For many thousands of years, First Nations people have sought to walk gently on this land, their relationship with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality. They offered assistance to the first European travelers to this territory and shared their knowledge for survival in what was at times a harsh climate. We seek a new relationship with the Original Peoples of this land, one based in honour and deep respect.
As a congregation of the United Church of Canada we recognize our historical relationship with First Nations people. We acknowledge that we live and worship on the lands of many Nations of the Coast Salish peoples:
- Peoples who speak Hul’q’umi’num’ languages
- As well as Okanagan and Shuswap peoples
We are uninvited guests on these traditional and unceded territories where we gather and worship and we are grateful for those who have lived here for centuries and for the spirituality that has connected them to this land. We are grateful for their stewardship of this land throughout the ages.
In 1986, at its 31st General Council, The United Church of Canada responded to the request of Indigenous Peoples that it apologize to them for its part in colonization.
The 1986 Apology
Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were
here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of
creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep,
and rich, and to be treasured.
We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell
you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of
We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and
breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.
We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the gospel.
We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to
destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result, you, and
we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred,
and we are not what we are meant by God to be.
We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the Spirit of
Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God’s creation healed.
The Right Rev. Bob Smith
General Council 1986
The United Church of Canada
In 1988, at the 32nd General Council, the Indigenous church acknowledged
the apology, expressing its hope that the church would live into its words.
Mrs. Edith Memnook, a representative of the All Native Circle Conference,
The Apology made to the Native People of Canada by The United Church of Canada in Sudbury in August 1986 has been a very important step forward. It is heartening to see that The United Church of Canada is a forerunner in making this Apology to Native People. The All Native Circle Conference has now acknowledged your Apology. Our people have continued to affirm the teachings of the Native way of life. Our spiritual teachings and values have taught us to uphold the Sacred Fire; to be guardians of Mother Earth, and strive to maintain harmony and peaceful coexistence with all peoples.
We only ask of you to respect our Sacred Fire, the Creation, and to live in peaceful coexistence with us. We recognize the hurts and feelings will continue amongst our people, but through partnership and walking hand in hand, the Indian spirit will eventually heal. Through our love, understanding, and sincerity the brotherhood and sisterhood of unity, strength, and respect can be achieved.
The Native People of The All Native Circle Conference hope and pray that the Apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity. We appreciate the freedom for culture and religious expression. In the new spirit this Apology has created, let us unite our hearts and minds in the wholeness of life that the Great Spirit has given us.
History of the Apology from United Church of Canada
Alberta Billy, a member of the Laichwiltach We Wai kai Nation in British Columbia, helped to shape the course of history of the United Church. In 1981, Billy stood before the leaders of the United Church and asked the church to apologize to the Native peoples of Canada for “what you did to them in residential school” (Troian, 2011). Billy was a lifelong member of the United Church who also represented Aboriginal church members at the Executive General Council.
There have been several apologies made with respect to the atrocious experiences suffered by Aboriginal peoples through their forced attendance at residential schools in Canada. The first apology made by any institution in Canada came from the United Church of Canada in Sudbury, Ontario in 1986. The year 2011 marked the 25th anniversary of this apology. The 1986 General Council, at its meeting held at Laurentian University, formally adopted the apology. The apology was presented to Elders from across the country, many faithful United Church people, who were gathered at a teepee that had been set up in the parking lot near the entrance to the university. The Elders were curious about what the General Council was going to say to them. The Elders present refused to accept the apology; instead, they ‘received’ the apology. This move by the Elders is significant in that to accept the apology would make it a thing of the past, while receiving it meant that further work needed to be done.
Since that moment, the people from the Manitoulin Conference’s Living Into Right Relations (LIRR) Home Group of the United Church have been working on providing ongoing leadership with respect to reconciliation. In 2012, they passed a motion at the General Council asking that all United Churches across Canada acknowledge the Indigenous territories that they serve. This Home Group also publishes “Minutes for Right Relations” similar to the “Minutes for Mission” that are shared with their congregations. The goal of the Home Group is to educate about the history of residential schools and to advocate on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) while encouraging other communities, institutions and governments to move forward in a good way.
The United Church had hoped to lead by example and encourage other churches to follow suit in making amends for their role in the residential school system and the devastating impacts of that system on Aboriginal peoples. On March 28, 2018, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church stated that he could not offer an apology for their role in Canada’s residential schools. This news was very discouraging for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, especially given that the Catholic Church ran almost two-thirds of all the residential schools in Canada. Part of the 94 ‘Calls to Action’ coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an apology from the Catholic Church.
Historical and Contemporary Realities: Movement Towards Reconciliation by Susan Manitowabi licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License