Overview: Listen to a Story
Indigenous people are imagebearers of God. The unique gifts that Creator God has given to Indigenous peoples have not always been recognized and celebrated. We commit to reconciliation.
“We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing." —Justice Murray Sinclair
We live in a Canada in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has finished its hearings, having listened to the stories of hundreds of Indigenous people who were taken to church-run boarding schools that were intended to assimilate them into Canadian culture. We live in a Canada in which the Prime Minister has apologized on the floor of the House of Commons for residential schools. We live in a Canada in which the current Prime Minister has said: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership.”
There is hope for reconciliation—but for hope to be real action for change is urgent. Apologies and noble words must be followed by real change. The 94 Calls to Action of the TRC must be implemented. Indigenous schools on-reserve are still funded at a rate of 30-50 percent lower than are provincial schools. Indigenous women still face much higher rates of violence. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a framework for reconciliation that can reshape the way we live together on this land.
Living the Biblical Story
Indigenous people are created in the image of God. Because Creator Spirit is at work in all cultures (known in Reformed theology as common grace), we see his inspiration in Indigenous cultures in many ways.
Unfortunately, the church has not always seen the image of God in Indigenous peoples. In fact, we have often legitimized racism through official church proclamations and actions like the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and the use of residential schools.
Despite this brokenness, we see our merciful God at work among us. We see Creator Spirit at work in the creation-honouring ways of Indigenous cultures, in the resilience of Indigenous peoples, in causing their cries for justice to be heard through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We see God’s desire for the flourishing of all in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in the desire for reconciled relationships that he inspires in hearts across the country.
We trust that Creator Spirit will continue to reconcile us to each other, and we listen, repent, and work to make those reconciled relationships a reality. Bind us together, Lord.
Check out our Resources section for Indigenous justice worship resources such as prayers, liturgical materials, children’s worship materials, and devotions.
Education: (Re)learn the Story
The Blanket Exercise is an excellent and interactive tool that literally walks participants through the history of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Much of the content is written by Indigenous people. The exercise helps participants understand why reconciliation is needed and how to take steps toward reconciliation and new relationships.
When we sit in a sharing circle after a KAIROS Blanket Exercise, one of the most common questions is, So now what? We usually respond with encouragement to learn more and to build relationships. In a sense, Wab Kinew’s invitation to “get to know the neighbours” in this excellent video series is a way to begin some of that learning and living in relationship with Indigenous neighbours.
The Doctrine of Christian Discovery is a series of 15th-century declarations from the pope that gave European rulers official church sanction to claim a right of discovery over lands not held by Europeans and Christians. They represent a common assumption of that time: that Europeans were superior to other peoples and were charged to bring the light of the church and civilization to “backward” and “pagan” peoples. The Christian Reformed Church studied the impacts of this doctrine of Euro-superiority on our denomination and declared the Doctrine of Discovery to be a heresy.
After listening to the stories from survivors of Canadian residential schools told at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Canadians and especially Christian Canadians want to know, How can we turn away from the broken ways in which our peoples have related and begin to live together on this land in a better way? One of the TRC’s answers, woven throughout its 94 calls to action, is to live out the respect for Indigenous peoples outlined in the UN Declaration. The TRC called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a “roadmap for reconciliation” and asked churches to endorse it and implement it. The Christian Reformed Church in Canada has endorsed the Declaration and is committed to living by it. This is what mutual respect looks like.
"In the past, the Canadian governments’ education policy has been a tool of oppression, but it can be a tool of liberation founded on First Nation control of First Nation education." (Assembly of First Nations, 2010) How can we respond to the destructive history of residential schools and turn towards healing relationships and communities? Many Indigenous leaders have pointed towards education as a key part of the answer--with equitable funding, cultural supports, integration of community and elders into the classroom, and Indigenous-controlled school systems, we can give today's Indigenous children the tools to flourish within their diverse cultures. As people who understand the importance of community-supported schooling, we stand with these Indigenous leaders and bear witness to this need for reform of Indigenous education systems. This environmental scan by Anna Vogt is one of the foundations of our work on Indigenous education reform.
Featured Resource: Education Together Campaign
Education Together Campaign
There have been some big commitments made, and the federal government has promised to live into the Calls to Action of the TRC. But change has been slow, and we’re not where we should be. A generation of Indigenous kids are waiting for justice and equity and that’s not okay. Now is the time for follow-through on promises.
Together, we can speak up so that all kids in Canada get quality education. It’s only right!
Advocacy: Be Part of the Story
Like a building code, each article of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples comes from a time when a right was violated. That’s why the leadership of the CRC in Canada affirmed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016 with these words: “We honour the Declaration’s expression of Indigenous perspectives on justice and right relations that have, too often, been missing and ignored in the shaping of our collective lives.” And that’s why, as momentum gathers to reconcile Canadian law to Indigenous rights as outlined in the U.N. Declaration, we’re adding our voices in support of Bill C-262. This bill would bring Canadian law more in line with Indigenous rights.
Despite years of promises, there’s still a gap: today, far fewer First Nations children graduate from grade 12 than other children in Canada because they aren’t receiving the proper funding and support needed for a quality education. Some good steps have already been taken, from announcements of new funding to agreements on self-determining Indigenous education systems, but a legacy of chronic underfunding of Indigenous education leads to a staggering injustice today: in spring 2018 the Auditor General reported that the real grade 12 graduation rate for Indigenous students is 24 percent compared to the national average of around 90 percent.
Advocate for Indigenous Education Reform
Our government’s commitments to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are honourable. To fully live into TRC Calls to Action 7-10, which call for reform in Indigenous education, we urge the government to establish trust and working relationships with Indigenous communities and educators and to commit significant new funding. Budget 2016 commitments to Indigenous education reform are significant and even historic, but the details, so far, are thin. We’ll be watching for details on
- the adequacy of capital commitments (new school construction, existing maintenance).
- the development of a stable and predictable funding model.
- a strong Indigenous-led process for system reform.
In an era of reconciliation, Indigenous kids must have full equity and justice in education. See our Education Together campaign for ways that you can stand with Indigenous communities in advocating for quality education.
Sample Questions to Ask Your Elected Officials:
- What will you do to implement TRC education recommendations?
- How will you work with Indigenous communities to honour the principles of Indigenous control of Indigenous education?
- What will you do to build funding justice in Indigenous education?
How do I contact legislators? Is it better to call, or to write? What do I say?
Learn this and more with our helpful advocacy guide.
Indigenous Education Reform Letters
We have been advocating for Indigenous-led Indigenous education reform that establishes equitable funding, assures suitable infrastructure, and includes language, culture, and the participation of parents, elders, and community in curriculum since 2011. Here are the most recent advocacy letters we have written to the government about Indigenous education reform.
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