Canadian leaders of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, which has been praying and advocating for equitable funding for Indigenous education for children for more than six years, say they are cautiously optimistic about the results of meetings held last week in Ottawa at which a plan to address equity for Indigenous children was unveiled.
Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott called the emergency meeting on Indigenous child welfare, at which she presented a plan to address systemic issues with the country’s First Nations child welfare programs.
“Equity in funding for Indigenous people is a problem across all social services, not just education, so we’re collaborating with Indigenous partners to draw attention to these meetings on child welfare,” says Mike Hogeterp, director of the CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue. He is hopeful that various groups can gather to discuss the plan, which proposes six measures to keep Indigenous children living with their families.
“We’ve listened to residential school survivors. We’ve participated in KAIROS Blanket Exercises. Now it's time for us to act on that learning and speak up so that Indigenous kids in Canada receive the same quality of education, health care, and child welfare as other kids in Canada,” said Hogeterp.
“There are many myths out there about the funding that Indigenous peoples receive. But the truth is that Canada treats Indigenous people like second-class citizens.”
As part of an effort to draw attention to this issue, the Centre for Public Dialogue has put together a special prayer, action alert, and invitation for congregations to send letters in response to this ongoing concern.
Two years ago, Canadian Ministries Director Darren Roorda and CRCNA Board of Trustees chair Kathy Vandergrift took the stage at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to pledge that the CRC will join with others to do what it can to help reconcile with Indigenous peoples and to name concrete steps that the CRC in Canada is taking and will take in the future.
In the "Action for Reconciliation" statement, the CRC in Canada promised to continue learning about the common history it shares with Indigenous peoples through the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, to wrestle with the church's own history of interaction with Indigenous peoples, and to advocate for Indigenous education reform in Canada.
Hogeterp said advocacy for equity for social services for Indigenous peoples, including the proposed changes to the Indigenous child welfare system, is crucial because
- Canada removes Indigenous kids from their families at a rate that is one of the highest in the world.
- Per student, per year, First Nations schools on reserves are funded 30-50 percent less than provincially run schools.
- Canada has been racially discriminating against 165,000 First Nations children by providing inadequate access to social services, according to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling. After three noncompliance orders from the Tribunal, Canada still has not changed its ways.
- Indigenous peoples in Canada are far more likely to end their lives by suicide than other people in Canada. In some regions, Inuit people are 25 times more likely to commit suicide than other Canadians.
“The CRC in Canada has worked for justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples since the days of the Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada, when the three Urban Aboriginal Ministry centres were founded,” explains Hogeterp. “We’ve re-established that commitment repeatedly as a denomination in Canada since then, and this is another step in that faithful journey.”
To help CRC members and congregations keep this issue in mind, the Centre for Public Dialogue has released this prayer:
Creator God, we stand in a moment of hope.
We have learned the hard history of residential schools—and we still see signs in Canada today that Indigenous children are not being treated as full imagebearers of you.
We cry out with the prophets for justice!
Thank you for this moment of possibility, brought about
by the stirring of your Spirit in many hearts. We pray that the hearts of all involved in these decisions will be united in
their concern for the flourishing of Indigenous children and youth. May that concern be the centre, and nothing else.
Lord God, may your justice flow like
a mighty river through the meeting rooms where officials gather to discuss Indigenous children's welfare! May a yearning for justice and reconciliation rise up in our
churches and in our own hearts! Amen.