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Response to Discovery of Remains of 215 Children

June 2, 2021

Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Matthew 19:14

June is known as Indigenous History Month across Canada, and the reality of that history has come into stark focus with the uncovering of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of the residential school near Kamloops, B.C. on the lands of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. For residential school survivors and their families this announcement is not a surprise, but it is another reminder of the trauma and horror of the schools. The outpouring of tears and grief; of ceremonies, sorrow and lament; and of symbolic actions are reminders that these lives that were discarded with anonymity, were Children of the Creator - loved daughters and sons taken from their families and communities.

In its report and Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed that at least 6,000 students died while in the care of the church-run residential schools. The TRC also made it clear that there were more undocumented deaths, and that further research is needed to document the full scope of the deaths of children at the schools (see Calls to Action 71-76 for details). For this reason the announcement of these 215 unmarked graves should not be a surprise. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation was able to do this sacred work with the support of a grant from the BC Pathway to Healing Program. Federal government or church funding was not involved.

Indigenous families and communities live with the reality of intergenerational trauma caused by the schools as a daily legacy. The high media visibility of the uncovering of these unmarked graves brings this legacy to light - yet again - for non-Indigenous people in Canada. It is also clear that more revelations of unmarked graves will come from other residential school sites (see Volume 4 of the TRC report for more details). In an era of reconciliation these precious 215 children should not be a brief emotional blip in the news cycle. Each one was a precious child and an image bearer of God. As the church - children of the reconciling Christ - tears of sorrow, prayer, and action are critical for the integrity of our reconciliation efforts.

After the close of the TRC in 2015, the Christian Reformed Church in North America made a commitment to support the implementation of some critical TRC Calls to Action: in a response to #48 we affirmed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation, and through the work of the Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee (CIMC) we resolved to address the legacy of spiritual violence through #59 and #60. The sacred lives of these 215 children were taken in the course of a long-running act of spiritual violence - what the TRC has termed cultural genocide.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has asked all people in Canada to “acquaint themselves” with the TRC Calls to Action and final report(s). CRC ministries, through our Justice and Reconciliation team, will continue the long journey of reconciliation in commitments to the Calls to Action. As we mark this important national moment, in Indigenous History month, and just in advance of National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21) we encourage congregations and members to join us in prayer and action as one of many needed steps on the journey of justice and reconciliation. This is prayer and work for today, tomorrow and must continue in faithfulness for what the TRC called a long-term journey. (See below for resources for prayer and action.)

Together, in memory of the children and in the hope of the reconciling Christ,

Bert Adema
Executive Director, Indigenous Christian Fellowship
Treaty 4 Territory and traditional homeland of the Metis
Regina, Saskatchewan

Kevin DeRaaf
Acting Canada Director /Director of North America Regional Teams, Resonate Global Mission
Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit covered by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant
Burlington, Ontario

Mike Hogeterp,
Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue
Unceded Algonquin Territory
Ottawa, Ontario

Ida Kaastra Mutoigo
Director, World Renew Canada
Traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant
Hamilton, Ontario

Shannon Perez
Justice and Reconciliation Mobilizer, Incoming Director of Indigenous Family Centre
Treaty One Territory and Homeland of the Metis Nation
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Darren Roorda 
Canadian ministries Director, CRCNA 
Traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Ojibway/Chippewa and Haudenosaunee peoples. Territory covered by the Upper Canada Treaties
Beamsville, Ontario

Harold Roscher
Chaplain & Director, Edmonton Native Healing Centre
Treaty 6 territory and traditional homeland of the Nêhiyawak (Cree), Anishinaabe (Saulteaux), Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, Dene, and Nakota Sioux. 
Edmonton, Alberta

Ron Vanden Brink
Director of Diaconal Ministries Canada
Traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant
Hamilton, Ontario

Colin P. Watson Sr
Executive director, CRCNA
Traditional territories of the Peoples of the Three Fires: Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi
Grand Rapids, Michigan


Resources for Prayer and Action

Here is a short list of next steps that you and/or your congregation could take as a means of responding to this situation:

  • Join us in prayer by using this video or this text in your services this month. During personal and communal prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to convict and equip you for action.
  • Read the Statement from the Office of the Chief, Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation (Kamloops Indian Band).
  • Attend a vigil in your local community. Leave your prayers with a teddy bear or shoes at a memorial site where others have gathered to remember the children. After attending, find one more faithful step to take.
  • Educate yourself on some of the CRCNA’s involvement in Indigenous justice. Find a network article here and visit the Indigenous Ministry website here.
  • As the TRC has reminded us, this horror in Kamloops is not an isolated incident. Take the time to learn about residential school histories in your community and region. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and encourage others to do the same. Encourage your leaders to implement the Calls to Action, and especially #71-76. Explore the Beyond 94 website to view the progress tracking of the Calls to Action.
  • Attend or host a Kairos Blanket Exercise.  See this Network post for more information or  Contact [email protected]  and we can connect you with facilitators
  • Join a Hearts Exchanged Cohort. Cohorts being held in each classis in Canada, starting in Fall 2021. It is an eight month learning and action journey designed to equip Reformed Christians to engage with Indigenous people as neighbours and fellow image bearers.
  • Journey through the Inconvenient Indian Book Club, guided by four videos. Each session’s video will feature a guest speaker touching on some of the key themes of the book, settler-Indigenous relations in North America, and our shared Christian faith. Each session includes discussion questions to prompt further thought and meaningful dialogue. Find other Indigenous justice book recommendations for adults here and kids here.
  • In an effort to honour and protect Indigenous self-determination, ask your Senator to pass Bill C-15, for the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the laws of Canada. Given the possibility of an election this fall, it is urgent that this legislation for Indigenous rights pass this month! Here is the Action Alert produced by the Centre of Public Dialogue.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of resources of prayer and action. Please contact the Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee ([email protected]) or the Centre for Public Dialogue ([email protected]) for any further information or questions.