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Will Archbishop of Canterbury’s residential school apology include any of Church of England’s $13B in assets?

The Archbishop of Canterbury says his apology for the “terrible crime” the Anglican Church allowed at residential schools will be followed by action — but it’s unclear whether that will include any of the Church of England’s estimated assets of $13 billion Cdn.

“I don’t run it. I can’t just go home and write a cheque,” Rev. Justin Welby told reporters Saturday after hearing emotional stories from survivors at the James Smith Cree Nation, located 200 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. Welby is the religious leader of the Church of England, but its head is the British monarch.

Saturday afternoon, Welby apologized for the church allowing and turning a blind eye to “hell” for so many Indigenous children for more than a century. He promised to take action.

“I am sorry. I am more sorry than I can say. I am ashamed. I am horrified,” he said.

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Welby to hear from more survivors Sunday

Welby is expected to spend Sunday in Prince Albert, Sask. saying mass and then hearing from more survivors before an event in Toronto Monday.

This week, Saskatoon Cree lawyer and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission general counsel Donald Worme said his research with the commission indicated total assets of the Church of England to be at least $13 billion Cdn. That includes more than 42,000 hectares of real estate in Great Britain alone, much of it in the highest-priced districts of London.

The Anglican Church of Canada paid out $15 million in compensation under a 2006 agreement to settle billions in lawsuits, but then got a refund of $2.8 million after the Roman Catholic Church negotiated a side deal, altering the formula. The Anglican Church of Canada said it invested the refund into Indigenous ministry programs. 

will archbishop of canterburys residential school apology include any of church of englands 13b in assets
Welby speaks to a crowd of residential school survivors at James Smith Cree Nation Saturday, telling them he is sorry and ashamed. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Worme and survivors say the compensation may have been legal, but it was paltry and wrong, considering the devastation imposed on 150,000 survivors and their descendants. The Anglican Church ran roughly three dozen residential schools in Canada and more than 150 Indian day schools.

Welby called the compensation a “significant contribution” because the Canadian branch of the Church is not rich.

Welby said Worme’s $13-billion estimate is “not entirely accurate,” but then admitted the amount of wealth controlled by the Church’s commissioners is “around that.”

Hopes to take action in coming months

Welby said much of it is tied up in pension funds, legal requirements and roughly 15,000 trust accounts “which also makes life a bit difficult.”

He said they hope to take action in the coming months on commemoration and other educational issues, but talk of any compensation “is going to take longer because the legal complications are indescribable.”

Welby also said survivors in Canada are not the only consideration: he noted the Anglican Church and other religious institutions have harmed Indigenous communities in the Caribbean, Australia and elsewhere.

WATCH | Anglican Church leader apologizes for church’s role in permitting residential school abuses: 

He said there are also 3.6 million families in the United Kingdom that get food assistance from churches.

Welby said he’d like to work with survivors before deciding on any further action.

“Surely, we can learn to work with people and not do things to them,” he said.

A ‘cultural genocide’

When asked for a timeline on his action plan, Welby said the COVID-19 pandemic has taught him not to set deadlines. But he said he hopes to have something regarding general education and recognition by August. 

Welby agreed with the TRC’s characterization of the school system as a “cultural genocide.”

“I can understand why many survivors would feel in may ways that this was an actual genocide,” he said.

will archbishop of canterburys residential school apology include any of church of englands 13b in assets 1
Third-generation residential school survivor Rhonda Sanderson says she accepts the apology she witnessed Saturday from Welby, but she’s hoping it will lead to concrete action. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Survivor Tom Roberts said the apology was moving, but he intends to hold Welby to his promise of action. For Roberts, that must include financial help for healing centres and other supports. And he said it must happen immediately because the number of survivors is rapidly dwindling.

Third-generation residential school survivor Rhonda Sanderson says she accepts the apology she witnessed Saturday from Welby, but she’s also heard one broken promise after another from all the churches and government.

“Today was a monumental day. To hear those words, it had a huge impact on me,” she said. “Put your words into action. Don’t just say it and not do anything. That would be frustrating.”

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports. A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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