6 August 2023 – Memorializing the Apology (30 Years Later)


Readings: Joshua 1:1-9; John 16:7-9

Theological reflection

Joshua was the successor to Moses and his task was to lead the people into the Promised Land after their exile in Egypt. In the wilderness the people of God learned to trust in the One who saved them. Joshua reminded the Israelites the Lord would be with them wherever they go.

In the Gospel, we are reminded that we are not alone in our struggles in life. Jesus fulfilled His promise and sent the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who brings us to light, life and deeper faith. We bear these themes in mind as we memorialize the Primate’s apology for the Residential Schools System.

Pre-Amble to Apology

On August 6, 1993, Archbishop and Primate Michael Peers delivered an apology to the Sacred Circle (then called the National Native Convocation) in Minaki, Ontario, for the Anglican Church of Canada’s role in residential schools. The apology came after three days of emotional testimonies from residential school survivors, while a lengthy downpour of rain took place outside at the gathering.

Some described the three days as a time enveloped in darkness—as stories of cultural loss, abuse, and the stripping away of language, spirituality, and heritage dominated the gathering. Yet after the Primate’s apology, clouds parted and sunlight returned. The next day, Indigenous Elder Vi Smith responded on behalf of survivors and Elders at the National Native Convocation, in acknowledgment and acceptance of the Primate’s words.

The Apology:

Brothers and Sisters,

Together here with you I have listened as you have told your stories of the residential schools. I have heard the voices that have spoken of pain and hurt experienced in the schools, and of the scars which endure to this day. I have felt shame and humiliation as I have heard of suffering inflicted by my people, and as I think of the part our church played in that suffering.

I am deeply conscious of the sacredness of the stories that you have told and I hold in the highest honour those who have told them. I have heard with admiration the stories of people and communities who have worked at healing, and I am aware of how much healing is needed. I also know that I am in need of healing, and my own people are in need of healing, and our church is in need of healing. Without that healing, we will continue the same attitudes that have done such damage in the past.

I also know that healing takes a long time, both for people and for communities. I also know that it is God who heals, and that God can begin to heal when we open ourselves, our wounds, our failures and our shame to God. I want to take one step along that path here and now.

I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity. I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I present our apology. I do this at the desire of those in the Church like the National Executive Council, who know some of your stories and have asked me to apologize. I do this in the name of many who do not know these stories. And I do this even though there are those in the church who cannot accept the fact that these things were done in our name.

As soon as I am home, I shall tell all the bishops what I have said, and ask them to co-operate with me and with the National Executive Council in helping this healing at the local level. Some bishops have already begun this work.

I know how often you have heard words which have been empty because they have not been accompanied by actions. I pledge to you my best efforts, and the efforts of our church at the national level, to walk with you along the path of God’s healing.

The work of the Residential Schools Working Group, the video, the commitment and the effort of the Special Assistants to the Primate for this work, the grants available for healing conferences, are some signs of that pledge, and we shall work for others.

This is Friday, the day of Jesus’ suffering and death. It is the anniversary of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima, one of the most terrible injuries ever inflicted by one people on another. But even atomic bombs and Good Friday are not the last word. God raised Jesus from the dead as a sign that life and wholeness are the everlasting and unquenchable purpose of God.

Thank you for listening to me.

+ Michael
Archbishop and Primate


Response to the Primate at the National Native Convocation, delivered by Vi Smith on behalf of the elders and participants Minaki, Ont., Saturday, August 7, 1993

On behalf of this gathering, we acknowledge and accept the apology that the Primate has offered on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was offered from his heart with sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and humility. We receive it in the same manner. We offer praise and thanks to our Creator for his courage.

We know it wasn’t easy. Let us keep him in our hearts and prayers, that God will continue to give him the strength and courage to continue with his tasks.)

After the apology

Today, journey of reconciliation continues—through listening, truth-telling, repentance, and healing with Indigenous peoples, both within and beyond the Church. Reflecting on the 15th anniversary of the apology, Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz acknowledged the progress made since 1993. In 2019, Archbishop Hiltz furthered the commitment with “An Apology for Spiritual Harm” during the gathering of the Church’s national decision-making body, General Synod. General Synod 2019 also passed a motion to memorialize the apology, and August 6 was designated as the day in the Church’s liturgical calendar for Memorializing the Apology, 1993.

In 2022, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s Canadian visit to several Indigenous communities brought further reconciliation. Archbishop Justin offered an apology for the Church of England’s legacy of colonialism and the harm done to Indigenous peoples. An excerpt:

For that terrible crime, sin, evil, of deliberately… building hell and putting children into it, and staffing it—I am more sorry than I could ever, ever begin to express. … I am ashamed. I am horrified. I ask myself where does that come from, that evil? It has nothing, nothing, to do with Christ. — Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (May 1, 2022)