The Christian Reformed Church had a witnessing presence at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Victoria, British Columbia, this past April.
CRC members from across Canada at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. (Back row, l-r): Sam Cooper, Joshua deGroot, Steve van de Hoef, Ella Land, Bruce Adema, Steve Kabetu, Melissa VanDyke, and Janessa Grypma; (Front row, l-r): Tal James, Jenny deGroot, Yvonne Schenk, Michele Visser-Wikkerink, Shannon Perez, Elna Siebring , and Jean deBeer
The CRC contingent gathered with close to 1,000 others to hear stories about the impact of residential schools on indigenous Canadians.
There were stories of pain, abuse, alienation, and abandonment as well as of resilience and strength. The stories, told before three commissioners appointed by the Canadian government, were the real life residential school experiences of First Nations peoples.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established in June 2008 for the purpose of “revealing the complete story of Canada’s residential school system and leading the way to respect through reconciliation.”
Residential schools for Aboriginal children were operated by the Canadian government in partnership with Christian churches from the 1870s, with the last school closing in the 1990s. Over 150,000 First Nation, Metis, and Inuit children were sent to these schools.
A number of the CRC folk attending the hearings represented CRC ministries. Others attended out of personal desire connecting to their roles in their churches and communities.
Melissa Van Dyk is a member of First CRC of Vancouver. “I believe it’s incredibly important to be aware of the injustice that exists in our community and has affected our community,” she said. Van Dyk, who works for a ministry in one of Vancouver’s toughest areas, added, “I felt like this was something that would help me understand our neighbors and be able to see from a new perspective where they might be coming from.”
Steve Kabetu, formerly serving in Race Relations ministry for the CRC and more recently Canadian director of Christian Reformed World Missions, attended a previous hearing across the country in Halifax. “I am hoping that CRC folks engage this issue as an invitation to come alongside other churches and Canadians, and see it as a real opportunity of learning and engagement, as it pertains to a journey of healing, justice, and reconciliation with our indigenous communities.”
Van Dyk acknowledged the deep pain in the stories. “I came away with a broken and enlarged heart . . . a longing for reconciliation, a renewed desire for justice, and a sense of responsibility to do something.”
TRC events will continue for the next two years in different regions of Canada.