and for all of us to understand each other better. I really had no idea. While possibly well-intentioned on some level, the affects have been catastrophic.
By all accounts, the European new-comers to North America began efforts to assimilate, educate and proselytize the indigenous First Nations Peoples into their culture from the very beginning. With the Indian Act of 1876, First Nations Peoples, in essence, became wards of the state. From this time until 1996, when the last of the residential schools were closed, generations of children were removed from their parents' custody and placed in government sanctioned schools, run by the church -- in the name of Christ. But make no mistake, it had nothing to do with Jesus. Jesus, by definition is good, he is love. There was no goodness and no love in any of this.
When we look in scripture at the early church, we see a community that grew exponentially as a result of the recognition of their sin and inability to account for it, and the loving sacrifice that they saw in Jesus and then through his disciples. People were loved and cared for in the community. The most vulnerable in society were lifted up. It was overwhelmingly compelling. It was a choice. Commitment and faith can't be forced. Though "God our Saviour, (who) desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth", he would never force anyone to come to him. Salvation is a gift that we can either accept or reject. The Church grew because of who Jesus was -- his character of Love and Goodness.
Sadly, since, an even during the time of the first-century, the Church has often been a poor representation of Christ. Because of actions like these, the name of Jesus appears tarnished for many. But he is good. He is love. We are a poor reflection.
Imagine if the early settlers to Canada would have introduced the actual Jesus. Imagine if they would have loved their neighbours, as themselves. As it was, in the early church, people would have come to Christ in droves. There undoubtedly would have been sacrifice, as in the early church, but Jesus is irresistible, and people would have come. Imagine, if our ancestors would have encouraged the First Nations to worship Jesus in their own language, with their own customs and traditions. What an appealingly, exquisite tapestry our faith would be today.
We can still get there. As Christians, we need to accept our failures, the failures of the Church, corporately as well as individually. I can not imagine how it feels to have a child torn-away from my very arms. I can't imagine how it feels to be taken from my family, from my home, my faith and my traditions. I have a better understanding now of how the past has affected the lives of First Nations Peoples today. Sadly, the family disruption continues today. Though the residential schools have been closed, First Nations children still make up an unequal portion of our foster care system.
True, there are horrifying stories from around the world. Kenya houses the three largest refugee camps in the world, generations of people have never known freedom outside the wire. Syria has been in turmoil for decades. The Uyghur genocide continues in China. The list goes on and on.
For me, this is my country, my God, and I can do something. My heart breaks for all the First Nations families in Canada. It's appalling what was done in the name of Jesus, his heart is broken as well.
To the First Nations People, I am sorry, and apologize for what you have suffered.
Together we can build reconciliation:
Be educated on what exactly has happened.
Read the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
Communicate with my government leaders to take action.
Read books written by the residential school survivors.
Talk to my children and grandchildren about reconciliation.
Be Jesus (goodness and love) in my community and beyond.
Pray for, and take opportunities to express my regret and sorrow with First Nations Peoples.
Let me encourage you to join me in seeking reconciliation with our First Nations,
and Truth in Jesus.