History reveals that colonial governments had little or no regard for the rights and values of indigenous peoples. This was reflected in Canada by a long history of government policies aimed at assimilation of First Nations. Under the guise of “solving the Indian problem”, government laws attempted to eradicate the spirituality and cultures that had sustained indigenous peoples of this land over thousands of years.
As infectious diseases decimated populations of First Nations, their freedoms were replaced by dependence on government handouts on reserves, often on less than desirable pieces of land. They became wards of the governments, and their children were forcibly removed to residential schools, often great distances away. Children were punished for speaking their own languages, discouraged from associating with family members, and often abused in appalling ways. In their desire to proselytize, churches were accomplices with governments in the destruction of meaningful life of First Peoples. Four Christian churches administered and aided assimilation in these schools over 140 years from the 1850s to 1996, when the last residential school closed.
Starting in the 1980s, in their attempts at reconciliation, Canadian churches began to offer apologies to First Nations and to look for ways to live out those apologies. As a part of these actions, Aboriginal Neighbours was founded by an act of the Anglican Synod of British Columbia, welcoming Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members. The group has grown to include the Victoria Presbytery of the United Church of Canada and the Vancouver Island Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). We are not a closed group and welcome people who share a desire to build relationships and trust between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
Apologies will be fulfilled only when Aboriginal people are treated equally, in every sense of the word.