June 2nd

FROM: Michael Pahl, Executive Minister

TO: Congregations of Mennonite Church Manitoba

DATE: June 2, 2021

Our hearts were broken this week as we heard news of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School on the territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. If we have been listening to Indigenous elders, we were not surprised by this discovery. Elders have been telling us that more children died at residential schools than had been documented. We may not be surprised, then, but we do sorrow and grieve, bearing witness to the deeper sorrow and more bitter grief of Indigenous peoples across Canada.

Although no residential schools were run by precursors to Mennonite Church Manitoba, Mennonites in Manitoba have been complicit in the residential school program. The Conference of Mennonites in Canada’s Mennonite Pioneer Mission and Board of Missions recommended teachers to residential schools and ran two private day schools in Manitoba (in Pauingassi and Bloodvein). While these private day schools grew out of requests from the Indigenous communities in which they were formed, and they sought to work within the customs and traditions of these Indigenous communities, they were still often colonizing in orientation, they had federal government oversight, and they were supported by federal government funds within the national residential school program. Eventually, these schools came fully under federal government control. Of course, these direct involvements do not even begin to touch on the many ways Mennonites in Manitoba have benefited indirectly from federal and provincial programs which have oppressed and dispossessed Indigenous peoples.

We have much work to do to address the harms committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada, often in the name of Jesus, including by us as Mennonites. There is practical work that can and must be done to bring about a genuine justice that can form the basis for true reconciliation. There is deep repentance of personal and systemic racism which needs to form the foundation for this pursuit of justice and reconciliation. In this moment, though, we pause to lament, to mourn, to sorrow and grieve the murder of 215 children, each one known and loved by their Creator.

To that end, I commend to you the statement circulated by our Mennonite Church Canada colleagues, including its calls to action, as well as the prayer of lament written by Dorothy Fontaine, MCM Director of Mission, with her husband Vince (Sagkeeng First Nation).

Michael Pahl
Executive Minister
Mennonite Church Manitoba

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Prayer for the Children of Kamloops Residential School

Creator, we pray for the little ones who were forcibly taken from their communities, homes, and families to live in the Kamloops Indian Residential School. In the quietness of our hearts, we think of the 215 children, some as young as three years old, who lost their lives and were buried in a mass, unmarked grave, unbeknownst by those who loved them.

In the last moments of their lives, they faced death without their mother or father, without their siblings, grandparents, aunties, uncles, or friends. Some of the survivors who lived there say that along with the pervasive sense of loneliness they felt in the absence of their families, they also endured abuse, trauma, hunger, shame, and fear.   

To heap this onto the shoulders of children is a defilement of the darkest kind. Perhaps, in this moment, it is simply enough to acknowledge this to ourselves and to you. In the days ahead, however, we must rigorously pursue an understanding of the powers and principalities, be they systemic or internal, which can lead us to such dark places, so that we can renounce them and give them over to you.

Loving Creator, we also pray for the children’s families and the other survivors who have wondered, for many years, about the fate of their schoolmates and loved ones. In this time of discovery and truth, may their prayers be answered and their voices heard. May their sacred fires burn strong, and may they be comforted and strengthened by your presence and fierce love.    

God our Creator, we pray for the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc people. For the leaders and elders who are searching through death records, working with the coroner’s service, and preparing to make contact with the children’s families and home communities. Bring them strength, grant them wisdom, provide them with all of the resources they need so that they can conclude their 20-year quest for truth and finally bring their children home.

We also pray for residential school survivors across Canada, particularly those whose trauma has resurfaced in recent days. While many have testified about missing children, unmarked graves, and even murder, some held hope that those who were missing simply got away or moved to a different place. The discovery of this mass grave casts a pall over that hope. Many are facing the grim reality that the missing students likely died. We pray for them as they grieve once again. 

Reconciling God, we pray for healing, knowing that our actions or inactions will play a critical part. We pray for reconciliation, knowing that an invitation and pathway forward has already been extended through the 94 Calls to Action of the TRC. Today we search our hearts and ask if we have responded faithfully to these calls.

Instill in us your love, so that we can rightly love others. So that our prayers become something more than empty words, clanging gongs and broken promises. May our journey towards reconciliation bear fruit and establish peace, equality, and justice in this land. Amen.

Written by Dorothy and Vince (Sagkeeng First Nation) Fontaine.

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