The National day for Truth and Reconciliation, which many call ‘Orange Shirt Day’ is a day that honours the Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools by bearing witness to the healing journey of the survivors and their families.
The Indian residential school system was officially established in Canada in 1892. It was the result of agreements entered into between the Government of Canada and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The government terminated these agreements in 1969. The purpose of these establishments was the evangelization and progressive assimilation of Aboriginal peoples.
Member of the Turtle clan (Mohawk/Kanien’keha:ka Nation) and Sister of St. Anne, Sr. Kateri Mitchell took her name from St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indigenous person from North America named a saint by the Catholic Church. Mitchell, like Tekakwitha, is from a Kanienke’ha (Mohawk) community. Her connection to the Saint has been a lifelong one – her family took trips to the Tekakwitha shrine when she was a child and she was invited to attend the beatification of Tekakwitha in Rome in 1980 where she was presented with a relic, a part of Tekakwitha`s wrist bone.
Sr. Kateri was guest homilist at St. Monica`s Parish on September 24 and 25, a gesture on the part of an English-speaking parish to gain a greater understanding of what intergenerational survivors experienced and to equip the Catholic faithful to stand against all forms of racism. This parish is hoping to walk together with Indigenous peoples on the journey towards healing and reconciliation. Here is what one parish member had this to say about the visit of Sr. Kateri to the parish;
'Sister Kateri Mitchell Retires', photo taken from Indian Time Newspaper, July 22, 2021.
Sister Kateri gave a moving homily that was very personal, as she had a relative who attended one of the residential schools (her great aunt). When her aunt was a little girl, she lost her life in a boating accident at the residential school and her body has still not been located. The family is still struggling to find her and bring her home.
That being said, the most powerful part of the homily was Sister Kateri`s positive outlook. Not ignoring the horrific events of the past, she did not dwell on them. Sister affirmed that we are all children of the Creator, we must learn to walk together in respect and understanding. God wants us to act with justice for all. We know the Spirit will lead us in truth to reconciliation and we will journey forward towards the light. The most important acknowledgement is that we are one.
This message was a source of hope for the Catholic faithful, many of whom are preparing to make similar gestures in their own parish. Three parishes in the diocese are starting circles of sharing with the Listening to Indigenous Voices Dialogue Guide on Justice and Right Relationships. One parish, St. Edward the Confessor, has already begun using the guide and you can hear what they have learned at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PLCoxUSYUU.
Sharon Di Fruscia
Member of Parish Council and Social Justice Committee
St. Monica’s Parish