Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Presbyterian Church set to apologize to residential school survivors

Presbyterian Church set to apologize to residential school survivors
Published on June 7th, 2010

Erin Pottie SYDNEY — Membertou Chief Terry Paul welcomed a general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada on Monday and today delegates will offer prayers and an apology to survivors of their native residential schools.
Topics : Presbyterian Church , Cape Breton University , Sullivan Field House , Shubenacadie , Sydney , Membertou The Mi’kmaq leader, who attended a Roman Catholic residential school in Shubenacadie, N.S., said recognizing a wrong was committed helps victims heal.

The Presbyterian national apology is expected to take place at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Cape Breton University’s Sullivan Field House in Sydney.

“They asked me if it would be good to give an apology in general to all our people, and I said of course that would be good,” said Paul. “It helps people to forgive, certainly, when the other side apologizes.”

The First Nations leader delivered greetings during the Presbyterian Church’s kitchen party in Membertou on Monday.

Paul attributes a great deal of his own healing to having travelled to Rome last year and hearing apologies offered by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pontiff apologized to Aboriginal Peoples who were physically and sexually abused at church-run boarding schools.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 native children were forced to attend government-funded Christian schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. At the time, it was believed that aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing world.

The Canadian government now admits that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools.

“It helped me forgive what had happened to me,” said Paul of the Catholic apology.

Paul spent four of his elementary school years at the now torn-down Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

“As I remember, it was very, very difficult and mostly, I guess, mentally, although there was physical abuse,” said Paul. “I just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t speak our language. I know every time I spoke it I got punished.”

As a five and six year old, Paul said he often wondered “why you have to be away from home” and “why are people able to do this to you.”

The Presbyterian Church has said it will express regret for cultural and physical harm done to school children at the hands of clergy dating back to the 1950s.

While the Mi’kmaq are mostly members of the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church was responsible for running residential schools in Ontario and Western Canada.

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