After an afternoon of moving testimony by survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools on June 2 at meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Director Alan Hayes offered a blank notebook as an expression of reconciliation on behalf of the Toronto School of Theology and its member colleges.
“Higher education was part of the Indian residential school system,” he said. “We trained the teachers there. We trained the church leaders and the leaders of government who made decisions about Indian residential schools. We trained media people and opinion makers who justified Indian residential schools. We wrote and published books that looked very authoritative but were full of misinformation and prejudice. We gave clever but totally mistaken reasons for policies of cultural assimilation.”
"There is hope today," Hayes states, "because hundreds of Indigenous professors and thousands of Indigenous students are part of our universities and colleges, which no longer teach simply European learning but also Native studies and Indigenous law, education, medicine, social work, languages, and history."
But he said he was sorry that for many years schools of theology forgot that, "Jesus was not an agent of foreign imperialism, like my people. He was a victim of foreign imperialism, like your people.”
With Commissioners Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, Hayes deposited the blank journal into the Commission’s bentwood box. He said that it was “a symbol of our changing hearts,” offering the message “that we need First Nations people more and more to bring their wisdom and their stories into higher education, to correct our misunderstanding and to expand our horizons.”
Several universities, including Dalhousie and Manitoba, have offered expressions of reconciliation at meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as have churches and governments. The Toronto School of Theology is the first school of theology to offer such an expression.