The Church Reflects
This section includes:
- Excerpts from “Indians of Canada” — BWM report, 1976
- Statement on Northern Development from Motion adopted by the 102nd General Assembly, 1976
- Excerpts from “Aboriginal Rights” — BCL report, 1991
- Excerpts from “Hydro-Electric Mega-Projects” — BCL report, 1992 23
- Excerpts from “Response to the Constitutional Proposals” — BCL report, 1992
- Excerpts from “Reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples” — LMA report, 1994 16
- The 1994 Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada regarding injustices suffered by Canada’s First Nations Peoples
Excerpts from “Indians of Canada” — BWM report, 1976
Over 110 years have passed since the concern of Presbyterians for native people was first rallied by the Reverends John Black and James Nisbet. Since then a steady stream of missionaries has come to the Prairie synods with but one purpose: to preach and live the Good News of Jesus Christ. … “Living the Good News” meant helping to build homes, dispense medical supplies and drugs, offer clothing, books, and finally, through the vision and generosity of the WMS, hospitals, residential schools, as well as nurses, teachers, deaconesses, and ministers. But with all our zeal and good works, we must confess, with other communions, that it has been flavoured with bigotry, paternalism, and seeking to impose our culture, our language, on the people we would serve in Christ’s name. The day of the church’s paternalistic attitude and welfare handouts is finished. If we persist in this, we only depreciate our effectiveness as instruments of God’s grace. … Most native leaders today know that welfare is not the answer to their problems. They request equal opportunity in education, job-seeking and a sympathetic consideration of their land claims.
Statement on Northern Development from Motion adopted by the 102nd General Assembly, 1976
1. Whereas Canadian northern development in the past few years has proceeded without adequate safeguards,
Whereas the rights of the native people of Canada in the north are in danger of being abused due to this development and,
Whereas the 101st General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada designated the following five years as emphasizing the church’s concern for native people, Therefore, be it resolved that the 102nd General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada supports the principle of a moratorium regarding development of non-renewable energy resources in the Canadian North until such time as the following priorities have been established and adopted by the Canadian government.
(i) Just settlement of the land claims of the Dene and Inuit People
(ii) Development of native peoples’ programs for economic development in the north
(iii) Adequate safeguards to deal with environmental problems like oil spills, blowouts, damaged terrain, and living creatures
(iv) New programs to regulate domestic consumption and export of energy resources and that this statement be forwarded to the Berger Commission and to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Excerpts from “Aboriginal Rights” — BCL report, 1991
The crisis at Oka and Chateauguay has some painful lessons to teach us about the fragile character of justice, peace and truth in our society. These lessons include the awareness of major cultural differences, the entrenched realities of racism, the recourse to violence, the use of intimidation tactics, the misinformation campaigns, the forced negotiations at gunpoint, and the decision to resort to a military solution. Individual Christians, congregations and denominations need to reflect and act based on their deeply held convictions on injustice and fairness so that redress may be made for past errors and strong voices of faith may speak out sensitively to support the aboriginal peoples of Canada. New approaches to aboriginal rights issues in Canada are required which reflect principles of justice, peace and truth.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees to all Canadians the full range of fundamental human rights and freedoms. In addition, the Canadian constitution contains specific provisions for the recognition and protection of existing aboriginal and treaty rights. Also, aboriginal peoples are protected by provincial human rights codes.
As aboriginal peoples continue their struggle to decolonize themselves and regain their aboriginal and historic rights, they face numerous challenges. These include: the need for a comprehensive native land claims policy and a just settlement of outstanding land rights issues; the need to reopen and complete constitutional negotiations on aboriginal rights, particularly the right to self-government; the resurgence of major resource development projects on traditional native lands and their environmental consequences; the increase in military operations in aboriginal territories; and, the growing crisis in social services for aboriginal communities.
