TRC: A Decade Later (Russ Daye interviews Jamie Scott)
Original Date – September 30, 2021
Shared with Bloor Street U.C. October 3, 2021
In place of the sermon this morning, we have a unique ten year update on the United Church’s work on truth and reconciliation. In the upcoming recording, Russ will introduce his former colleague Jamie Scott and lead us into the interview which he recorded last Thursday.
Russ: For those of you who don’t know Rev. Dr. Jamie Scott, Jamie was the General Council Officer for residential schools in the years leading up to the Indian residential school agreement. And through the TRC he put many years of passion and hard work and his long history with the restorative justice into this work. And we’re really lucky to have him join us. Today, we’re actually recording on the National Holiday for Truth and Reconciliation. And the topic is The TRC: A Decade Later. Jamie, thanks so much for being with us.
Jamie: I appreciate the invitation. And just want to note on this special day that I’m speaking to you from the unceded territory of the Algonquin people, I’m a guest on their traditional territory. That’s outside of Ottawa.
Russ: I’m speaking to you from territory that has been home to [and] stewarded by many First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit.
Our first question is looking back on the whole Indian residential schools agreement process, including the TRC. What stands out most strongly for you at this time?
Jamie: Well, I thought hard about this question. It’s hard to identify just one thing that stands out. Several things came to mind. I was immensely privileged to be part of that whole process, and to have the trust of the church to be its lead staff person and in the process of negotiating the Indian residential school settlement agreement and then living that agreement out. Not only financially, but through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So I feel very privileged. I was aware that I was wearing the hat of a defendant; very often, in my restorative justice work, I’ve been kind of the mediator or the facilitator. But in this case, I was wearing the hat of the defendant, and therefore, had to be committed to the same principles of accountability, truth, telling, reparation. And so, I tried to represent the United Church in that respect, being faithful to the two apologies that we’d offered in 1986, and 1998. But what really stood out for me was, first of all, the huge gap in public awareness of Canadian history, particularly as related to Indigenous people that many, many people through the course of the TRC hearings, said “I never knew any of this, I was never taught any of this in school”. And certainly I learned a lot. Even though I knew something about this history prior to becoming being appointed by the General Council office, I learned a lot. The first thing that stood out was how very invisible this history has been to most non-Indigenous Canadians. And those of us who had grown up here, all of our lives, who were maybe several generations of settlers still had no idea that this was happening. And it didn’t seem to be part of the church’s consciousness either, although clearly there were church records related to our involvement in the schools for all those years. So that’s the first thing that stood out. The second was when I started that work. There was a lot of temptation by many people in different churches, and in society to identify the problem as a few bad apples among the staff. And I think there has been a significant shift from, you know, kind of seeing this as a problem of individual staff to understanding that this was a systemic issue. The residential schools were a product of government policy, church policy, and generally attitudes, and socially, attitudes that were shared by government in church around the worth of Indigenous people and the whole enterprise to assimilate indigenous people. I think it’s been important to have this conversation move away from individual blame to kind of an analysis of the systemic roots of this, but then thirdly, it’s moved even farther than that into a whole critique around organization. It’s moved beyond residential schools and people have come to understand the residential schools were just one vehicle of imposing Eurocentric Christians centric culture on Indigenous people and basically undermining their own identity and history and culture and assigning it no worth. So that has opened up a much broader conversation. And when we hear people talk about these issues, particularly on days like this, we do hear the conversation within that larger context of the impact of colonialism. And not just a few bad apples in the schools.
Russ: If I think about when we started to do that work together, way back in 2007, it’s kind of very rewarding to hear you say that it’s evolved that much since that time, because we were looking at something pretty different. If you think back to that time, from today’s perspective, what theological concepts or Biblical concepts or what kind of theological reflection would you find most rich as we try to come to terms with all this?
Jamie: Well, I wish I could, I’d want to say that that I kind of planted my feet on two things; one was one was the church apologies, which I felt responsible to live out. But the other was a particular passage, in Matthew, chapters 23, and 24, which basically says, so when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, go, first be reconciled with your brother and sister and then come and offer your gift. And I felt that there’s so many elements; that’s such a rich passage in terms of remembering that our neighbour or a brother or sister has something against us, like bringing that back into consciousness, bringing the invisible to become visible, so that you’re aware of it, you know, being proactive and going to the wounded party and making things right with them, whatever that means in terms of reconciliation, and then you come back and offer your gift. What that says to me is our individual and collective spiritual health is dependent on the health of our relationships with one another. Our spiritual health is intertwined with the health of our relationships with others. And I would add to that, and again, I’ve expanded conversation, that our relationship with the earth – with creation, that Indigenous spiritual language, they would maybe talk about coming back into balance, that as our 1986 apology confesses, we were so kind of enamored with our sense of mission, which had a lot to do with sharing the good news, and in fact, became an ethic of domination where we were not just sharing the good news, we’re imposing the good news, and we were imposing it kind of intertwined with euro culture, and Eurocentric kinds of ideas of how to live. And so we came and we impose that as a way of living our mission. And so I think it reminds me that; I’m very uncomfortable using the word mission, I almost hate the word mission, and the church still uses it. And I think in some ways with its impacts on Indigenous people, and the fact that we haven’t really unpacked it and re-embodied it with meaning it’s not good enough just to say, “Oh, we don’t mean what we did years ago in mission,” because the impacts are still ongoing. Stan McKay, our former moderator talks about remission and what he means by that in the context of a cancer diagnosis, one has to work toward health. So it’s not remission in the sense of okay, well just adopt a new mission. It’s remission in going back and recovering health. And it seems to me that the passage that I’m talking about from Matthew, which calls for reconciliation, means making things right with the neighbour but it also means go again. I’ve got an inner journey of going in and recovering health, recovering what Christianity was really all about, recovering what it means to be in balance with one another with the Creator, and with the creation on which we live.
