Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Canadian churches respond to Idle No More
A lot has been said in the media about Idle No More, but little has been reported about what faith groups are saying. This might lead people to conclude they are silent on the issue. In fact, some groups have published statements about the subject, although not as many as I would have hoped.
The United Church called on its members to pray for healing of the "fractured relations between the Canadian government and Canada's First Peoples," in the words of moderator Gary Paterson.
"The challenge to Canadians -- not only the prime minister and not only the government, but all of us -- is to end the legacy of colonization, inequality and abuse and to walk the road of justice and reconciliation with Canada's First Peoples," he said, adding that "the current status quo is no longer tolerable."
Speaking on behalf of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, vice-president Don Hutchinson said the issues facing Canada's First Nations are unique because of the "historic sufferings resulting from official policy."
For him, this is "a time for healing" and the healing will require "a respect for the past and the resolve to both live today and look to the future."
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the prime minister and First Nations leaders before their meeting earlier this month. In it, they expressed the hope that the discussions "will contribute to a process that will address the concerns of all indigenous people in Canada."
The letter went on to say that "we hope your meeting and any eventual process will find support from all Canadians and political leaders, as well as from the members and leadership of indigenous communities. This is an important moment for building on the goodwill and efforts of the past, in order that our country can work together in finding constructive ways to resolve the major underlying issues."
Anglican Church of Canada Primate Fred Hiltz and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald asked their members to pray, fast, sing and read scripture on the day of the meeting, adding that "drumming and chanting are also encouraged." People could also gather around a "sacred fire" if they met outside.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) encouraged its members to prayerfully support the meeting between the prime minister and First Nations leaders.
Specifically, they were asked to pray for "a successful meeting, one that will mark the beginning of a genuine, collaborative process for resolving the long-standing injustices on a nation-to-nation basis."
Canadian Unitarians were invited to fast on Jan. 11 in support of Chief Theresa Spence and "for the sake of fairness to First Peoples."
"As Unitarians who respect diversity and who honour the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we would like to stand alongside the First Nations and aboriginal communities," said Rev. Debra Faulk, acting president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada.
"This is an opportunity for dialogue and rebuilding," noted Canadian Unitarian Council Board president Gary Groot, adding the government "needs to make a significant step forward to show our First Peoples their sincerity in honouring the treaties."
Mennonite Church Canada published a reflection by Steve Heinrichs, director of indigenous relations. In it, Heinrichs noted that people across Canada, including some Mennonites, are saying "the time has come to effect a deep change between First Nations and the Canadian nation state."
For Henrichs, Idle No More "is ultimately good for all Canadians. When one part of humanity is suffering, we all suffer. But when that most bruised and marginalized part is healed, we all do better. Both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples are damaged and in need of healing from this broken colonial legacy that none of us asked for, but which we all have inherited."
Noting that during his time on Earth, Jesus was a "marginalized Jew in occupied Palestine who lived for the dispossessed over against the powers that be," he went on to say that Jesus "isn't like me -- a white Mennonite born into a middle-class suburb. Jesus is the native kid born in the urban ghetto or the reserve that's been clear-cut and colonized."
He asked: "If the historic Jesus were here, would he join an Idle No More round dance?... As a Mennonite, I'm not a very good dancer -- but I believe it's time to dance. I hope the church can gather its collective courage and do the right thing."
Unlike Heinrichs, I can't dance at all, but I can hope that the church, the government and aboriginal people -- all of us together -- can do the right thing.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 j13