Good Afternoon, survivors, families of survivors, Elders, Commissioners, honoured guests. My name is David Sutherland. I am the Moderator of the 139th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I serve as a minister at St. Andrew’s, a congregation in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, in the traditional lands of the Beothuck and Mi’kmaq.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations.
I am deeply honoured to be here with you. I have been moved in ways I cannot describe at what I have heard and seen as you recount your experiences in residential schools.
The theme for this national event is wisdom. It is the Spirit who teaches us wisdom. None of us holds the final word. The Spirit speaks through many. We need to listen to each other with humility and respect if we are to do things wisely.
It was the presumption of wisdom that led to the creation of the residential school system. It was the also the presumption of wisdom that led The Presbyterian Church in Canada to participate in this system. We acted as if we had the last word on wisdom. We did not listen to the Spirit crying through the pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters, your sons and daughters, your mothers and fathers.
What we thought was well intentioned wisdom was blinded by a racist worldview that European colonialism imposed on many cultures. There was no wisdom in believing we were superior to the culture and spirituality of Aboriginal people.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Confession states:
We acknowledge that the roots of the harm we have done are found in the attitudes and values of western European colonialism, and the assumption that what was not yet moulded in our image was to be discovered and exploited.
It was presumed on our part that the wisdom we possessed justified taking Aboriginal children from their homes and their communities to put them in residential schools for the expressed purpose of assimilation. The presumption of wisdom led to harm being done to so many – of you and your family members and we are ashamed to have participated in causing that harm.
For this we ask for forgiveness from God and forgiveness from Aboriginal people.
The church was not guided by wisdom. Our actions were rooted in arrogance and a sense of superiority that did harm, rather than good… great and lasting harm.
Wisdom acknowledges the gifts of others and presumes equality in a relationship. Without humility, wisdom becomes confused. Without respect, assumed wisdom becomes a source of evil.
The journey in acknowledging the harm done to Aboriginal children in residential schools has been and continues to be a challenging one for The Presbyterian Church in Canada. At times, this journey has been painful and caused division in the church.
But there is a sense of liberation, borne out of a commitment to seek repentance and forgiveness in order to reconcile. This is an exciting journey because The Presbyterian Church in Canada is being given so many opportunities to learn about Aboriginal culture and to work with Aboriginal organizations and individuals across this land. For this we are deeply grateful.
We believe that wisdom is a gift from God. May God grant The Presbyterian Church in Canada the wisdom to fully appreciate the gifts of Aboriginal people and the strength to continue walking with Aboriginal people to find healing and wholeness together as people of faith.
We thank you for teaching us to listen and to learn. In order to chart a new course for Canada, we know we must learn about and understand the full dimension of the residential school system.
As part of our commitment to this journey of learning about the impact of the residential school system, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has produced a study guide on residential schools for use in our denomination. There is a version for adults and one for children and youth. These study guides are entitled “Resources for a Journey to Healing.” They are our educational response to the 20th Anniversary of The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Confession. We offer these study guides as an expression of our commitment to restoring right relations. Thank you.
—the Rev. Dr. David Sutherland, Moderator of the 139th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada