Gordie Lagore, Jun 18, 2024, 5:36 PM
Gordie Lagore Pastor (West region)

"I hate white people now."

I'll never forget our 11-year-old son uttering those words as we walked out of a movie theatre together in Bedford, England in 1990. We had just finished watching the newly released movie, Dances With Wolves, and our son was searching for an appropriate response while I wept profusely.

That moment marked the beginning of a journey that brought us back to our home country of Canada in 1991 with a clear mandate for reconciliation. Our son's comment underscored our need for reconciliation, not only with Indigenous peoples, but with ourselves.

Back in Canada, we learned for the first time about Canada's residential school system and the attempted assimilation and cultural genocide of First Nations people; that generations of Indigenous children were systematically removed and separated from their families, forced to deny their culture and language and subjected to inhumane circumstances, including frequent physical and sexual abuse. Many never came home. I was 35 years of age and devastated to learn that there were two such schools in operation within 30 minutes of where I grew up in northern Alberta. Above all, I was devastated that much of this occurred in the name of the Christian God.

By divine providence, right when we were discovering all this, Kathleen met and formed a friendship with Ceene (Frances) Carlick while attending classes at UBC. Ceene was a residential school survivor, who along with her sister and brother, were forced to attend the Lower Post residential school, one of B.C.'s most notorious residential schools that had caused so much devastation to First Nations communities. As a follower of Jesus, Ceene was on her own journey of healing and reconciliation. To this end, she, along with her brother Walter, the Chief, and her mother, Lorna, an elder, invited us as a church to come to Lower Post in 1995.

"If you're coming to help us, you're wasting your time."

Our first visit was one of the most moving weeks of my life. As Lila Watson, (Indigenous Australian) wrote, "If you're coming to help us, you're wasting your time, but, if you believe your healing is bound up with ours, come, let us work together." We went in this posture which has shaped our 30-year journey with Lower Post. We went for reconciliation, constantly mindful of our own need of healing. We also wanted to listen more than we spoke, and without fail, we always received far more than we could have ever given.

Inspired by the concept of "identificational repentance,"  2. Identificational Repentance (247 prayer).pdf , we determined to go in a spirit of apology on behalf of the Christian church for the harms done to the community.


On that first visit, we built a cooperative playground together and at the end of our time, presented it with a ceremonial apology to the community with elders and leaders present. I was quite naïve and had no idea what kind of impact this would have on the hearers, many of whom were still in trauma and had never heard a non-native person, particularly a Christian leader, speak this way. I was shocked by how triggering this was for some, as they ran away, screaming in pain as I named the sin of the church's complicity in the creation of residential schools and our deep grief over this. This was an education for me on how much work still needed to be done. Many tears flowed, not least because the community was in the wake of yet another tragedy that had just occurred in a litany of tragedies. But, there was also joy that week. As one young person told me years later, "Our community was always so full of joy every time you came." We had "moose head roast feasts", baseball at midnight (July in the north), kids' games and activities, and bonfires with lots of stories, music, and laughter. One of the children at that time, Harlan Schilling, is the current chief of Lower Post.


Staying Faithfully Present

Grand Chief Lynda Prince, who surprised us with a visit one year, shared a vision she had of a Bible covered with papers. The papers represented all the broken treaties with Indigenous people and they explained why Indigenous people have such a difficult time with trust. As such, we felt that even if it wasn't as "sexy" as overseas missions to other countries, our most important missions commitment was to stay faithfully present to the people of Lower Post as servants and partners. We have sought to do so, staying connected to the community in prayer, primarily through Ceene, along with other members of our church who have moved to live in the community through the years. This partnership has had many ebbs and flows. Some years, we have been taken "on the land," or on the Liard River for hunting and fishing and other cultural excursions. We have been escorted to remote cultural camps on the site of ancient villages that were originally wiped out by the smallpox epidemic. We have listened for hours to stories by the elders and have sought to do the hard work of "de-colonizing" as we repeatedly heard accounts of how much the Creator was already at work in their communities before the Europeans arrived. We have listened to stories of the devastation of residential school on their lives and families, but also we heard stories of courage, resilience and faith. Many of the older generation have experienced healing, and now, they mentor children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren still impacted by the legacy of residential school. As Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said on the CBC National, "Non-natives have five-year plans; Indigenous people plan for seven generations."

While much of the journey has been quiet, ordinary, and seemingly uneventful, there have also been dramatic landmarks. The Lower Post residential school was Catholic-run and one of the highlights of our journey was being able to send Ceene to Rome in 2022 to hear in person the Pope's historic apology on behalf of the Catholic Church followed by his visit to Canada. Ceene is now frequently being invited by schools, colleges, and churches to share this story in the context of her own story. Thank you again Vineyard Canada for helping us send Ceene to Rome!

Residential School Burning and New Indigenous Cultural Centre

Now, a new landmark is before us. For all the years that we visited Lower Post, the band office was actually housed in the former residential school. Can you imagine for years, elders and residential school survivors having to go into the very building where so much abuse and suffering had been inflicted on them? Walter Carlick's dream as chief was that this band office be burned to the ground, and in its place, a beautiful new community centre could be built. This dream came to fruition in 2021 under the current chief, Harlan Schilling, when the federal and provincial governments committed financially to this project in partnership with the Liard (Lower Post) First Nation. In a nationally televised event in 2021, there was a ceremonial burning of the former residential school/band office. Vancouver Eastside Vineyard sent Ceene to attend and witness this emotional event in person, as a survivor of this school.

Since that time, a beautiful new cultural centre has now been constructed right on the site of the old residential school, and the project is now complete. There will be a nationally televised dedication this coming National Indigenous Day, Friday, June 21. We are thrilled to be able to again send Ceene to bear witness to this event. This is another important step in the healing journey and such an important symbol of the courage, resilience, and recovered hope in Lower Post and First Nations people.

To commemorate this, we would like to send a gift to the community on behalf of Vancouver Eastside Vineyard and invite any of our Vineyard churches in Canada to participate if you would like to. Churches and individuals can do so by donating at our VEV website, designating the gift "Lower Post Gift" in the comments section. Ceene will be in Lower Post, July 18-29 and will offer a full report after she has returned. Please be praying for this momentous event, and for our ongoing journey of healing and reconciliation.
by Gordie Lagore of Vancouver Eastside Vineyard