Canadian Residential Schools: What is the Christian's Response?

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
How far am I responsible for hundred-year-old crimes committed by people not my coreligionists in a place that neither I nor any relative of mine has ever been?

The Canadian Residential Schools are in the news again. The remains of 215 children have been uncovered at a Roman Catholic-run school in Kamloops, British Columbia. So far, as I understand it, no cause of death has been established. So it’s too early to deal out condemnation. But in the current cultural climate, we can see where the discussion will be headed.

Apart from the fact that the Residential Schools operated in Canada, I have no connection whatsoever to them. Like many Canadians, I come from 20th-century immigrant stock. Three of my grandparents were immigrants to Canada, one arriving from the Netherlands in the 1930s, and two from Germany in the 1950s. My Canadian-born grandfather was from an old Nova Scotian family, just about as far away as you could get from the Residential Schools (most of which were in the West).

I want to consider this question biblically, remaining wary of the pitfalls of such things as Critical Race Theory, and also of any reactionism against it.


Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Previous governments of the country I belong to have committed great wrongs, yes. I am not personally guilty of any of the crimes committed, but I ought to feel broken-hearted and even ashamed over them. Their crimes stand as a testament to the sinfulness of man and the degree to which sin has taken hold in my country. Similarly, I am broken-hearted and ashamed over the wrongs my country commits today. That list is long indeed.

Also, where there have been historical wrongs committed, while it is not reasonable to always expect a righting of wrongs, gestures of apology are certainly appropriate, and, where possible, we can perhaps hope to see something more substantial (such as commitments to restore traditional languages, or funding to develop infrastructure).


Any help thinking through this would be much appreciated.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think the government of Canada has apologized repeatedly for the terrible treatment of the natives at the residential schools.

The difference between the progressive religion and the true religion is that in the progressive religion there is no forgiveness, only a continual asking for penance. We need to totally reject this line of thinking.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
First of all, the US had a similar school system, though I don't believe the schools were run by churches. The US schools were still operating in the 1960s when my dad began his ministry among the Navajo people, and his first posting was to provide religious instruction to children in one of those government schools. He quickly came to believe that the very existence of the school was wrong and that Navajo families were being pressured into essentially giving up their children to the government. So, my family has felt the burden of our own nation's history, though, like you, we were not personally complicit. The wrong had already been done once we arrived on the scene.

Along with reaping benefits of his new country, an immigrant does take on that county's debts. If the nation has a monetary debt, the immigrant does not get to say, "I wasn't here for that spending, so I shouldn't have to contribute taxes to pay down that debt." (Don't we wish we could say that!) In the same way, I don't think there's anything wrong with personally acknowledging that one's country has done wrong and with bearing some of the cost for that even if one is not personally responsible. Sometimes, costly projects to make up for past wrongs are appropriate and are helpful to the people who were wronged, or to their descendants, so that some sort of restitution is possible.

But... sometimes (not all the time) such projects simply are not helpful. Too much time has passed, and restitution that is meaningful and truly beneficial is no longer possible. Instead, you get guilt-induced spending that largely just feeds an oppressor/victim mentality and never seems to be enough to fully right the wrong (because it can't ever be enough—only Jesus can do that). Izaak is right that today's progressive solution is merely continual penance and contrition-signaling, which does not satisfy because it falls woefully short of being biblical repentance and forgiveness.

There's no simple answer. We need to recognize the pitfalls on both sides. We absolutely ought to truly mourn with those who mourn, and we should be willing to participate in restitution where it is actually helpful and meaningful. But we also need to recognize when it is time to stop being nagged by guilt, and when our efforts to help are actually hurting. Seeing the difference takes much wisdom and seldom is easy.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
First of all, the US had a similar school system, though I don't believe the schools were run by churches. The US schools were still operating in the 1960s when my dad began his ministry among the Navajo people, and his first posting was to provide religious instruction to children in one of those government schools. He quickly came to believe that the very existence of the school was wrong and that Navajo families were being pressured into essentially giving up their children to the government. So, my family has felt the burden of our own nation's history, though, like you, we were not personally complicit. The wrong had already been done once we arrived on the scene.

Along with reaping benefits of his new country, an immigrant does take on that county's debts. If the nation has a monetary debt, the immigrant does not get to say, "I wasn't here for that spending, so I shouldn't have to contribute taxes to pay down that debt." (Don't we wish we could say that!) In the same way, I don't think there's anything wrong with personally acknowledging that one's country has done wrong and with bearing some of the cost for that even if one is not personally responsible. Sometimes, costly projects to make up for past wrongs are appropriate and are helpful to the people who were wronged, or to their descendants, so that some sort of restitution is possible.

