November 13, 2019

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Fasting for change

Events call for action on clean water and rights for Indigenous peoples

JEN DOERKSEN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>University of Winnipeg professor Leah Gazan (left) and Steve Heinrichs of Mennonite Church Canada are trying a peaceful fast in a push to get the federal government to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.</p>

JEN DOERKSEN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

University of Winnipeg professor Leah Gazan (left) and Steve Heinrichs of Mennonite Church Canada are trying a peaceful fast in a push to get the federal government to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/9/2017 (788 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/9/2017 (788 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After walking more than 600 kilometres last spring for the rights of Indigenous people, Winnipegger Steve Heinrichs has a renewed appetite for the issue.

That’s why the West End resident plans to go hungry for the same cause over the next two weeks, mounting a public fast in solidarity with Canadians without a safe water supply or a secure food source.

"I will be spending a portion of each day praying in silence outside of my friend (Liberal MP) Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s office, a space that symbolizes, ultimately, who has the power to act on Bill C-262," says Heinrichs, who is using vacation days from his job as director of Indigenous relations for Mennonite Church Canada for his fast.

He invites other people of faith to join the fast, intended to pressure the federal government to pass Bill C-262, a private member’s bill calling for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also called for the implementation of UNDRIP, which ensures the basic human rights that Indigenous people need to be healthy.

A wide range of community and faith groups have already endorsed the declaration.

Public fasts have a long history of drawing attention to injustices, says Heinrichs, as well as calling on divine forces to change opinions.

"I do want God to move (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s heart," says Heinrichs, who began his fast Sept. 13, limiting his intake to only green tea and water.

"I long for God to move political structures in ways I can’t imagine."

Heinrichs was one of the organizers of last spring’s Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, where dozens of Canadians from a wide variety of faith communities walked from Kitchener, Ont., to Ottawa to raise awareness about the UN declaration.

Fellow walker and activist Leah Gazan plans to join Heinrich in fasting this weekend, saying her temporary discomfort doesn’t measure up to the ongoing struggles of Indigenous communities who don’t have safe drinking water or other rights enjoyed by non-Indigenous Canadians.

"We’re talking about reconciliation, and there’s no reconciliation without justice," says Gazan, a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation.

"You can’t have reconciliation when one party has clean drinking water and the other doesn’t."

Gazan is also the featured speaker at Sunday’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of UNDRIP, co-sponsored by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and the local chapter of the ecumenical social justice group KAIROS.

Organizer Mary LeMaître says events around the declaration and treaties bring together Canadians of all kinds and help non-Indigenous people understand how the Indian Act and residential schools shaped colonial attitudes toward Indigenous Canadians.

"One of the big things that breaks down stereotypes is relationships," says the University of Winnipeg professor, who is writing a book about stereotypes and attitudes on Indigenous issues expressed in online discussions and comments.

"It’s easy to believe things of people you’ve never met."

For Heinrichs, he finds hope in concrete actions like the spring pilgrimage and the fast, as well as the connections he has made through the coalition of faith and community groups planning public events — including the upcoming Let’s Walk the Talk event on Sept. 23.

"The call is, let’s act. It is not to stop talking, but to be more honest in our talking and live into those good words and promises."

brenda@suderman.com

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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