This past weekend, the Archbishop of Canterbury was at James Smith Cree Nation and in Prince Albert to apologize for the atrocities committed by the Anglican Church against Indigenous people and to hear their stories.
“I remember what you did to me. I remember when I first came to the school. I remember you cutting my hair. My mother made those braids,” said Teresa Hockett, a residential school survivor.
“I feel ashamed of what the church colluded in. I feel horrified. I feel a profound sense of grief for the people who shared and the many who were not here to share,” said Rev. Justin Welby.
However, as the Archbishop acknowledged, the words can never undo the actions that have scarred Indigenous culture for decades.
“To me the apologies don’t carry much weight. I think some of the things we’ve been looking for are some concrete action and so the apologies are just words and we’ve had a long list of apologies over the last number of years,” said Lori Campbell, the associate vice-president of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina.
The responses to the apology have been mixed and emotional. Campbell was quick to recognize that the reaction will be different for each individual.
“For any survivor, having the organization or individuals who perpetuated the abuse take accountability for that or acknowledge that it happened is a piece of assisting in the healing,” said Campbell.
“We’ve all been impacted by residential schools in different ways. Where we are on our healing path determines how we are going to react to the apology,” said Kerry Benjoe, the managing editor at Eagle Feather News who is a residential school survivor herself.
For Hockett, the nightmare experience is ingrained in her memory.
“I heard the click of the key and the vice principal comes in and he puts his hand over your mouth and he molests any girls that he pleases.”
Some advice she received from her father has helped her healing process.
“You’re going to have to start healing, you’re going to have to start forgiving, you’re going to have to start trusting, and most of all you’ve got to love yourself,” Hockett recalls.
Actions to help Indigenous people heal are what give the church their best chance at reconciling these horrifying wrongs.
”If the church is sincere they would advocate to help to do something. To close those gaps that exist so that Indigenous people can experience the same Canada that every other Canadian experiences,” suggested Benjoe.
And the Archbishop echoed her sentiment.
”The survivors have got to be in charge. They’ve got to take the lead on this and we’ve got to listen to them and do things collaboratively,” said Welby.
The reconciliation is not just for victims but for youth and the future of Indigenous people. Campbell says she was filled with hope after recently attending an Indigenous youth conference in northern Saskatchewan.
“I remember an aunty that I heard was taken away or aunty that just came back and we didn’t know where she was,” was one of the many staggering comments Campbell heard at the conference.
“They are curious and asking about these questions and they need answers and they need opportunity to bring everyone back in the circle,” said Campbell.