The discovery has sparked, for many, a new awareness of the trauma and horror of the Canadian colonial policy of aggressive assimilation in the early 19th century at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later called Indian Residential Schools. The last such school closed in 1996.
In a message, Indigenous Ministries and Justice at the United Church of Canada reached out to residential school and intergenerational survivors, offering accompaniment and resources.
“Gatherings were held around sacred fires across the country,” the message reads. “Prayers were sung and spoken.”
Across Canada, people rang church bells and tied orange ribbons onto branches and fences. They also laid shoes on the steps of churches and government buildings, lit candles and lowered their flags.
“We understand the desire to do ‘something’ that will make this right,” reads the message. “But we ask you, right now, to come together as people of the United Church and take the first step of mourning and remembering.”
Rt Rev. Dr Richard Bott, moderator, and Rev. Murray Pruden, executive minister, Indigenous Ministries and Justice for the United Church of Canada, published “A Message to People of The United Church of Canada” in response to the many messages of sorrow, concern, and outrage from members of the church.
"We share these feelings,” reads the message. “We have also been asked many questions about the United Church’s intentions regarding burial sites and missing children, about the sharing of our residential schools records, and about our response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca expressed deep grief for the children who died and their families and communities who are left to grieve.
“It is a horror to think of children perishing in this way, and their deaths should not only call us to grief but to urgent action that this will never be allowed to happen in our world again,” said Sauca.
“We are all called to love and protect the children of the world, and to create a world in which their wellbeing is at the centre.”
Sauca also expressed solidarity with churches in Canada who are reaching out to comfort grieving families. “On behalf of the global fellowship, we extend our condolences and our prayers for this terrible tragedy, and may we all work for a future of innocence and justice for all children.”