Why is it important to take action now?
A history of underfunding First Nations schools has meant less money for school libraries, extracurricular activities, retaining strong teachers, I.T., healthy school buildings, and more. And that has translated into a graduation gap: in spring 2018 the Auditor General reported that the real grade 12 graduation rate for Indigenous students is 24%, compared to a national average around 90%.
The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are a profound call to the peoples of Canada and our governments to turn towards justice and away from the brokenness of colonialism. Calls to Action 7-10 focus in on the importance of this repentance in K-12 education for Indigenous children. The residential school system caused great harm to seven generations of children and their families. A key part of healing, resilience, and reconciliation is building justice, equity, and Indigenous leadership in education.
Since the 2016 Federal Budget commitments to $2.6 billion in Indigenous Education funding, there has been a great deal of collaborative activity between First Nations representative organizations (AFN and regional bodies) and the Department of Indigenous Services. Some progress is being made, but it’s been slow. Churches have a key role to play in sustaining the political will for change, because another generation of Indigenous children is waiting for justice and 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 does Reformed Christian faith have to say about this?
Culturally appropriate education is a value that many Christian Reformed communities and Indigenous communities hold in common. Indigenous communities also want education that is shaped by their communities and involves their elders and other community members.
Christian Reformed support for education has mostly been limited to our Christian Reformed communities. What if we valued culturally-appropriate and adequately-funded education, not just for our own communities, but for Indigenous communities too?
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 45 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, 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. The 2015 Action for Reconciliation statement below is one example of this work:
“Learning that honours culture and spirituality, in the full embrace of community, transfers values and identity across generations. The arc of lasting trauma from residential schools will, in part, be healed by justice and equity in Indigenous education. Therefore, after review of the TRC final report, we will partner with Indigenous organizations and educators, in an effort to draw thousands of people in Canada to bear witness to the need for reconciliation in Indigenous education, and to call for Canada-wide curriculum that addresses the full reality of our common history. This will be an ambitious campaign inspired by the hope and joy of reconciliation.” (See the full statement here.)
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.” Article 14 of the Declaration calls for Indigenous leadership in Indigenous education.
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.