PAM: In 2009, I was invited to a dinner in Curve Lake and
that triggered a memory in me… of when I was in about
grade 5 or 6 and my Sunday school teachers planned a mission Sunday. I remembered [a display] about sending teachers and nurses to residential schools. I became incensed. I
was absolutely inflamed with anger that my church taught
me to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children
of the world,” [but] would send kids [away] and divide them
from their parents.
What really put me over the top was that we have taken
their spirituality away from them… and then we didn’t let
them spend Christmas with their parents. I just thought that
was so unlike everything my church was trying to teach me.
I was angry at the church. When I heard about the Apology it
made me proud again of the church. Now they were at least
trying to make some amends.
LAWRENCE: What the Apology means to me is unification. The Apology unified the First Nations and The United
Church of Canada so much more. When I was asked to step
in as the reverend for the Lax Kw’alaams band, when two
Elders approached me and asked me if I would like to open
the church on Sundays, that’s how I started. They told me the
background of the residential schools issue and what I was
What does the Apology mean to you?
ALBERTA: We were at General Council Executive [in
March 1985] and we were the first Native people ever to be
[there]. People were looking at us like, “who let you in the
door; where did you come from?” The night before we were to
speak, Stan [McKay] and Thelma [Davis] and I got together to
have a conversation about what we were going to talk about.
There was a [lot] that the United Church had promised to do
for the Native people, [but they hadn’t] done anything. I said,
“I think I’m going to ask the church to apologize.” Thelma
said, “Why?” I looked at Stan and he was kind of smiling.
He said, “If you think that’s what you have to do, go ahead.”
For me, it meant I understood what my grandfather told me
when I was a little girl. He said, “God has a purpose for you
but we don’t know what it is yet… and I realized that was
my purpose: to do this. We were already spiritual people, we
did not have to be Christianised. We had spirituality and the
connection with the Creator and the land, so personally it
was important because the church had done a lot of criminal
things to our people, especially in residential school.
BOB: I had been part of the United Church all my life as
the son and grandson of United Church ministers and so as a
little boy, I knew about the wonderful work the church was
doing in places like God’s Lake Narrows [and] Bella Coola. I
have to say that [the Apology] changed my life, in particular
because I had no idea what we were doing. And the thing
that I remember most was at the end of the Apology there
was weeping and silence. And the silence was broken by Art
Solomon who said, “Now what in the hell are they going to
do about it?” The rest of my active ministry and my whole
life has been what Art challenged me and the church to do.
Alberta Billy told the United Church that
it owed First Nations people an apology.
The Very Rev. Bob Smith is the Moderator
who delivered it. Pam Hart is a lay person
active in right relations work in the Bay of
Quinte Conference, and the Rev. Lawrence
Sankey is co-chair of the church’s Aboriginal
Alberta Billy and Bob Smith at the plaque
commemorating the Apology in Sudbury, Ontario.