Why is it important to take action now?
Just over 3 years ago the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found that the Government of Canada is racially discriminating against First Nations children and their families.
For 150 years, Canada has provided lower quality and improperly funded public services (such as education, housing, child welfare, and health care) to First Nations children and youth. That’s not okay. It shouldn’t take legal action and five CHRT rulings for First Nations children and youth to be treated with justice and equity.
Recent government decisions and actions have moved Canada in a good direction, but inequities persist and continued Christian advocacy alongside Indigenous-led organizations like the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society is essential to achieving full equity.
What does this have to do with our biblical call?
We are called to seek reconciliation and justice (Matthew 5:23-24, 2 Corinthians 5:12-21, Micah 6:8, etc). In the stories, the tears, and the resilience of residential school survivors we have learned that all people in Canada 'drink downstream' from the hurt of residential schools and the wider sins of colonialism. This history affects the health of the stream that all drink from today. We have been honoured to witness the expressions of truth in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in them have seen a sacred momentum of reconciliation and hope. Because of this hope, and with the help of our Indigenous neighbours and Creator God, we are committed to turning from the systemic evils behind colonialism and living into a sacred call of unity and reconciliation.
It is also our calling as Christians to be a blessing to the nations--from the very beginning, Abraham and his family were blessed not solely for their own sakes, but so that “all nations on earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 22:3) Unfortunately, we have often deeply failed to be a blessing to the nations, just as the nation of Israel often failed to live up to God’s calling on their lives.
The Church’s participation in the residential school system in Canada was a profound failing to bless the nations--we sought, in partnership with the Canadian state, to “kill the Indian in the child.” This forced assimilation and refusal to recognize Creator God’s gifts to Indigenous peoples was not love of our neighbours. As part of our call to reconciliation, and thanks to the profound grace of residential school survivors who shared their stories with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we can work to heal together from this profound failing by standing with Indigenous communities as they seek education that honours their communities. Biblically, repentance requires not just contrition, but changed behavior. In order to turn from the sins of colonization, we must actively choose a different way.
What has the CRC said about this issue?
Justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples has been a key part of Christian Reformed Church ministry in Canada for a long time, ever since the founding of our first Urban Aboriginal Ministry in Winnipeg (the Indigenous Family Centre) more than 40 years ago.
As we've walked with Indigenous and church partners through the years, we've worked to match our words and deeds. In addition to the centres' community development work, we've made commitments throughout the years as a denomination, through the Canadian Council of Christian Reformed Churches, then through the Board of Trustees, and now through the Council of Delegates, to turn away from the sins of colonization and dehumanization and towards a better way of walking together, in respect of our treaties and Indigenous rights.
In March 2016, the CRC in Canada responded to TRC Call to Action 48 and affirmed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a “framework for reconciliation.”
In a series of decisions, Synod 2016 termed the Doctrine of Discovery (the foundation of colonialism and assimilation policies in North America) a heresy. Synod also affirmed ongoing justice and reconciliation activities of the CRC in Canada including TRC follow-up work. (See Acts of Synod 2016 Article 72 - points 2 & 8)
How does this fit with the mandate of the Centre for Public Dialogue?
The Committee for Contact with the Government (CCG, the Centre’s support committee) and the Centre for Public Dialogue are mandated to address “significant and pressing issues of the day.” (Learn more about the CCG here.)
The CRC in Canada has a long history of rich interaction with Indigenous people and communities through the work of Urban Aboriginal Ministry Centres, the first of which was founded in Winnipeg in 1973. The testimony of those ministries has often attuned the church to the legacy and injustices of colonialism and has led to regular intra- and inter-church dialogue on right relations with Indigenous people and communities.
The historic work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-15) and their Calls to Action, made it clear to the CCG, and to people across Canada, that the tasks of justice and reconciliation with Indigenous people are urgent and in need of long-term commitments. We believe this call to reconciliation to be pressing indeed, and committed participation in it is a mark of the integrity and witness of the church in Canada today.
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