On May 27, 2021, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the Kamloops (Tk’emlups) Residential School in British Columbia. This devastating discovery confirms the oral histories of elders and survivors and has resurfaced grief and trauma across Canada.
Under the residential school system, seven generations of Indigenous children were removed from their families and communities and confined in government-sponsored religious schools designed to educate the “Indian” out of them. The purpose of the schools was to eliminate all aspects of Indigenous culture and language by assimilating Indigenous children into a completely new and westernized way of life. In addition to experiencing physical, sexual, spiritual, and emotional abuse and inhumane living conditions, it’s estimated that thousands of children who attended these schools between 1831 and 1996 never returned home. At least five generations of Indigenous people continue to feel the impacts of intergenerational trauma.
At Sanctuary, our hearts are with the Secwépemc people, Indian Residential School Survivors, their families and communities, and all Indigenous people affected by this tragedy and Canada’s history of colonial violence and the residential school system. We see you, we hear you, and we are grieving alongside you.
As an organization which promotes mental health and wellbeing, we recognize that historic and ongoing systemic racism have impacted the mental health of Indigenous peoples, and we condemn and denounce racism, oppression, and genocidal policies in every form. We also celebrate and acknowledge the dignity, worth, and value of all people made in the image of God.
This Indigenous History Month, we are taking time to educate ourselves, advocate for justice, and pray for our Indigenous siblings. If you’d like to join us in this endeavour, you’ll find a series of recommended resources at the end of this post.
We’ve also chosen to make a donation of $100 to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and we encourage you to consider making a donation to this charity or another Indigenous-run charity of your choosing.
We are immensely grateful for the Indigenous people who have chosen to work with us this past year. It’s an honour to share their stories, art, and this poem, written in response to the Kamloops tragedy, by Sanctuary Advisor Dr. Cheryl Bear, Nadleh Whu’ten First Nation.*
To download this film and share it in your church or elsewhere, visit our Vimeo page and click “Download” beneath the video player. We recommend 1080p for the highest quality.
If you have limited time, we recommend that you engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report Summary and Wrongs to Rights as a follow-up guide for churches. 71-76 of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action specifically address missing children and burial information.
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph
The essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussions on generations of Indigenous peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.
An Alternative Starting Place for Indigenous Theology,by Ray Aldred
This thesis is an exploration of the intersection between an Indigenous narrative communal identity and Christian theology. It proposes an alternative starting-place for an Indigenous theology, one that involves embracing Indigenous communal identity, together with its language and understanding of story.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Embers, by Richard Wagamese
In this carefully curated selection of everyday reflections, Richard Wagamese finds lessons in both the mundane and sublime as he muses on the universe, drawing inspiration from working in the bush—sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter—as well as the smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator.
God is Red, by Vine Deloria Jr. (Lakota)
Vine Deloria Jr.’s God Is Red remains the seminal work on Native religious views, asking new questions about our species and our ultimate fate. This classic work reminds us to learn “that we are a part of nature, not a transcendent species with no responsibilities to the natural world.”
Holy Smoke, by Casey Church (Potawatomi)
Church argues that discipleship among Native peoples is best undertaken as a spiritual journey that has at its core biblical instruction and mentoring by individuals and families that model a lifestyle that reflects transformation in Jesus Christ. When accompanied by the ‘contextual’ use of Native rites such as the Sweat Lodge Ceremony, the Pipe Ceremony, and Powwow dancing and singing with the drum, participants who go through these ‘rites of passage’ experience an increased sense of spiritual well-being and self-esteem through this authentic Native expression of their Christian faith. The book illustrates deep reflection and integration of biblical teaching in the preparation and practice of these Native rites, transforming the old embedded meanings of these rites, while retaining their distinctive familiarity for participants.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a commission like no other in Canada. Constituted and created by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which settled the class actions, the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to hear from the Aboriginal people who had been taken from their families as children, forcibly if necessary, and placed for much of their childhoods in residential schools. The summary report contains the discussion, findings and calls to action in the Commission’s final multi-volume report.
Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview, by Randy Woodley
This volume by a Cherokee teacher, former pastor, missiologist, and historian brings Indigenous theology into conversation with Western approaches to history and theology. Written in an accessible, conversational style that incorporates numerous stories and questions, this book exposes the weaknesses of a Western worldview through a personal engagement with Indigenous theology. Randy Woodley critiques the worldview that undergirds the North American church by dismantling assumptions regarding early North American histories and civilizations, offering a comparative analysis of worldviews, and demonstrating a decolonized approach to Christian theology.
