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United Church recommits to reconciliation

The United Church of Canada has recommitted itself to the work of reconciliation with First Nations.

The 42 General Council approved a multi-point proposal directing the church to:

  • Re-affirm its commitment to building right relations among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
  • Direct the Executive of the General Council to consider actions in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
  • Develop strategies and materials to assist the church in supporting, educating, and implementing the Calls to Action.
  • Encourage collaborative initiatives on the calls to action with ecumenical partners, Indigenous organizations, and the parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
  • Encourage congregations to engage in education and actions for reconciliation.

mariewilson             Marie Wilson           Truth & Reconciliation Commissioner

The ending of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings across Canada “is just the beginning of reconciliation and you, as the United Church, need to be part of it,” Marie Wilson told the 42nd General Council on August 13.

Wilson was one of the commissioners of the TRC. Recollecting her childhood, Wilson recalled there being a map on the wall of her public school, the “rosy pink” section being the Dominion of Canada.

She said that she never learned about our “rich pre-Dominion history.”

“We were learning half-truths about the history of our country,” she said.

Wilson said that the six-year work of the TRC has been to reveal “hidden truths about residential schools” so that Canada could begin “a process of individual and collective reconciliation.”

She said she was grateful that her grandchildren were growing up knowing their identities and having family support, unlike the students of the residential schools. “They grew up with numbers, rather than with names,” Wilson said.

The residential school survivors have demonstrated examples of “living miracles,” Wilson said. “Some publicly reclaimed their names and their right to be happy.” Many are learning not to blame themselves and to “see themselves as the brave children they are.”

Wilson said she hopes that the work of the TRC will be widely heard and taught “so the country can be shifted to new understandings and new realities.”

“Are we a land of sacred values or just a land of economic opportunities and ventures?” she asked.

The “glaring gaps” in economic and social conditions must be removed “so that all Canadians may be enriched by the rebalancing of a shared country.”

Survivors of residential schools are now leading all Canadians to healing and spiritual strengthening, she said.

During her time with the TRC she learned that prophecy is not about predicting the future, but about “divine utterance of what is essential to the present.”

She urged people to always feel outrage at injustice, to hope for what is possible, and to respect that every life has the potential to make a difference.

Love, she said, “has the power to transform a life, a relationship, a church, a country.”

perrybellegardeNational Chief Perry Bellegarde Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, offered thanks and an invitation to the United Church.

“I say thank you to The United Church of Canada for being a leader in reconciliation and for your enduring commitment to social justice,” Bellegarde told General Council commissioners.

“Our journey together as a people is just beginning,” he said.

Bellegarde said there remains a large gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. Although the federal government has made two apologies, “We continue to face educational systems which ignore our languages, our histories, our knowledge systems, and our values,” he said.

Canada is sixth on the United Nations Quality of Life Index, Bellegarde noted, but when the Quality of Life Index is applied to First Nations, they are rated 63rd.

Bellegarde said that difference is due to racism, overcrowded housing conditions, high incidents of Indigenous youth and teenage suicide, high rates of incarceration of Indigenous people, and poor health conditions.

“This gap is not good for our people and not good for our country,” he said.

Reconciliation offers an opportunity to “rebuild this country in the way our ancestors envisioned.”

Bellegarde said reconciliation would mean honouring promises to live together in peaceful co-existence and mutual respect, sharing the wealth of this land, ensuring the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations in government decisions, enshrining Indigenous languages as official languages of Canada, and continuing to push for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Most important of all, reconciliation involves all of us, all of you,” he said.

“A Canada that commits itself to closing the gap,” he said, is on a path to a “stronger, vibrant, prosperous Canada for all the citizens of this land.”

Bellegarde invited the United Church to join First Nations in calling for action to eliminate the gap. He asked people to reach out to other leaders, artists, business people, young people, Elders, and church groups in their communities.

“We need your voices to join ours—to build a chorus of Canadian voices calling for change,” he said.

He also asked the church to help raise the issue during the current federal election campaign.

“Together in unity and strength we will make a difference,” he said. “We can close the gap. Please join me on this journey.”

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