“The decolonization of the Bible has just begun,” says Bishop Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. “But it has been going on for a couple of hundreds of years among our elders.”
The bishop, along with Jennifer Henry, executive director of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, led a talking circle at Carleton University May 30, as part of the church organization’s three-day gathering, titled”Time for Reconciliation.”
The intergenerational gathering included a plenary session and interactive workshops on the theme of decolonization.
MacDonald said that in the 1980s, it was estimated that about 97 per cent of Indigenous people had been baptized in churches. “I would think that has plummeted to about 50 per cent, due to the understanding of what has happened [residential school abuses], but also due to the fact that the churches pretty much abandoned our communities in urban areas and reserves.”
Anglican, Catholic, United and Presbyterians churches in Canada partnered with the government of Canada in the 1880s to establish and operate boarding and residential schools for Aboriginal children. More than 150,000 children attended the schools.
MacDonald said the church is “mourning” what it did to the children, but added, “I don’t think the church will understand what happened until it pleads for them as their own children, and part of the problem is that the church doesn’t see them as their own children. It still doesn’t.”
“There isn’t reconciliation unless it’s felt in the communities,” said Henry. She recalled a time when she and others at KAIROS were setting up displays about reconciliation efforts. One person asked, “How come there are still suicides? How come there’s still racism? How come there’s still violence? ” Henry said: “This tells me that the work is just beginning.” The work of reconciliation is a “day-to-day” effort, she said. “God is present in that.”
Some interpretations of Christian scripture have contributed to colonial attitudes and actions, said KAIROS in summarizing the workshop. But others have been “powerfully drawn upon for lament, comfort and liberation by Indigenous peoples and their allies.” By reading and rereading the scriptures presented and then sharing interpretations with others in the circle, KAIROS said, “We will look at how scripture can help inspire and animate commitments to Indigenous rights and justice by Indigenous peoples and settler allies.”
Workshops and sessions explored three themes: Recognition and Reconciliation, Decolonization and Honouring Indigenous Rights.
Henry hoped the event, leading up to and complementing the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, on May 31 to June 3, would serve as an important forum on the journey to reconciliation. “Churches, government and other public institutions have offered apologies but much more needs to be done,” she said in a news release. “Making reconciliation a reality must be the work of all Canadians who we invited to begin this journey of decolonization, to unlearn racist ideas, relearn our history, honour the contributions of Indigenous peoples and foster new relationships.”