The following is based on the testimony of Bishop Michael Hawkins at the Truth and Reconciliation commission hearings in Prince Albert and Pelican Narrows. Our three Bishops, Greg, David and Michael, as well as many of our clergy and laity, have been attending these hearings throughout the province.
Kika-kiskeyihtenawaw maka tapwewin, mina tapwewin kika-tipeyimisohikonowaw. St. John 8.32
My name is Michael Hawkins and I am the bishop Saskatchewan serving Anglicans in the Northern half of our province. I acknowledge with you today the one true God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and that I am in Treaty VI Territory, in the area covered by the Prince Albert Grand Council, and I want to acknowledge those Nations, their Chiefs and Councillors, the Commissioners, our Elders and Workers but above all else those who went through Residential Schools and those who have been affected by their legacy. I have been extremely impressed by the reverence shown here for the stories, pain and experiences that have been shared.
In my time serving in Saskatchewan I have learned something of the breadth of the Residential Schools experience. It is a complex and multi faceted story with distinct individual experiences and stories which all need to be heard and respected. I have learned something of the depth of this experience, the suffering that so many have directly and indirectly endured and endure from the system and what so many have suffered at the hands of individuals in that system.
It is an honour for me to listen and a particular honour to speak here today. All I really want to do is to “tap back”, to try in some flawed way to communicate that I can hear you. I hear you and your pain and I say that as a Bishop, as a Christian, as a Canadian and as a member of this community. My hearing the truth here in these hearings, as difficult as it is, is liberating. Truth-telling and truth-hearing will bring us freedom. The truth will set you free, Jesus said.
The Diocese of Saskatchewan was involved in administering Government Schools in Onion Lake, La Ronge and Prince Albert and many of our people, especially from James Smith attended School at Gordon’s.
I want today by my words and presence to extend to you the apology first given by our Primate in 1993, to acknowledge and apologize for the hurt and pain, shame and humiliation you have suffered and for the part the Church has played in your suffering as a people and individually.
It is God alone who can heal us and heal our relationship and we in this diocese are committed to that healing journey together. Many who have been hurt and betrayed by the Church continue to find healing and strength within the Church and we need to acknowledge and take into account the deep and unshakeable Christian faith of so many of our people. There is a spiritual renewal going on in much of the North of Canada, you see it many congregations and communities, in new leadership and confidence as well as in the growing popularity of spiritual traditions and ceremonies. How these two relate in our day and for our people is being thought about anew.
In this Diocese that renewal is partly expressed by the term Mamuwe Isi Miywachimowin, Together in the Gospel, which is our common commitment as indigenous and non indigenous peoples to walk together as equals. It was in this Diocese that the first aboriginal bishop, Charles Arthurson was consecrated.
I have heard here recurring themes of Land, Language and Identity as well as heart breaking accounts of abuse. Land, Language and Identity, there is so much in our history as a Church that we need to air and repent of in these terms, the ways in which we have suppressed these, but there is also much to celebrate and reclaim. Today I want to mention one man, Archdeacon John Mackay, a man of mixed ancestry from Moosonee. Mackay, a Métis man, was fluent in English and Cree. Mackay translated the Prayer Book and Hymns into the Cree of Saskatchewan and his translations are still sung across the North. Mackay was also involved in treaty work, translating and encouraging Chiefs to sign the Treaty. He worked hard to convince La Ronge and Montreal Lake to sign and gave the Chiefs these prophetic words, “Someday all this land will be taken, the fish and the moose will disappear and you will be destitute.”
I want to conclude with two observations
- The issue of education, a safe, sensitive, good education for First Nations is still an issue before us. In this place and in this context I want to raise the issue of the treaty right to education and how well that treaty obligation is fulfilled when we have what appears to be second class funding for First Nations students on reserve.
- These are hearings, and I want to say that my faith is that even when we don’t hear, God hears. This was the word God gave by Moses to an oppressed people who were abused and discouraged and losing hope, “ I have surely seen the affliction of my people, I have heard their cry, I know their sufferings.”
May we all know the God who hears and saves, who is just and merciful.
He heals those that are broken in heart and binds up their wounds.