This week we recognize The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. A brand new holiday…but holiday really isn’t the right word is it. It has been encouraged by some Indigenous people that we think of September 30th, along similar lines as Remembrance Day. A solemn day, a day of reflection, of education and of remembrance.
It is a day to reflect on and educate each other on the Truth of our relationship with Indigenous people and hopefully in time to help bring about reconciliation. Because we cannot start to reconcile with another whom we have wronged if we do not acknowledge the wrongs that were done.
It is slowly becoming public record, and history is just now being rewritten in Canada to reflect a truth long suppressed, the Truths of the Residential schools. It was governmental policy to separate indigenous children from families from the 1880’s through the 1960’s and later.
In the apology issued by the Canadian government in 2008 it was stated that… “Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child.”.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper, official apology, June 11, 2008
It is also an unavoidable truth that the church played a major role in that history and in carrying out those policies. The church used scripture and doctrine to justify and enforce the policies that separated children and families, not just for weeks…but for years. The church and government searched out, one could even say hunted down, Indigenous families in order to separate them and we are now finding out how very little they cared whether these children got home again. Now this history is becoming increasingly well known, as it should be, but there is much more to do before we settlers can begin to reconcile with Indigenous people.
I believe some of the more subtle issues will be much harder to acknowledge and much harder to change because they are deep rooted and cultural. Such as the question of who has the power. Much of the church’s involvement in residential schools and Indigenous relationships stemmed from an assumption that we, European Christians, were morally, culturally, and intellectually superior to Indigenous people.
It was assumed that Indigenous people needed to be civilized…needed to learn how to behave properly, they were treated like badly behaved children who had no ability to care for themselves. Please read up on Treaty relations and how they deteriorated into a powerful means of control rather than an agreement between nations.
Even now much of the racism towards Indigenous people appears to stem around the erroneous and subconscious thought that Indigenous people simply aren’t capable of doing anything themselves. Eg managing the land and it’s natural resources. Self governance and self determination, in government and in church. Or perhaps the fear that if they do, those in power will have to give up privileges and resources they have long since enjoyed.
Case in point is the acknowledgement of the land which we use at the beginning of meetings and have on each bulletin. It is a common and just practice that has been used for many years now in the churches, as well as in many other places. However, this acknowledgement of the land is absent from the Manitoba legislative assembly, our governing body. An acknowledgement exists and has for over a decade, carefully worded by residential school survivors and the families of murdered and missing indigenous women.
However, the use of this acknowledgement has only just ,September this year, been approved. However they will not start using it yet, a committee has been set up to re-word the acknowledgment that was written by indigenous peoples as it is considered too long…there are no indigenous people on that committee. I wonder which of the carefully considered words these survivors wrote will the people in power consider unimportant. I wonder why we still feel the need to edit indigenous words, expressions and lives. Why we, as a people in power, as people of faith refuse to let indigenous people speak their own words. It’s relevant to point out that the legislative assembly still opens in prayer daily, which as far as I can tell is not edited for length.
Until we acknowledge the truth that we, as the church, as people of influence and as the dominant historic cultural expression of this land, this shared land, still cannot manage to let those who shared this land with us have their say without censure or condescension how can we reconcile?
I am just as guilty of this as anyone. It occurred to me whilst writing this sermon that I hadn’t remembered to say the acknowledgment these past two weeks (including the one practice) in person. Now you might say…you missed two…that’s ok…go easy on yourself. But it’s not that I forgot something, which is really not hard to do with the prep for in person worship. Rather that speaking those words, was so low on my priorities that it didn’t even register. It is one thing if I knew and intended and forgot…quite another if I didn’t even remember I’d forgotten. Where does reconciliation stand on my list of priorities?…somewhere far below the question of what tongs to dispense wafers with and how large a paper the bulletin should be on.
What I need to spend time on…and perhaps you too, is does the question of does Truth and Reconciliation really make a difference to me? What do I really feel, honestly, truthfully feel, about reconciliation with Indigenous people and culture? Is it something I truly want to do…or something I feel I ought to do. Not an easy question and one the church needs to work on as well.
It is time, as we work towards reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters, not only to acknowledge the truth and repent of our sins but to weed out the hypocrisy which has plagued the church at large. We desire to seem relevant and to get more people in the pew, but we also desire to go back to the good ol’ days of power and influence. We want things as they were, because the way they were was good for us.
To be truthful as a church includes acknowledging the need for our own disempowerment and acknowledging the importance of empowering others. Especially today, our indigenous brothers and sisters. This is a time when the institutional church may indeed be losing its power, but the Word and message of Christ remains focused on finding strength in weakness and power in surrender.
We, as those who carry the name of Jesus in the very definition of our faith as Christians, need to live our lives in reflection of Christ who gave up his power that all people might live. This is a time for truth and reconciliation, this is a time of action…this is a time to speak out for truth and justice. That is what Jesus did and we, as people of Christ are called to do the same. And today is a good day to start.