Russ: That’s really rich. So, if you think about what we’ve learned through the TRC and looking at it a decade later, and looking through the lens of your theological reflection and understanding the responsibilities that settler Canadians have, and United Church, as a whole has in relation to our Indigenous neighbors, how are we now? And how are we failing to live up to our responsibilities to them, given all the things we know now?
Jamie: I wasn’t sure how to interpret the question – whether you meant the United Church or Canadians as a whole, so I’m going to address both.
I think the United Church; certainly during the negotiations for the settlement agreement and the implementation of the settlement agreement, including the TRC, I think we strove to fulfill our legal obligations, in the sense that we paid the money that we were obligated to pay, we submitted all of our records according to the agreement to the TRC, and we spent much time and money going through and identifying all the records the church held and conferences and the national office and submitting them. So, questions about whether we did that or not really don’t apply to our church – we did those, I know that. But nevertheless, anybody would know that living up to your legal obligations is not the same as living up to your moral obligations. I would say we made a good start, but we have a long way to go because one of the TRC’s Calls to Action has to do with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and which was adopted by the church and by the government, which is a set of principles which affirm the rights and responsibilities and kind of duties that we would have with Indigenous people and racism, and the attitudes that we’ve had against Indigenous people and others over our history. The kind of the white supremacist supremist courts are, is so endemic that it requires a deep rethinking of how we, who’s involved whose voices are heard, how we make a selection, how we’re represented, all of the kinds of things that need further exploration. So, at that level, I think we have a lot more internal work to do. At the end, having said that, the United Church is clearly committed to this journey. And I was pleased recently that the United Church found $3 million and made a commitment in light of the finding of those burial sites to support the nation’s whose children went to our schools, our 13 schools and to help them do research on the grounds and research in local congregational records and community records, to try to identify where those burial sites might be on this property where we work and who was buried there. And so I think there’s another step that we need to take, and we’ve put some significant commitment into that recently, just this summer. I was pleased to see that with respect to the nation. I think people will hear today, if they are tuned into some of the activities and analysis that’s being offered around the Orange Shirt Day, that, you know, the government deserves some credit for making some small movements forward. There are in fact, over 100 communities that now have clean drinking water that didn’t have it five years ago. There’s still 51 communities that don’t have it and everybody knows how important clean drinking water is. There is some movement around recovery of Indigenous languages, around child welfare and other important pieces of legislation and movement. But the very biggest and most substantive problems that we face in terms of reconciliation are kind of a shift in our attitudes and our policies having to do with land claims. So that has to do with sustainability, and funding to do with self-government and self-determination and have to do with the Indian Act; these things are seen by the government, evidently, as almost too big and too hard and too complicated. And that’s where we need to go, that those are the things that are going to, in the long term, change the relationship from seeing Indigenous people as dependent wards of the state, to being treaty partners, who are self-determining and equal. So it has to do a lot with fundamental respect, and humility that allows us to say, “Hey, we’ve been wrong for a long time”. And a lot of those errors have been ensconced in policy, and practice, and those need to be examined, and those need to be changed.
Russ: That’s fantastic. Jamie, we have been talking about the possibility of discussing the whole redevelopment project at Bloor Street, which involves land, and which involves leaving our site and wandering in the larger culture for a period of time working on our vision and working on our core values. I don’t think we’re going to have time to dive into that this morning. But I’m wondering, I’m just having a feeling (it would) be really neat to have a deeper engagement with you at some point around all of that. So maybe we’ll be knocking on your door again, either via Zoom or to bring it down to Toronto post pandemic sometime and do some real work on framing our adaptive conversation in light of the things that we’ve been learning in this historical reconciliation process.
Jamie: Could I leave one question with you, please? I think the key – and I was told this by an Indigenous person the first day I started work at the United Church – is it’s all about relationship. So, the question I would leave with you is, “In your transformative discussions and process, what about the transformation invites relationship – in your building, in your staffing, in your programming and your self-awareness?” That is always the question: “What (is there) about what we’re doing (that) invites relationship?”.
Russ: Wow, thank you. I’m really happy you didn’t let me not ask you the question. Thanks so much Jamie, it has been fantastic to have you here.