In Aboriginal Day message, primate stresses TRC Calls to Action

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Participants at a powwow held in June 2010 during the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event in Winnipeg. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Participants at a powwow held in June 2010 during the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event in Winnipeg. Photo: Marites N. Sison

The founding of a new federal body to monitor reconciliation efforts in Canada and the creation of a new statutory holiday—a “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation”—are among a number of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action singled out for reflection by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in a special Aboriginal Day message.

The message, released Tuesday, June 20, begins with a brief reflection on the spirit of celebration anticipated in much of the country this July 1, which will mark Canada’s 150th birthday. For some Canadians, however, the occasion will be less festive, because of the troubled historic relationship between the country’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Hiltz says.

“For some, #Canada150 is now #Resistance150, as #Canada150 is a reminder that this country’s founding is inextricably linked to this relationship,” he says, using “hashtags” familiar to social media users.

This relationship, he continues, was “marked by an imperial arrogance” that took the shape of a policy of assimilation, including the founding of Indian residential schools.

Despite formal apologies issued by the Anglican Church of Canada and other churches as well as the federal government, the legacy of the schools—a loss of Indigenous language, culture, identity, spirituality and also, Hiltz says, love—lives on.

Thus, the primate says, the time between Aboriginal Day and Canada Day is a fitting time for Canadians and Anglicans to reflect on the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body formed to inform Canadians about the Indian residential schools system.

Hiltz says he feels bound to call people’s attention to certain of these Calls to Action, and he highlights 19 of them in particular:

-#53, that a National Council for Reconciliation be founded, for reporting annually on progress made in reconciliation;

-#78, that the government of Canada provide $10 million in funding over seven years to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which works to teach Canadians about the history of residential schools;

-#62, #63, #64 and #65, which outline a number of measures for educating Canadians on the history of the residential school system;

-#81 and #82, that monuments in memory of residential school students be set up in Ottawa and every provincial capital;

-#68, that the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Museums Association, found a national program to fund reconciliation projects;

-#45, that the Crown issue a “Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation” repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery (a notion historically used to justify the seizure of land in the Americas by Europeans), adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), renewing treaty relationships or establishing new ones, and taking measures “to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation”;

-#79, that a “national heritage plan” be formed, to commemorate contributions made by Aboriginal peoples to Canadian history;

-#80, that a new statutory holiday, a “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” be established;

-a number of calls that more attention be drawn to the well-being of Aboriginal people, citing “the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harms caused by residential schools” (#21); “the vulnerability of Aboriginal women and girls to violence through human trafficking” (#41); high rates of incarceration among Aboriginal people (#35) and calling for an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report to be released by the prime minister (#56);

-a number of calls dealing with Indigenous language, culture and spirituality, including that an Aboriginal Languages Act be passed to help preserve these languages (#14); and that a commissioner be appointed to oversee language preservation work (#15);

-#61, that churches fund projects for healing and reconciliation, culture, language, education and relationship-building.

The primate adds that he is happy that the Anglican Church of Canada has been supporting language, culture and spirituality recovery projects even before the 94 Calls to Action were issued, through the Anglican Healing Fund. This year, he notes—the fund’s 25th anniversary—the church has committed itself to raising $1 million to ensure it will have at least $200,000 to fund its projects over the next five years. He praises the work of Healing Fund co-ordinator Esther Wesley.

The Calls to Action, Hiltz says, speak to Anglicans both as Canadian citizens and as Christians.

“It is important that I continue to hold these Calls to Action before the Church so that as responsible citizens and as people whose faith is absolutely centred in the reconciling work of God in Christ, we can be proactive in speaking of the Calls and in supporting them,” he says.

Hiltz also discusses what he calls the “real, practical on-the-ground commitment” of the Anglican Church of Canada to Indigenous self-determination within the church. He cites, in particular, the appointment of Mark MacDonald as National Indigenous Anglican Bishop in 2007; the elections of a number of Indigenous bishops according to Indigenous customs in recent years; and the work of the self-determination bodies, such as the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Sacred Circle.

The primate also mentions a consultation session on Indigenous self-determination slated for Pinawa, Man., this September 14-17. The keynote speaker and animator for these discussions, Hiltz says, will be Canon Martin Brokenleg, an Indigenous priest and psychologist. The session will also include discussion of the report of a focus group on Indigenous Anglican self-determination convened by MacDonald, he adds.

Hiltz then quotes from a report by Truth and Reconciliation commissioners outlining what they say they learned from their work. The report concludes that “Canadians must do more than just talkabout reconciliation; we must learn how to practice reconciliation in our everyday lives.” It states that Canadians must do this by committing themselves to respectful relationships, among survivors of residential schools and their families; among governments (many of whose policies and programs are, according to the principle, “still based on failed notions of assimilation”); and among churches, whose commitment, according to the principle, “requires atoning for actions within the residential schools, respecting Indigenous spirituality and supporting Indigenous peoples’ struggles for justice and equity.”

Reconciliation, the report concludes, offers for Canadians “a new way of living together.”

The primate then concludes his own message with a call to prayer: “Pray with me that this principle be etched on the very soul of our Church and our commitment to healing, reconciliation and new life.”

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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