Indigenous Peoples Rights and Healing and Reconciliation

The Church’s relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada has been marked by colonization and the racist beliefs that underscored colonization (namely, the superiority of a Christianized, western European worldview). The Church has confessed its role in running residential schools, its complicity in the harms of colonization, and rejected the Doctrine of Discovery. The church is committed to walking toward reconciliation. This includes advocating that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation, responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and engaging with the findings of the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice . In 2006, General Assembly established the Healing and Reconciliation program to assist individuals and congregations that are building relationships based on justice, love of neighbour, and mutual respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Learn more here.

The church has eight Indigenous ministries, and a National Indigenous Ministry Council. Learn more here.

The Presbyterian Church Archives has an on online photo exhibit from Cecilia Jeffrey and Birtle residential schools. Learn more here .

*Please note that terms identifying Indigenous identity and peoples has changed over many years and that the terms used below reflect the time and context in which they were written.

Values and principles that General Assembly has endorsed relating to the Church’s relationship with Indigenous peoples

  • The church repudiates concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. (A&P 2019, pp. 35, 368-377)
  • The church seeks to engage in relationships with Indigenous peoples that reflect the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the basis for right relationships. (A&P 2019, pp. 35, 368-377)
  • The church confessed: “We acknowledge that the stated policy of the Government of Canada was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into the dominant culture and that The PCC co-operated in this policy. … We confess that, with the encouragement and assistance of the GOC, The PCC agreed to take the children of Aboriginal peoples from their own homes and place them in residential schools, [and that] the effect of all this, for Aboriginal peoples, was the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self… For our church, we ask forgiveness from God and for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples.” (A&P 1994, pp. 365-377, 29, 69, 71)
  • Being present in Indigenous communities at events held by Indigenous organizations to commemorate and honour students who attended residential schools is a part of the ministry of reconciliation. (A&P 2014, pp.370-372, 13)
  • It is appropriate for the church to acknowledge and honour our place on territories once under the sole care and stewardship of Indigenous peoples. (A&P 2014, pp. 372-373, 13)

Values and principles that General Assembly has endorsed relating to justice for Indigenous peoples

  • The church affirms that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating for superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust. (A&P 2019, pp. 35, 368-377)
  • First Nations in Canada should have a constitutional guarantee to the right to self-government and to an adequate land and economic base arising from Aboriginal title, Aboriginal rights and treaty rights. (A&P 1991, pp. 289-292, 50-51)
  • Resource development should not take place on unsurrendered land until either there is a claims agreement in place or until terms are negotiated satisfactorily with the Indigenous peoples concerned. (A&P 1991, pp. 289-292, 50-51)
  • Recognized regional and national groupings of Native people have a special right to be heard by federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and the various courts of the church. (A&P 1980, pp. 413, 90)

Select actions endorsed by General Assembly

2019: General Assembly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. Presbyterians and church courts were encouraged to study the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius in order to understand the contemporary ramifications of concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples in Canada, including how this is reflected in The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s mission and ministry with Indigenous people. (A&P 2019, pp. 35, 368-377)

General Assembly referred “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” to the Life and Mission Agency and the National Indigenous Ministries Council for study and report with recommendations to the next General Assembly regarding actions that The Presbyterian Church in Canada can take. (A&P 2019, pp.35-36)

General Assembly adopted a recommendation that encourages congregations and presbyteries to learn more about Canadian Indigenous spiritualities. (A&P 2019, pp. 16, 269)

2017: The moderator wrote to the federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to inquire about the Government of Canada’s plans to provide clean and potable water in Indigenous communities that remain under boil water advisories. (A&P 2017, 27, 369-70)
The moderator wrote to the Prime Minister of Canada urging the Government of Canada to comply with the Order of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (January 26, 2016 decision involving First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, et. al.) pertaining to the elimination of discrimination against First Nations children regarding funding for social services and education for children on First Nations reserves. (A&P 2017, p. 47)

General Assembly recommended that individuals, congregations and presbyteries be encouraged to give to the Native Ministries Fund and passed a recommendation that 10% of monies realized from assets of dissolved congregations within The Presbyterian Church in Canada be invested in the Native Ministries Fund to a maximum of $400,000 (The formula for proceeds of assets of dissolved congregations became 50% for pension solvency (to a maximum of $2,000,000), 10% for the Native Ministry Fund (to a maximum of $400,000) and 40% for presbytery for approved mission work.) (A&P 2017, 17, 217-9)