Excerpts from “Hydro-Electric Mega-Projects” — BCL report, 1992 23
There have been tremendous costs borne by aboriginal peoples in the northern regions of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec because of hydro-electric mega project development. There is also concern for the Innu Nation of Labrador who could be similarly affected by the proposed large dams on the Churchill River in Nitassinan. What has happened can be described as falling dominos: the construction of hydro mega projects has disturbed, even destroyed, sections of land and waterways, which has disturbed the traditional way of life for aboriginal peoples whose economy is tied to the waterways. This in turn has contributed to increasing sociological problems of violence and substance abuse in the effected communities. For aboriginal peoples there have not been benefits such as cheap electric power or increased opportunity for employment from the hydro mega project.
The presence of hydro-electric mega projects on aboriginal lands represents an injustice within Canadian society. It is cruel and unjust to disturb a way of life by the destruction of trapping lands, the contamination of fish with mercury released from decomposing trees, and the flooding of native burial grounds. What is most disturbing is that the phenomenon of hydro mega projects is typical of the injustice done to Canada’s aboriginal peoples because there is often no consultation and hence no participation with them in the planning of these projects. The valid and legitimate concerns of aboriginal peoples are ignored when the power corporations plan to develop these mega projects on lands which native peoples inhabit, land which they believe is theirs to care for and preserve. In particular, Hydro Quebec’s James Bay II project violates the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement signed in 1975, which requires the involvement and approval of Cree and Inuit people in the assessment process for any further hydro-electric projects in their region. It is clear that aboriginal people have been treated as second-class citizens. While these projects are promoted as being “for the common good,” a portion of the population is generally excluded.
The Christian faith calls one to respect and consider those who are adversely affected when growth occurs for growth’s sake, and when humans manipulate the environment and each other by an excessive emphasis on bigness and control. Christians are called to challenge attitudes, practices and structures which do not promote the well-being and the preservation of God’s created order. Especially we are called to challenge and protest against the decision-making processes behind the planning and development of hydro mega projects which do not take seriously enough the concerns of all people. In particular, injustice has been done to Canada’s aboriginal peoples in not respecting their way of life, and in not listening to their stories. In following the example of our aboriginal sisters and brothers let us, the community of faith known as the church, acknowledge and proclaim that the relationship between the land and the people is based on respect and gratitude not domination. Let us aim to protect God’s creation as a way of meeting the Creator’s will. One way the church can support Canada’s aboriginal peoples is by supporting responsible development of hydraulic resources by those native groups who have themselves expressed their willingness to do so in a way that destroys neither the land nor their way of life.
Excerpts from “Response to the Constitutional Proposals” – BCL report, 1992
(see also French-English Relations; Ecology, Energy and Environment; and Social and Economic Issues for more excerpts from this document.)
The Inherent Right for Aboriginal Self-Government
Aboriginal peoples in Canada governed themselves long before the arrival of Europeans. This right to self-government is an inherent right that pre-dates the Canadian Confederation and should be recognized in the constitution. It is not a legal right delegated to aboriginal peoples by federal and provincial authorities that could be extinguished by political decision. This implies, therefore, that aboriginal peoples have an inherent right to self-government with an adequate land and economic base arising from aboriginal title. Their communities should participate in all constitutional discussions leading to the development of appropriate forms of self-government. Political negotiations and not the decisions of the courts should determine forms of self-government.
Excerpts from “Reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples” — LMA report, 1994, 16
Efforts to assimilate aboriginal peoples have had far reaching effects. While these are still being fully documented, it is recognized by aboriginal peoples, the federal government and churches that these efforts contributed, in ways that are still being felt, to the dysfunction of family units, lack of skills for child rearing, loss of a sense of community, cycles of physical and emotional abuse, and a relationship of dependency on outside agencies. As more and more aboriginal communities begin to tell their stories and to reflect on the impact of residential schools, it is becoming clearer that the devastating impacts, impacts that are real in spite of the intentions of those who gave many years in Christian service and devotion, will take years to overcome.
Residential schooling should be thought of more as a nuclear explosion, with the blast damaging some more directly than others, but with fallout and nuclear winter affecting everyone. A disease metaphor (i.e., you either have it or you don’t, and those who do may have it more or less intensely) fails to capture the complexity of what has happened in First Nations communities, while at the same time denying or demeaning the experience of many who have suffered.
