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Canadian Church Wants to Deal With Cultural Loss of Indians and Sexual Abuse in Boarding Schools

United Church of Christ in Canada WANTS To Deal With The Cultural Loss Issue. Can Missionaries working with the Akha people listen and learn, before it is too late?

United Church says cultural loss issues must be on the table in negotiations with Ottawa.

TORONTO, July 6, 2001

In a statement released today, The United Church of Canada has said it believes that the negotiations with Ottawa around residential schools must not be limited to claims of physical and sexual abuse.

While it's still early in the negotiations, the United Church says that it will insist that the matter of cultural loss be dealt with before any agreement can be reached with the government.

"Sitting at the table is a first step but the challenge we face is coming to an agreement on the terms of reference that will guide these negotiations," comments the Reverend David Iverson, chair of the United Church's Residential Schools Steering Committee.

The United Church has repeatedly argued that it believes claims of cultural loss must be considered when dealing with matters related to residential schools. The church's own position has been to apologize for all manner of harm that was done as a result of the United Church's involvement in the residential school system, explains Iverson.

"Individual claimants are only one group of people who were affected by this policy of assimilation," says Iverson. "Entire communities and generations of family members have borne years of pain and suffering that must be addressed in any agreement we come to with the Government of Canada."

"The United Church is entering into these conversations with the Government of Canada with the clear purpose of trying to achieve a fair and timely reparation for harm done to individuals and communities resulting from the legacy of residential schools," says Iverson.

He adds that not only does the United Church want to ensure that any agreement is in keeping with its long-term commitment to reconciliation and healing with Canada's First Nations peoples, but also that these talks keep the interests of the survivors of residential schools first and foremost in mind.

"We are not negotiating with the Government in order to abdicate responsibility or to avoid financial hardship," says Iverson. "We hope that with these conversations we will be able to find the path to not only resolving the dilemma of costly and time-consuming litigation, but also seeking a just resolution to all claims regarding the legacy of residential schools."

That is why Iverson is concerned when he reads that Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray says he must "protect taxpayer's interests" in reaching any agreement with the churches. Iverson says that comments like this not only smack of political opportunism but also fail to acknowledge that Ottawa has an obligation to challenge each and every taxpayer to recognise that we all bear responsibility for this horrific chapter in Canadian history.

"Church organizations were active participants in a misguided, historic government policy of cultural and racial assimilation," says Iverson. "But assimilation was supported and endorsed by the Canadian public."

That is why, he says, reconciliation with Canada's First Nations peoples, including financial compensation for the legacy of residential schools, is a collective responsibility that all Canadians must share.

The United Church also believes that the negotiations with the Government should include consideration of a two-tract approach for dealing with issues related to residential schools. The first tract would focus primarily on litigation involving physical and sexual abuse. These matters would be resolved using some form of alternative dispute resolution process. A second tract would deal with other matters, like cultural loss issues, that require a major policy and programme response involving all parties.

"The ministry of reconciliation is part of our calling as a church," says Iverson. "It is rooted in our biblical heritage and is especially central as we seek new ways of being in relationship with First Nations people."

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