2016: General Assembly recommended that congregations and presbyteries study the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and consider ways to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in their communities. Courts of the church were encouraged to acknowledge the traditional territory on which they meet and worship. Reconciliation was prioritized in the church’s national strategic plan. (A&P 2016, pp. 379-381, 20)

2015: The moderator wrote to the companies in which the Presbyterian Church in Canada holds investments inquiring if they have operations in Canada or other countries that impact Indigenous communities, whether they have a policy on free, prior and informed consent and what benefits or challenges they identify with regard to supporting, or not supporting free, prior and informed consent. (A&P 2015, pp. 388-389, 18)

2014: Presbyterians were encouraged to attend commemorative events hosted by Indigenous groups to honour those who attended residential schools. General Assembly passed a recommendation that the First Nation on whose traditional territory General Assembly meets be named during the first sederunt by the moderator and included in the Committee on Courtesies and Loyal Addresses’ report. (A&P 2014, pp. 372-373, 13)

2013: General Assembly adopted a statement on Aboriginal spirituality. The statement includes reflections on Aboriginal spiritual traditions, North American experiences in Aboriginal spirituality including ceremonies and the use of smudging and drumming. The response identifies theological themes that inform choices regarding worship practices. The report emphasizes the need for humility, recognition and celebration of the different gifts and wisdom that inform worship practices that all praise and glorify God. Presbyteries have the responsibility to ensure that matters related to worship within their bounds are rightly and properly conducted. (A&P 2013, pp. 508-18, 13)

2011: General Assembly recommended that church courts discuss and take part in the “It Matters to Me” campaign in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (A&P 2011, pp. 369-70, 31)

2010: Presbyteries and sessions were encouraged to discuss opportunities for building contacts with Indigenous people in their communities. (A&P 2010, p. 430-6, 36)

2009: Presbyterians were encouraged to follow the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and participate in TRC events. (A&P 2009, p. 338)

2007: A staffed position to animate the Healing and Reconciliation program began September 2006. An advisory committee and criteria for project proposals for seed funding of healing and reconciliation initiatives were set up. The church commemorated the 20th anniversary of “A New Covenant: towards the Constitutional Recognition and Protection of Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada” by reaffirming its commitment to the 1987 pastoral statement . (A&P 2007, pp. 323-325)

2006: General Assembly adopted a report with criteria that would establish the Healing and Reconciliation program. (A&P 2006, pp. 212-5, 35) General Assembly designating the Sunday preceding May 26 as Healing and Reconciliation Sunday. (A&P 2006, p. 215, 18) General Assembly agreed that funds remaining from those set aside in 2003 for Healing and Reconciliation should give priority to support and/or funding for local initiatives and that funds designated for, but not ultimately used under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, be directed to various healing and reconciliation initiatives within the church. (A&P 2006, p. 19, 35)

2005: General Assembly affirmed that funding for Native Ministry of the church is a high priority and encouraged the Assembly Council, the Life and Mission Agency and Canada Ministries to review the financial support provided by Presbyterians Sharing and to increase this support in light of our commitment to healing and reconciliation. (A&P 2005, p. 39)

2004: General Assembly affirmed that the Sunday before June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, be designated as National Indigenous Peoples Day Sunday within congregations. (A&P 2004, pp. 213, 19)

1996: Initial steps were taken to set up a healing fund to distribute to First Nations engaged in healing processes related to residential schools. It was agreed with other churches that the Aboriginal Rights Coalition would take the lead on educational activity to assist church members in understanding the issues facing First Nations and in keeping before the government and the churches their responsibilities concerning residential schools. (A&P 1996, pp. 309-310, 214-215)

1994: General Assembly adopted “Our Confession to Aboriginal Peoples” and mandated the Life and Mission Agency to explore ways to bring the Confession to Aboriginal peoples, to provide study materials for use in the church to enable church courts to better understand the issues leading to this Confession, and encourage congregations to enter into the process of reconciliation. Assembly Council was mandated to “commit resources to a concerted engagement in the healing/reconciliation processes presently in progress.” (A&P 1994, pp. 365-377, 29, 69, 71)

The Confession was presented to Phil Fontaine, then Grand Chief of the Manitoba Chiefs on October 8, 1994 in Winnipeg.

1992: A draft of a Confession to Aboriginal Peoples was presented to the General Assembly but referred back to Board of World Mission. Read more about the history of the Confession here .

