As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada comes to an end this June, a request has been made to the churches to respond to a concern that has been raised by survivors time and time again at hearings of the Commission. That concern is what the churches, who once told aboriginal children that their spiritual heritage was wrong and to be abandoned, are saying today about that traditional spiritual heritage. The statement is based on Our Confession (1994) and other material that has been part of our journey of healing and reconciliation.
Excerpt from the statement:
“It is not for The Presbyterian Church in Canada to validate or invalidate Aboriginal spiritualties and practices. Our church, however, is deeply respectful of these traditions. We acknowledge them as important spiritual practices through which Aboriginal peoples experience the presence of the creator God.”
Statement on Aboriginal Spiritual Practices
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Statement on Aboriginal Spiritual Practices
First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, before any encounter with Christianity, found meaning, spiritual benefit and the presence of the creator through life-giving indigenous spiritual practices that have deeply rooted traditions.
Through the churches’ participation in the residential school system, The Presbyterian Church in Canada contributed to the banning of those traditions. The Presbyterian Church in Canada presumed to know better and in our cultural arrogance tried to suppress practices whose value we were then incapable of perceiving. ii We acknowledge in a spirit of repentance our role in failing to recognize and respect these spiritual traditions and practices. The church believes that faith and devotion, reverence for life, truth and goodness coexist both in and outside of our own Christian experience.
As part of the churches’ commitment to a journey of truth and reconciliation, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has learned that many facets of Aboriginal traditional spiritualties bring life and oneness with creation. Accepting this has sometimes been a challenge for The Presbyterian Church in Canada. We are now aware that there is a wide variety of aboriginal spiritual practices and we acknowledge that it is for our church to continue in humility to learn the deep significance of these practices and to respect them and the Aboriginal elders who are the keepers of their traditional sacred truths.
Some of our congregations have been blessed with experiencing various traditional Aboriginal practices when Aboriginal elders, Aboriginal members of our church and indigenous people visited our congregations as guests, and graciously shared some of these practices and the traditions that give rise to them.
These practices are received as gifts and serve to enrich our congregations. Ceremonies and traditions such as smudging, the circle/medicine wheel, drum songs and drumming, and indigenous wisdom teachingsiv have been some of the practices our church has experienced as gifts from Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We acknowledge and respect both Aboriginal members of The Presbyterian Church in Canada who wish to bring traditional practices into their congregations and those Aboriginal members who are not comfortable or willing to do so. The church must be a community where all are valued and respected.
It is not for The Presbyterian Church in Canada to validate or invalidate Aboriginal spiritualties and practices. Our church, however, is deeply respectful of these traditions. We acknowledge them as important spiritual practices through which Aboriginal peoples experience the presence of the creator Godv . In this spirit The Presbyterian Church in Canada is committed to walking with Aboriginal people in seeking shared truth that will lead to restoring right relations.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada January 2015
i The Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, General Assembly, June 9, 1994, paragraph 2
ii The Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, General Assembly, June 9, 1994, paragraph 4
iii Living Faith section 9.2 The Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1984
iv Conversation Circle re Theological Framework for Aboriginal Spirituality Acts and Proceedings of The General Assembly, 2013 pp. 510-512
v The Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, General Assembly, June 9, 1994, paragraph 2
As a member of a culture which has not only sequestered itself from creation but also waged war upon it, I welcome this statement with much relief. I strongly believe that if we were all to spend forty days in the wilderness with the appropriate guide, we would have a greater understanding and relationship not only with creation, but also with our Creator. We would also find ourselves much closer to the First Nations perspective.
Thanks for these wise words and for sharing them. I thank God for the Spirit which illumines creative paths for experiencing God’s presence. I am especially grateful for the Aboriginal spiritual practices of humility, respect for living things, and welcoming hospitality.