Introduction to First Nations Ministry, by Dr. Cheryl Bear
In this groundbreaking study, Cheryl Bear presents an approach to First Nations ministry from the foundations of Indigenous worldview and values. She begins with an overview of First Nations theology, which includes the Native views of Creator, the Holy Spirit, the incarnation, a theology of land, and a theology of missions. Various Native practices, traditional gatherings, and ceremonies are also described.
Nishga, by Jordan Abel
As a Nisga’a writer, Jordan Abel often finds himself in a position where he is asked to explain his relationship to Nisga’a language, Nisga’a community, and Nisga’a cultural knowledge. However, as an intergenerational survivor of residential school—both of his grandparents attended the same residential school—his relationship to his own Indigenous identity is complicated to say the least.
Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, by Kaitlin B. Curtice
Native is about identity, soul-searching, and being on the never-ending journey of finding ourselves and finding God. As both a member of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, Kaitlin Curtice offers a unique perspective on these topics. In this book, she shows how reconnecting with her Native American roots both informs and challenges her Christian faith.
One Church Many Tribes, by Dr. Richard Twiss (Lakota)
Since Columbus landed in the West Indies in 1492, Native American tribes have endured more than five centuries of abuse, hypocrisy, indifference, and bloodshed at the hands of the “Christian” white man. Despite this painful history, a number of Native Americans have found “The Jesus Way” and are proving to be a powerful voice for the Lord around the world. A Rosebud Lakota Sioux, whose bitterness toward whites was washed away by the blood of Christ, Richard Twiss shows that Native American Christians have much to offer the Church. Full of wisdom, humor, and passion, this book examines how the white Church can begin to break down the walls of anger, distrust, and bitterness and move toward reconciliation and revival in our land.
Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, by Dr. Richard Twiss (Lakota)
The gospel of Jesus has not always been good news for Native Americans. The history of North America is marred by atrocities committed against Native peoples. Indigenous cultures were erased in the name of Christianity. As a result, to this day few Native Americans are followers of Jesus. However, despite the far-reaching effects of colonialism, some Natives have forged culturally authentic ways to follow the way of Jesus. In his final work, Richard Twiss provides a contextualized Indigenous expression of the Christian faith among the Native communities of North America.
The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King
The Inconvenient Indian distills the insights gleaned from Thomas King’s critical and personal meditation on what it means to be “Indian” in North America, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.
The Reason You Walk, by Wab Kinew
Invoking hope, healing, and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and for a wider conversation about the future of Aboriginal peoples.
Unsettling Truths, by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah
In this prophetic blend of history, theology, and cultural commentary, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah reveal the far-reaching, damaging effects of the “Doctrine of Discovery.” In the fifteenth century, official church edicts gave Christian explorers the right to claim territories they “discovered.” This was institutionalized as an implicit national framework that justifies American triumphalism, white supremacy, and ongoing injustices. The result is that the dominant culture idealizes a history of discovery, opportunity, expansion, and equality, while minority communities have been traumatized by colonization, slavery, segregation, and dehumanization. Healing begins when deeply entrenched beliefs are unsettled. Charles and Rah aim to recover a common memory and shared understanding of where we have been and where we are going. As other nations have instituted truth and reconciliation commissions, so do the authors call our nation and churches to a truth-telling that will expose past injustices and open the door to conciliation and true community.
Wrongs to Rights: How Churches Can Engage the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, edited by Steve Heinrichs
Over 40 authors (including KAIROS) from diverse backgrounds—Indigenous and Settler, Christian and Traditional—wrestle with the meaning of the “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” for the Church.
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.
Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese
A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion. Wagamese’s writing soars and his insight and compassion are matched by his gift of communicating these to the reader.
Fatty Legs: A True Story, by Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Liz Amini-Holmes
The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.
I Am Not A Number, by Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer, and Gillian Newland
Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.
Shi-shi-etko, by Nicola Campbell (Ages 4-8)
Shi-shi-etko is a young girl who has four days before she leaves home for residential school. Her family has many teachings to share with her, about her culture and the land.
The Honour Drum: Sharing the Beauty of Canada’s Indigenous People with Children, Families and Classrooms, by Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en) and Tim Huff
This vibrant book is an important starting place for learning and insight that is vital and, for many people of all ages, overdue. The Honour Drum is a love letter to the Indigenous people of Canada and a humble bow to Indigenous cultures around the world. Parent and teacher discussion guide pages are included.
13 Indigenous Podcasts to Listen to
Kung Jaadee, Indigenous Storyteller in Residence at Vancouver Public Library, shares this list of top podcasts by Indigenous creators keeping the storytelling tradition alive.
Interview with Chief Dr. Robert Joseph
Reconciliation Canada’s Ambassador, Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, delivered a crucial interview outlining the impact of the discovery of the bodies of 215 children at Kamloops residential school.
Truth and Reconciliation Sermon, Mark Buchanan
A B.C. provincial organization with a twenty-year history of providing services to Indian Residential School survivors.
A website on the history of residential schools in Canada and their impact.
Legacy of Hope aims to educate and raise awareness about the history and existing intergenerational impacts of the Residential School System (RSS) and subsequent Sixties Scoop (SS) on Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) survivors, their descendants, and their communities to promote healing and reconciliation.
NAIM – North American Indigenous Ministries
NAIM is a community of believers serving Jesus Christ in a variety of capacities throughout British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan in Western Canada, and Washington State, Montana, and New Mexico in the USA. An increasing number of staff are First Nations believers.
Born from the vision of Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Gwawaenuk Elder, Reconciliation Canada is leading the way in engaging Canadians in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
Resources for reconciliation
An entry point for respectful conversation and writing about Canada’s Indigenous peoples created by UBC’s First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program.
Led by Indigenous Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers with extensive experience facilitating the KAIROS Blanket Exercise (KBE), these (ninety-minute) interactive Zoom-based sessions aim to build positive relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people through truth, sharing, and open dialogue.
NAIITS – A Christian Indigenous Learning Community
NAIITS, is one of the two members of Indigenous Pathways, a non-sectarian organization dedicated to encouraging the Indigenous community to develop and to articulate Indigenous perspectives on theology and practice. They encourage the development and implementation of Indigenous learning styles and world views through encouraging the development of a body of written work that addresses biblical, theological, and ethical issues from within a variety of global Indigenous perspectives. They do so in concert with those of other ethnicities who would speak into this context. NAIITS currently has five degree program partnerships offering MA and PhD programs.
Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education (a six-week massive open online course)
This course at UBC will help you envision how Indigenous histories, perspectives, worldviews, and approaches to learning can be made part of the work we do in classrooms, organizations, communities, and our everyday experiences in ways that are thoughtful and respectful. In this course, reconciliation emphasizes changing institutional structures, practices, and policies, as well as personal and professional ideologies to create environments that are committed to strengthening our relationships with Indigenous peoples.
In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forth ninety-four calls to action addressing a wide range of areas including child welfare, education, health, justice, language, and culture.
“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” is a legally non-binding resolution passed by the United Nations in 2007. It delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural and ceremonial expression, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. It “emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.”
A CBC interactive news report.
A film adaptation of the award winning novel by Richard Wagamese.
The Doctrine of Discovery was the international law that gave license to explorers to claim vacant land (terra nullius) in the name of their sovereign. Vacant land was that which was not populated by Christians. This short talk calls for people of faith to repudiate this doctrine.
This film is one of the responses of the Anglican Church’s Primate’s Commission on discovery, reconciliation, and justice. The purpose of this film is to respond to the calls to action by helping to provide education and insight into the racist foundations of many of our property and other laws still in existence to this day.
A four-part documentary series hosted by Wab Kinew chronicling the 500-year history of Canada’s changing relationship with Indigenous peoples. Here is a curriculum based around the documentary series The Eighth Fire.
Children of God (Musical/Performance)
A musical about an Oji-cree family whose children were sent to residential school. It takes place in two time periods twenty years apart, and examines how the effects of our past are directly related to our future. It is written as a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ never-ending cultural spirit that blends traditional and contemporary, providing a new perspective to this story. The aim is to share in what was lost—the pain and anger that still exists in many families from wounds that will not heal. Hopefully, by acknowledging these stories we can move toward accepting the past.
The FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation of the New Testament that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English, while remaining faithful to the original language of the Bible. The culmination of a rigorous five-year translation process, this new Bible translation is a collaboration between organizations like OneBook and Wycliffe Associates, Indigenous North Americans from over twenty-five different tribes, and a translation council that consisted of twelve Native North American elders, pastors, young adults, and men and women from different tribes and diverse geographic locations. Whether you are Native or not, you will experience the Scriptures in a fresh and new way.
A prayer guide from Healing at the Wounding Place.
This learning and prayer guide from Christian Missionary Alliance Canada has been developed to help raise awareness for the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples in Canada, and to offer the opportunity for intentional prayer as you are guided through the TRC’s Calls to Action and additional, relevant information and resources.
*Sanctuary does not presume to speak on behalf of Indigenous people; with their permission, we share their work and stories, and we reach out to Indigenous people for consultation and pay them for their services.