For aboriginal peoples this history represents a betrayal of trust by governments and churches. Aboriginal peoples have indicated that they want their stories to be heard and acknowledged by governments and churches. Both churches and the federal government have been called by several national consultations to respond to the allegations of abuse and to work towards healing and reconciliation. The report of the Canadian Panel on Violence against Women is but one example. There is both a moral and a legal obligation for the Canadian government and the churches of Canada, who jointly participated in the victimization of aboriginal children, to share equally the responsibility of providing financial assistance to help heal residential school victims and their families and of compensating for their pain and suffering all living victims of abuse committed by staff at the schools.
The 1994 Confession of The Presbyterian Church in Canada regarding injustices suffered by Canada’s First Nations Peoples
The Holy Spirit, speaking in and through scripture, calls The Presbyterian Church in Canada to confession. This confession is our response to the word of God. We understand our mission and ministry in new ways, in part because of the testimony of aboriginal peoples.
We, the 120th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, seeking the guidance of the Spirit of God, and aware of our own sin and shortcomings, are called to speak to the church we love. We do this out of new understandings of our past, not out of any sense of being superior to those who have gone before us, nor out of any sense that we would have done things differently in the same context. It is with deep humility and in great sorrow that we come before God and our aboriginal brothers and sisters with our confession.
We acknowledge that the stated policy of the Government of Canada was to assimilate aboriginal peoples to the dominant culture, and that The Presbyterian Church in Canada co-operated in this policy. We acknowledge that the roots of the harm we have done are found in the attitudes and values of western European colonialism, and the assumption that what was not yet moulded in our image was to be discovered and exploited. As part of that policy we, with other churches, encouraged the government to ban some important spiritual practices through which aboriginal peoples experienced the presence of the creator God. For the church’s complicity in this policy we ask forgiveness.
We recognize that there were many members of The Presbyterian Church in Canada who, in good faith, gave unstintingly of themselves in love and compassion for their aboriginal brothers and sisters. We acknowledge their devotion and commend them for their work. We recognize that there were some who, with prophetic insight, were aware of the damage that was being done and protested, but their efforts were thwarted. We acknowledge their insight. For the times we did not support them adequately nor hear their cries for justice, we ask forgiveness.
We confess that The Presbyterian Church in Canada presumed to know better than aboriginal peoples what was needed for life. The church said of our aboriginal brothers and sisters, “If they could be like us, if they could think like us, talk like us, worship like us, sing like us, work like us, they would know God as we know God and therefore would have life abundant.” In our cultural arrogance we have been blind to the ways in which our own understanding of the Gospel has been culturally conditioned, and because of our insensitivity to aboriginal cultures, we have demanded more of aboriginal peoples than the gospel requires, and have thus misrepresented Jesus Christ who loves all peoples with compassionate, suffering love that all may come to God through him. For the church’s presumption we ask forgiveness.
We confess that, with the encouragement and assistance of the Government of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to take the children of aboriginal peoples from their own homes and place them in residential schools. In these schools, children were deprived of their traditional ways, which were replaced with Euro-Canadian customs that were helpful in the process of assimilation. To carry out this process, The Presbyterian Church in Canada used disciplinary practices which were foreign to aboriginal peoples, and open to exploitation in physical and psychological punishment beyond any Christian maxim of care and discipline. In a setting of obedience and acquiescence there was opportunity for sexual abuse, and some were so abused. The effect of all this, for aboriginal peoples, was the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self. For the church’s insensitivity we ask forgiveness.
We regret that there are those whose lives have been deeply scarred by the effects of the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. For our church we ask forgiveness of God. It is our prayer that God, who is merciful, will guide us in compassionate ways towards helping them to heal.
We ask, also, for forgiveness from aboriginal peoples. What we have heard we acknowledge. It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say. With God’s guidance our church will seek opportunities to walk with aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people.