But... sometimes (not all the time) such projects simply are not helpful. Too much time has passed, and restitution that is meaningful and truly beneficial is no longer possible. Instead, you get guilt-induced spending that largely just feeds an oppressor/victim mentality and never seems to be enough to fully right the wrong (because it can't ever be enough—only Jesus can do that). Izaak is right that today's progressive solution is merely continual penance and contrition-signaling, which does not satisfy because it falls woefully short of being biblical repentance and forgiveness.

There's no simple answer. We need to recognize the pitfalls on both sides. We absolutely ought to truly mourn with those who mourn, and we should be willing to participate in restitution where it is actually helpful and meaningful. But we also need to recognize when it is time to stop being nagged by guilt, and when our efforts to help are actually hurting. Seeing the difference takes much wisdom and seldom is easy.
This is very crucial.

For example: southwestern Ontario is home to many "Indian Reserves", i.e. tracts of land specifically set aside for natives. Those with "native status" have many advantages - including subsidies on things like gasoline, education, and monthly welfare checks. The result: those reserves are home to rampant familial troubles, suicide, drug use, alcoholism, depression, crime, and so forth. The constant penance performed by our government has helped to create a dysfunctional, dependant subculture.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Not really different than the attempts to hold innocents liable for the historic peculiar institutions of the American South.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
It's a trend the world over that catholic residential schools are places of extreme abuse and depravity. Any reckoning that does not hold the Roman Catholic Church accountable is a rather poor one. The accounts of abuse at a catholic orphanage and school in the New England were one of the most upsetting things I've ever read. And that church has shown no impetus at all to right the wrongs or prevent further abuse.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for the replies. I've been thinking some more about this.

It is misguided and immoral to assign blame to an innocent party, and in fact adds to the problem. The individuals who perpetrated the abuses of the Canadian residential schools are no longer around, but there are institutions surviving today that bear responsibility. The Canadian government, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican church ought to be the ones stepping up to correct the wrongs. That's not what I see happening. Instead, we get virtue-signalling from politicians. From the Roman Catholic Church, silence.

If blame is laid at the feet of white Canadians (which is what always happens in these situations), there is no move towards the righting of wrongs or even learning from them.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
When I enrolled in my Roman Catholic private school, we were being taught of the shameful legacy of the Residential Schools.
I'm curious how specific they were about their culpability. The Roman Church is often willing to admit abuse by clergy when faced with irrefutable evidence, without admitting that those at the highest levels, including the Pope himself, have covered up rapes and murders. The current Pope for example covered up the serial violation of deaf children at a residential school in rural Argentina while a bishop in Buenos Aires, and his conduct with McCarrick is now quite famous. I don't know what role the higher-ups played in allowing abuse in Canada, but it's almost certainly more than they've disclosed to either the media or parishioners.
 
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Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
When I enrolled in my Roman Catholic private school, we were being taught of the shameful legacy of the Residential Schools.
Interesting.

Here's an article from 2018. Mr. Bergoglio declined PM Trudeau's request to apologize for the residential schools.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I'm curious how specific they were about their culpability. The Roman Church is often willing to admit abuse by clergy when faced with irrefutable evidence, without admitting that those at the highest levels, including the Pope himself, have covered up rapes and murders. The current Pope for example covered up the serial violation of deaf children at a residential school in rural Argentina while a bishop in Buenos Aires, and his conduct with McCarrick is now quite famous. I don't know what roll the higher-ups played in allowing abuse in Canada, but it's almost certainly more than they've disclosed to either the media or parishioners.
Yes. I would expect something of an apology from the pope that banged the social justice drum louder than any pope in history.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
Check the bloodlines and hold those (and their institutions) in power responsible, not a land with borders. Folks who want the payment and the perpetual divides are the ones responsible for fanning the flames. They are designing a society where borders give way to the perpetual sins of man and a great fix by the enlightened class. If nations are the perp, they need to be cleansed and even disolved. Thats at the heart of such curriculum.


"Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest."

We can identify and empathize with wrongs and atrocity, but Who is leading us in our guilt and redemption.... man or God?
 
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Boreal

Puritan Board Freshman
It’s frustrating when unbelievers lump all Christians together with the Canadian Roman Catholic Church of yesteryear.
 
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