The Atlantic School of Theology takes into account the abuse at the residential schools in Canada in its curriculum. (Photo: Bianca Müller)

Atlantic School of Theology teaches history of abuse at Indian residential schools

Lessons from the residential school abuse in Canada are taken into account.

A professor at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax says the sexual abuse that happened at Indian residential schools in Canada has become an example to educate students being trained to deal with former survivors of abuse.

"More awareness is needed in addressing these issues," Rev. Laurence DeWolfe said in an interview on Thursday.

"This was an example of what happens when an institution becomes more concerned about its own foundation than its purpose to others. It is a human failing," he said.

"Every denomination has a policy regarding training members to deal with sexual abuse allegations," Rev. DeWolfe explained.

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Aboriginal Canadian children were physically and sexually abused by priests and nuns for over a century. (Photo: Collections Canada)

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He emphasized these cases of abuse had more to do with power, not sex, and those who abuse others are "deeply sick."

The residential school settlement was reached in 2005 between former students, the federal government and the various church denominations that ran the institutions. Forced assimilation and rampant abuse had occurred as Aboriginal children were taken from their families and force to live in these schools. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the federal government to Aboriginal people in 2008 before Parliament. The United Church did so too in the 1980s. The Catholic Church has not officially apologized.

A part of that settlement included the establishment of the Winnipeg-based Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC held its third National Event in Halifax in late October. Former students publicly appeared before the commissioners to tell their stories of abuse while they attended residential schools.

Dying a slow death

Alan Knockwood says he endured physical abuse by the priests and nuns who were "mean, big people" and witnessed other children being sexual abused by maintenance staff during his time at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School from 1960 to 1964.

"I was snatched from my home. When you're a child, you need love and comfort," he said over the phone, at home in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S.

Knockwood says he wants people to remember and to keep in mind this is about the physical, sexual and mental abuse of children.

Dorene Bernard, another former student of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, believes the AST should also bring in residential school survivors to speak on the abuse they suffered as part of the institution's teaching curriculum on sexual abuse.

According to Bernard, the survivors are "dying a slow death."

She said both nuns and priests physically and sexually abused both boys and girls. "Students were even abusing each other," she said.

How to be a citizen

Liability is a main concern for religious institutions, especially in light of the Catholic Church's sex abuse crimes that have spanned the globe and the last several decades, according to DeWolfe.

Kevin Cox, a third-year Master's student in United Church ministry at the Atlantic School of Theology, said, "The school has done remarkably well in taking curriculum from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the classes on ethics in sexuality and ethics in Christianity and for the class on justice in the Old Testament."

He also said, "The church law course should be mandatory, because you learn how to be a citizen, particularly in sex abuse cases."

Rev. DeWolfe noted that the Atlantic School of Theology has pastoral and sexual ethics courses, dealing with those in authority and with the definition of personal boundaries.

In addition, AST also has its own volunteer sex abuse officer who is there if there are any allegations of sexual abuse at the school.

DeWolfe said that the faculty has not called the officer in the 12 years that he has been there.

Comments on this story are now closed

There is more to the story of the residential schools than tales of abuse and cultural genocide. The morality and ethics that lay behind the dedication of many staff members at the schools should also be explored. As a non-aboriginal who attended an Indian residential school for six years, and who saw first-hand the care and affection with which the children were treated, I am disappointed that all one sees or hears in the media about the schools is negative.

Posted by Mark DeWolf | Nov 17, 2021

If AST is interested in providing its students with a more rounded view of what went on in residential schools, I'd be happy to come in and talk about what it was like to be the son of a Principal of one such school, and to have attended that residential school with First Nations children for six years. My Dad was an Anglican minister who was respected and even loved by the Blackfoot whom he served.

Posted by Mark DeWolf | Nov 16, 2021

Excellent job

Posted by Sinbad | Nov 11, 2021