Canada is currently living in a historic moment for seeking truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. 150,000 children went to Indian Residential Schools over the 113 years they were in operation. At least 6,000 of them died. There are currently 80,000 survivors of Indian Residential Schools still living. The intergenerational trauma experienced as a result of these schools has direct links to the extreme problems of violence, addiction and poverty in many Indigenous communities.
At the National Closing Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa last June, the commission laid out an extensive roadmap towards reconciliation in the form of 94 calls to action addressed to government, churches, the criminal justice system and all Canadians.
Our church is committed to the ongoing process of reconciliation. This is a journey. One that we recognize requires long-term commitment.
In 2011, the ELCIC made a commitment to promote right and renewed relationships between non-indigenous and Indigenous people within Canada.
In July 2015, our church renewed this commitment to truth, reconciliation and equity by repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
Just this past March, in a statement approved through our National Church Council, the ELCIC responded to Call to Action #48 that calls on all religious denominations and faith groups to issue a statement no later than March 31, 2016, as to how they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (elcic.ca/Documents/StatementonCalltoAction48.pdf).
We commit ourselves as treaty people, as an institution, as learner and educator, as advocate, and as religious and spiritual care provider to continue to use the declaration as a standard for our own practice. We commit to implementing the values and principles of the declaration within the work and structures of this church.
On March 30, I joined with six other churches and religious organizations where together in Ottawa we shared publicly an ecumenical statement committing our churches to the TRC’s Call to Action #48.
The ecumenical statement highlights how our churches are strengthened in this journey, “by Indigenous peoples, both inside our faith communities and more broadly across Canada, who have chosen to journey with us. In these relationships, respect and understanding are strengthened, and we see the possibility for transformation.”
The ecumenical statement also noted that the churches will support social, political and legal efforts to promote the UN Declaration and that we will welcome the opportunity to work alongside governments in Canada as they live into their commitments to implement the UN Declaration.
Together we embraced the opportunity that Call to Action #48 offers to, “work for reconciliation and to fully respect the human rights and dignity of Indigenous people in Canada” (kairoscanada.org/what-we-do/indigenous-rights/churches-response-call-action-48).
I remember the words of Commissioner Justice Sinclair at the TRC Closing National Event last June, “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”
It is my prayer that we will have the courage to use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation both within our church and within our country. Let us prepare ourselves for the long climb.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada