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 The Presbyterian Church in Canada • ISSUE 19, FALL 2021
Indian Residential Schools, Systemic Racism, Unmarked Graves and the Church
 By Justice Ministries
The recent news of more than a thou- sand unmarked graves associated with former Indian Residential School sites has devastated communities across Canada. For many non-Indig- enous people this has been shocking news, but it has only confirmed what Indigenous communities have long said. While people struggle to con- front the grim reality of these schools and their legacy, some of the frequent questions being asked are: “How could the church have done this?” “Are there unmarked graves at PCC- run schools, too?” and “What can we do now to repent and work towards healing the harm we caused?”
The answer to the first two ques- tions is found in our—Canada’s and the church’s—colonial roots. The answer to the third question begins by working to redress and dismantle
the harms of colonialism—a process known as decolonization.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada operated 11 Residential Schools as part of an organized project of colo- nization and assimilation in which the federal government and other church- es also par ticipated. As the graves already found demonstrate, this pro- ject of colonization and assimilation is genocide. As of writing, we do not know if there are unmarked graves at PCC-run schools, though the reality is that it is likely, and we know students died at the 11 schools we ran. There is a video recording discussing this reality at schools-video.
The PCC is committed to uncov- ering the truth of how many chil- dren did not make it home from the schools we ran, but this process must be done in consultation with the communities impacted and in full
accordance with their wishes.
To understand what moved the church to participate in this geno- cide—and how to work to dismantle these destructive structures—it is important to understand the ideology
that shaped the church’s interactions with Indigenous people. That ideol- ogy is systemic racism and exploita- tion growing out of what is common- ly called the Doctrine of Discovery.
The Doctrine of Discovery is a set
of Papal decrees from the late 14th and early 15th centuries proclaiming church support for colonization. The decrees gave explicit permission to several European monarchs to forci- bly take land not occupied by Chris- tians and also included permissions to exploit and abuse non-Christian peoples, granting for example “full and free power, through the Apos- tolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight [and] subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other in- fidels and other enemies of Christ... and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude, and to apply and appropri- ate [their] realms...possessions and goods to this kind to you and your use and your successors” (Pope Nicholas V, Dum Diversas, 1452). This way of thinking was reiterated in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, who “gave” the lands “to the West and
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 The Presbyterian Church in Canada operated 11 Residential Schools:
Ahousaht Residential School in British Columbia
Alberni Residential School in British Columbia
Birtle Residential School in Manitoba
Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, first located in Shoal Lake, Ontario, and relocated to Kenora, Ontario
Crowstand Residential School in Saskatchewan
File Hills Residential School in Saskatchewan
Muscowpetung (later known as “Lakesend”) Residential School in Saskatchewan
Portage la Prairie Residential School in Manitoba Regina Industrial School in Saskatchewan Round Lake Residential School in Saskatchewan Stoney Plain Residential School in Alberta
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Pregnancy & Infant Loss
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Mission & Outreach
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Olive Trees for Hope

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