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Canada: Churches respond to deadline on First Nations’ reconciliation

Posted on: March 30, 2016 4:15 PM
Archbishop Fred Hiltz and other Canadian church leaders prepare to deliver a statement on the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action number 48.
Photo Credit: kairos Canada
Related Categories: Canada, Ecumenical, indigenous, Reconciliation

[Press Release from Kairos Canada] Eight churches and religious organisations jointly declared their commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Call to Action 48 in a press conference on Parliament Hill on 30 March. This call urges the faith community to implement the principles, norms and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.

The Right Reverend Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, delivered the statement on behalf of the churches and religious organisations that signed it, with introductions by the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator, United Church of Canada.

The following representatives also attended: the Reverend Karen Horst, Moderator, Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Reverend Susan Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Manuela Popovici, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and Major Shari Russell, Salvation Army. The Canadian Religious Conference and Christian Reformed Church in North America also signed the ecumenical statement, but they did not attend the press conference.

TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson was present to hear the ecumenical statement.

“The response of the church ecumenical community to TRC Call to Action 48 expresses an important understanding by a rich diversity of faith communities, that the nature of abuses experienced by Indigenous children in residential schools in Canada included spiritual abuse,” says Commissioner Wilson.

“Their response not only recognises the human rights of Indigenous peoples as expressed in the UN Declaration, including spiritual rights. It also demonstrates the potential of institutions, which have in the past betrayed some of their own stated teachings and values, to face up to such history with courage, and to contribute to strengthening the human rights realities necessary for our country to claim the reputation it so wishes for itself.”

The statement was delivered a day before the deadline set by the TRC. It’s the only deadline issued by the TRC in its 94 Calls to Action and it involves churches, faith groups and interfaith social justice groups, many of which have signalled their intent as well.

Released in June 2015, the TRC’s Calls to Action challenge Canadians to address and overcome more than a century of systemic discrimination and abuse and create a transformed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The UN Declaration affirms Indigenous peoples’ human rights and emphasises that these rights set a minimum standard for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples. By asserting that the Declaration is the framework for reconciliation, the TRC calls on the faith community to redress the legacy of Residential Schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.

“As churches and religious organisations, we have acknowledged our failures to respect the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples,” reads the statement. “We acknowledge the harm done and are committed to journeying together towards healing and reconciliation. Many of us are on different places in that journey: some have been engaged in these questions for decades; for others, it is new terrain. But we are all committed to responding to this call.”

The statement also acknowledges that significant changes are required to realise reconciliation.

“Call to Action 48 necessitates a fundamental reordering of our relationship, and a significant change in our identity as a country. It requires us to truly respect Indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination and to acknowledge and respect nation-to-nation relationships based on mutuality and respect.”

“The commitment to Call to Action 48 represents a vital step forward for the Church,” says Reverend MacDonald. “If it lives into, embodies, and follows the Call – it will bring a transformation in the relationship with Indigenous peoples and within the Church.”

“Honouring the UN Declaration as the framework for reconciliation will change us as churches, and as a country,” says the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of the United Church of Canada. “It will change us all for the better.”


An Ecumenical Statement on the
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
Responding to the TRC's Call to Action #48

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released 94 Calls to Action in June 2015 “to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” The Calls to Action provide multiple opportunities to address and overcome more than a century of systemic discrimination and abuse in the residential school system, and to create a transformed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The Government of Canada acted on behalf of all Canadians when it created the residential schools system. Some churches and religious communities ran the federally-funded schools as part of a national policy of assimilation spanning 160 years. The TRC has described the outcome of this policy as cultural genocide.

The church parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement received and promised to work with these Calls to Action. Other churches, faith communities, and ecumenical organisations have signalled their intent as well. In addition to the many statements released by churches and other faith groups in response to Call to Action #48, we the undersigned, jointly commit to Call to Action #48, to implement the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

The UN Declaration is an international human rights instrument adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 September 13 2007. It affirms the inherent or pre-existing collective and individual human rights of Indigenous peoples. It does not create new rights. It provides a framework for justice and reconciliation, applying existing human rights standards to the specific historical, cultural and social circumstances of Indigenous peoples. The rights affirmed in the UN Declaration constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, security, and well-being of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

In an executive summary of its final report, the TRC emphasised that “Canadians must do more than just talk about reconciliation; we must learn how to practise reconciliation in our everyday lives – within ourselves and our families, and in our communities, governments, places of worship, schools, and workplaces.”

Settlers in Canada have benefited, directly or indirectly, from the occupation and usurpation of Indigenous lands and resources. Indigenous peoples, however, have experienced impoverishment, oppression, dispossession from their lands, and the destruction of their cultures and spiritual practices. The root causes of this ongoing impoverishment and oppression of Indigenous peoples must be identified and, then, we must be willing to make it right.

The UN Declaration, with its emphasis on self-determination and consent, freedom from discrimination, and rights to spirituality, culture, lands, and resources, helps us to address the root causes of this inequity, and provides the means for us to correct it.

Call to Action #48 necessitates a fundamental reordering of our relationship, and a significant change in our identity as a country. It requires us to truly respect Indigenous peoples’ right of self-determination and to acknowledge and respect nation-to-nation relationships based on mutuality and respect.

Implementing the UN Declaration includes examining the Doctrine of Discovery, which some faith bodies have repudiated. We acknowledge that this doctrine has had and continues to have devastating consequences for Indigenous peoples worldwide. All doctrines of superiority are illegal in international and domestic law, and immoral, and we affirm that they can never justify the exploitation and subjugation of Indigenous peoples and the violation of their human rights.

As churches and religious organisations, we have acknowledged our failures to respect the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples. We acknowledge the harm done and are committed to journeying together towards healing and reconciliation. Many of us are on different places in that journey: some have been engaged in these questions for decades; for others, it is new terrain. But we are all committed to responding to this call.

We are strengthened in this journey by Indigenous peoples, both inside our faith communities and more broadly across Canada, who have chosen to journey with us. In these relationships, respect and understanding are strengthened, and we see the possibility for transformation.

We undertake this work in our communities of worship and beyond through educational initiatives. We support growing social, political, and legal efforts that promote the UN Declaration. As well, we welcome working alongside governments in Canada as they live into their stated commitments to the implementation of the UN Declaration.

Today we embrace the opportunity that Call to Action #48 offers faith communities to work for reconciliation and to fully respect the human rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Signed by:

Anglican Church of Canada
Canadian Religious Conference
Christian Reformed Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The Salvation Army
The United Church of Canada