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A Message from the Moderator

This post may be traumatic for residential school and intergenerational survivors. If you are feeling pain or distress because of your residential school experiences, please know that you can call the free 24-hour crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. You can also call the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310. It’s toll-free and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, June 24, an announcement was made about the 751 undocumented and unmarked graves at the former Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan, on the territory of the Cowessess First Nation. As part of observing the four days of ceremony for mourning of the peoples of the Cowessess First Nation, the Moderator originally posted the message below on his Facebook page on Friday, June 25, the evening of the second day.

There is an old hymn that I remember my mother singing, “Oh come and mourn with me awhile.” It talks about taking time to gather with others and grieve a terrible loss. It has been in my ears and my heart for the past few weeks.

As I sat last Thursday morning, listening to Knowledge Keeper Elder Florence Sparvier and Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation share with the world the confirmation of 751 unmarked graves on the land of the former Roman Catholic residential school on their territory, I knew that I would be asked to make statements, and let people know what The United Church of Canada is doing in response to what may be found on or near the properties of the former residential schools that the United Church operated.

I want you to know that we are actively working on that, following the principles of right relationship identified by United Church residential school Survivors, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Information about specifics will be shared in the coming days and weeks.

But…the hymn I mentioned has been in my ears, especially in the times I opened and sat with the bundle that the Moderator of The United Church of Canada was given to carry. The bundle has been a source of strength for me during this time as Moderator, even as my settler self has tried to understand the responsibility that has been given, as well.

As I talked with him about this post, the Rev. Murray Pruden, Executive Minister, Indigenous Ministries and Justice, asked me if I could share what the bundle was saying to me, right now. The medicines in that bundle have been speaking of so many things. The tobacco and the sweetgrass, the cedar and the sage, are reminding me of the need for ceremony, and how important traditional ways are for grieving, for healing, and for strength. The eagle feather is challenging me to be a witness to this time of truth. The Bible in the bundle fell open to the words of Isaiah 11:6-9, with the prophet saying, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them….”

As the song and the medicines touch me, as their scents fill my head and my soul, I believe they are inviting me to stop trying to *do* for a time, something that many of us who are of settler descent find very difficult. I believe they are calling me to remember who this time is really about–the children whose bodies are in the unmarked graves, and the grief of every Indigenous person across this land, because every Indigenous community, every Indigenous person has been changed by the legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

I have been given to understand that the peoples of the Cowessess have a tradition of four days of ceremony for mourning. As I post this, it is the evening of the second day.

Chief Delorme asked Canada to “stand by us as we heal and we get stronger.”

There is going to come a time, very soon—a time that will need careful listening, careful action, and careful walking together with all of the Indigenous communities and peoples of this land. I believe this will be a time that will call for challenge and for change, person-to-person, community-to-community, nation-to-nation. We need to be together in a good way in this journey.

I believe that part of being together in a good way, right now, is to stop—to stand by the Cowessess community, and all Indigenous communities, in their mourning and prayer. To quietly mourn and pray, whoever we are, wherever we are.

So, for this moment, that is what I will do. I will continue to pray for the children who were ripped away from their families and communities, and never came home. I will pray for the Survivors. I will pray for the families and communities, the children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who are grieving today.

(See the Moderator’s Facebook post for a prayer shared by the Most Rev. Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Archbishop in the Anglican Church of Canada for the “Remembering the Children” church leaders gatherings that took place before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)

[Photo credit: © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor]