Dear friends and relations in Jesus Christ,
In the last several weeks, news reports and social media feeds have been full of bad news. A months-long suicide crisis in Cross Lake. A devastating fire in Pikangikum, already wracked by suicide and water issues. A young man from Garden Hill accused of murdering a child. And most recently, a wave of suicide attempts in Attawapiskat.
Named as immediate crises or states of emergency, these are particular situations that happen to have reached the news. In reality, Indigenous communities in Canada have, for years, been facing crises related to racism, suicide, violence, inadequate housing, and non-potable water. These issues are part and parcel of systemic problems deeply rooted in the relationship between Indigenous and settler (non-Indigenous) peoples in Canada.
Although the situation seems so dire that we wonder how we can respond, as followers of Jesus, we know we must.
The first response we need to make is from our hearts: To remember the people who face these realities every day and to reach out where we can.
For me, this means connecting with the church in affected communities at times of immediate crisis, and visiting and building dialogue and relationships with members of the Indigenous church.
For staff at the General Council Office this past month, it meant responding to a call from the youth of Attawapiskat for small gifts and words of encouragement.
For all of us, it can mean remembering these communities in our prayers. Remembering the leaders and support workers there who are hard at work with government officials and Indigenous organizations to determine appropriate strategies, both immediate and long term. The Apostle Paul urged the church in Philippi to turn to prayer and petition and present their requests to God. In so doing, we are assured that the God of Peace will guide our hearts and our minds (Philippians 4:6–7).
But, we must do more than pray.
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, physician and commentator Gabor Mate argued that a history characterized by the taking of land, resources, culture, spirituality, and family relationships has created an intergenerational trauma from which it will take generations to recover. Layer on economic and social policies that create inequities between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada, and the result is the profound structural crisis that dominates the news cycle.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed has expressed concern that we may lack the political will to address these systemic issues.
As a church, we believe in working in partnership to address humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, such as the Syrian refugee crisis or the recent earthquake in Ecuador. Is there a lesson here for us in responding to emergencies in Canada? Who are the partners with whom we might work to provide relief and foster healing? How can we join our voices together to advocate for structural change?
In June 2015, the United Church welcomed the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Among them was the call to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.
The Declaration identifies many inherent rights shared by Indigenous people that, if respected, would go a long way toward rectifying historical and contemporary injustices.
Together with many other churches, we have signalled our commitment to the Declaration, welcoming its power to “foster relationships of mutuality, equality and respect, both within and beyond the walls of the church.” The federal government has signalled its intent to implement the Declaration as well.
These are hopeful signs. As we strive to live into these commitments, let us also pray for ourselves, that God may give us the wisdom and determination to continue the journey toward reconciliation.
As you seek ways your faith community can respond to the cries for justice coming from Indigenous peoples across this land, know that you are not alone. Together, with many others who share our hope for a better future, we can and will make a real difference.
Together in Christ’s name,
All My Relations,
The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada