LITTLE CURRENT – Parishioners attending Sunday service on September 26 at Little Current United Church were met with a variety of styles of “Every Child Matters” orange shirts festooning the front doors of the church and leading into the sanctuary.
This display, arranged by the minister, Rev. Whitney Bruno, set the scene for a portion of the Sunday worship service which involved taking the next step in making a permanent memorial, representative of the dozens of pairs of children’s shoes that had been placed on the church’s front steps last spring as the community responded to the original findings of unmarked children’s burial sites at a Kamloops, B.C. Indian Residential School.
This initial discovery, through the use of ground-penetrating radar technology, has been used at several other former residential school sites, all in Western Canada, and more graves have been located. Close to Manitoulin, First Nations leadership plans to use the same technology to search the grounds of the former boys’ and girls’ residential schools at Spanish on the North Shore.
The United Church of Canada was the first national church to publicly recognize the hurt and community damage the Indian residential school program has had on Canada’s Indigenous population. This was done at the General Conference of the national church, held in Sudbury in 1986. This was the first apology by any Canadian institution and a cairn high on the Laurention University campus property acknowledges this apology.
This same theme imbued much of Sunday’s church service but the culminating feature was the formal dedication of a “shadow box” that will bear permanent testimony in the church to the children’s shoes that (as of Sunday service) still greet parishioners on their way into church and that have borne testimony to the Every Child Matters theme through spring, summer and early fall weather conditions.
“All summer,” Rev. Bruno began the dedication of the display (which will contain a token pair of children’s moccasins, an orange Every Child Matters T-shirt and representative photos from this year’s events), “we have kept shoes on our sidewalk and church steps to remember the children who went to residential schools and never came home. We have learned of the generational harm residential school inflicted.”
“We have struggled with our pasts, wept in the present and sought after a future,” the minister continued, but stressed that, “the journey is not over.”
“We are moving the shoes before the snow falls and installing an indoor, permanent display,” she continued, saying that this was in the interests “of our commitment to educating ourselves, educating our community, educating those who use our fellowship space and educating our children and those who come after us.”
“This is not an end; not a wrap-it-up-and-pat-ourselves-on-the-back,” Rev. Bruno stressed. “This is turning the next page of the same chapter, the chapter of reconciliation and witnessing truth. This is the chapter of deeply listening to the stories the Indigenous people have been saying all along.”
“This is the sacred chapter of working on reconciliation,” she reiterated.
The congregation joined Rev. Bruno’s call to work towards reconciliation, to work at confession and repentance on the church’s and the government’s roles (in residential schools,) to work at forgiveness and healing on the Indigenous people’s part and to work on amends on the church’s and the government’s roles. She called for a covenant, a promise, a full commitment “to never repeat the sin.”
“The chapter is nowhere close to over,” Rev. Bruno concluded in the dedication of the memorial. “We are in the middle of it.”
Following the service, everyone in the congregation present for this service willingly gathered on the front steps of the church for a photograph with the newly-dedicated memorial display, by way of expressing their support for Rev. Bruno’s call for action for a covenant “never to repeat the sin.”
Orange “Every Child Matters” shirts and masks had been purchased by the church for anyone who wanted one to wear and were available for whatever people could afford, or simply to wear in solidarity. Funds from the contributions for this apparel are in turn being contributed to a fund that will help finance ground penetrating radar planned at the grounds of the former boys and girls Indian residential schools at Spanish which will be searched for unmarked children’s graves there.