1991: The Presbyterian Church in Canada joined the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC, formerly Project North, now part of KAIROS). General Assembly requested that church courts set up information sessions to listen to Native leaders in their region. Following the OKA Crisis, federal and provincial governments were requested to place a high priority on developing a comprehensive process for a just settlement of outstanding Native land claims and governance issues, and establish an Aboriginal Rights Commission. General Assembly urged that resource development should not take place on unsurrendered land without settling land claims or negotiating acceptable terms. The Government of Canada was requested to resume constitutional talks including representatives of First Nations as full participants and to include on the agenda of the next First Ministers’ Conference a commitment to entrench Aboriginal rights—specifically: 1) the enforceable right of Aboriginal peoples to self-government, 2) an adequate land and economic base arising from Aboriginal title, Aboriginal rights and treaty rights; and 3) the requirement of consultation with Aboriginal peoples on all future constitutional amendments affecting such rights—in the Canadian constitution. (A&P 1991, pp. 289-292, 50-1)

1990: The Board of World Mission informed General Assembly of the establishment of a National Committee of Native Peoples (now called the National Indigenous Ministries Council) charged with the responsibility of “keeping the needs and agendas of the Native peoples before the church.” (A&P 1990, p. 555, 38)

1987: General Assembly, in a message to the federal and provincial governments on the proposed Meech Lake Accord, noted its concern that “such issues as Aboriginal rights and development prospects of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not been specifically addressed.” (A&P 1987, p. 55).

1980: General Assembly granted the request of the Board of World Mission that appointments to Native ministry be on the same basis as appointments overseas with equivalent terms, orientation, language study, adequate work funds and furlough with accompanying benefits. It also mandated the Board of World Mission to inform members of the church of the concerns of Native people. A motion to teach Native spirituality to candidates for ministry was referred to the colleges.” (A&P 1980, pp. 413, 90)

1978: General Assembly adopted a statement on northern development calling on the Government of Canada to assure “an orderly, carefully studied and controlled process” when assurances could be given that “it will not present serious hazards and threats to the delicate northern environment” and only with the full involvement of Native peoples including the recognition of their legitimate rights and claims. (A&P 1978, pp. 402, 34)

1976: General Assembly approved a statement and recommendations to be sent to the Berger commission (an inquiry into northern development that affected Native people) (A&P 1976, pp. 50-51), mandated the production of a study paper on the culture, values and spirituality of Native peoples, and asked the Committee on Church Worship to study Christian Native worship. (A&P 1976, p. 78)

1975: General Assembly mandated giving priority to Native ministries and issues for five years as part of The PCC Centennial celebrations and adopted recommendations that a first step in this process should be to sensitize non-Native people to the concerns of Native people, and that Native congregations be encouraged “to explore ways of Christian worship and ministry that are meaningful to them.” (A&P 1975, pp. 206-207, 65)

1970: General Assembly recommended that congregations familiarize themselves with the Government of Canada’s Statement on Indian Policy (commonly called the 1969 white paper), and with the “red paper” (a response written by the Indian Association of Alberta). It called on Presbyterians to familiarize themselves with Indian culture, history and contributions to Canadian life, asked the General Board of Missions (now the LMA?) to evaluate its work and recommend improvements in its approach to work with Canadian Indians and encouraged congregations to use resources and engage in conversations with Aboriginal peoples, as well as for an Aboriginal leader to be invited to attend the next General Assembly. General Assembly also approved a motion that drew attention to the strong dissatisfaction in Native communities with the white paper and called on the Government of Canada to make arrangements for further consultation. (A&P 1970, pp. 309-310, 313-314, 40, 56, 102-103)

1969: General Assembly noted the increasing frustration of Native people, their lack of a right to vote, or to control their own financial affairs, and their difficulty in getting a hearing for their just demands, and informed the GOC of its support for the “just demands of the Indians of Canada for full participation in the affairs that concern them, and their desires for self-realization within the social and economic structures of Canadian life.” (A&P 1969, pp. 311-312, 322, 37)
1966: General Assembly recommended that all levels of the church “do all within their power to insure that Canada’s Indians are treated without discrimination and urge the appropriate levels of government to take immediate steps to insure that their housing and their education and employment opportunities more closely approximate the conditions obtaining for the people of Canada as a whole.” (A&P 1966, pp. 281, 289, 92)