It was the Anglican Church of Canada’s largest residential school, subjecting more than 9,000 First Nations children to spiritual, physical and emotional abuse in a program of forced assimilation.
St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island was open between 1929-75. In 2015, representatives of the church were present to publicly apologize during the demolition of the school. In late March of this year, leaders of the ‘Namgis First Nation met with church leaders to, as the church described, “get to know one another in a spirit of truth-telling, healing and reconciliation.”
That meeting in Alert Bay is just the start of a long, complex process, ‘Namgis Chief Debra Hanuse told The Gazette this week.
“Our conversation with the church that day was about reconciliation is,” said Chief Hanuse. “One of the objectives of that evening was to see if we are on the same page.”
Are they on the same page?
“I think that’s part of the evolving conversation,” said the chief.
Bishop Logan McMenamie, along with 18 members of the Diocese of British Columbia’s governing body, met with the chief and council for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings (March 24-25) in Alert Bay.
The church said through a news release its Diocean Council met March 25 to discuss what concrete steps the diocese will take to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 Calls to Action. The church said these commitments will be outlined in a document called Bishop’s Calls to Action and will guide the diocese in its efforts towards restitution, healing and right-relations with First Peoples. The meetings were part of what the church is calling its self-declared “year of reconciliation.”
Chief Hanuse did not speak to The Gazette about details from the meetings. She said reconciliation is a complex process that has different contexts for both individuals and legal matters.
“I will say the meetings went very well,” said the chief. “The church reached out to us and wants to talk about reconciliation.”
The March 24-25 meetings took place just days before Logan McMenamie, the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia set out on a six-day walk, beginning on Sunday, March 26 from Port McNeill and ending on Friday, March 31 in Sooke. Initiated with a 480 km walk from Port McNeill to Victoria in 2016, the so-called Sacred Journey saw the bishop continue, on behalf of the Diocese of British Columbia, to apologize to First Nations on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and Kingcome Inlet, for the harms the church has perpetrated against them since its colonial forebears arrived on these islands in 1885, and to ask permission to enter their traditional territories and stay, in a new relationship, said a news release from the church.
The church said the bishop hopes that the Sacred Journey, which has been documented in a film called “One Step” produced by the Diocese of British Columbia, will open doors between First Nations and the church, and create opportunities for new relationships, built on mutual respect, kindness and friendship to be developed over time.
“We did not ask permission to enter these lands the first time we came. We are now asking permission of the First Peoples, to enter their traditional lands and to stay here, as neighbours and friends,” said McMenamie.
Chief Hanuse also provided The Gazette with two documents, available below, that the chief said “explain in greater detail the notion/concept of political denial of Aboriginal rights, which underlies the notion of political reconciliation.”
They are Conspiracy of Legislation: The Suppression of Indian Rights in Canada, by Chief Joe Mathias and Gary R. Yabsley, and the speaking notes of Loise Mandall, QC, during a First Nations Leadership Council meeting in 2008.
• The ‘Namgis First Nation will choose a new chief through an election on May 12. Chief Hanuse, just finishing her first term (three years), said she will not be running for re-election.