Jump to a section:
- A Change of Heart
- Conflict, Sexual Violence and Resource Extraction in the DRC
- Is the World More Peaceful This Year?
- Good Friday Social Justice Walk
- A Reflection from the National TRC Edmonton Event
- News and Reviews
A Change of Heart
2014 commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Church’s Confession to Aboriginal peoples. A Change of Heart is a year-long initiative to commemorate the Confession and invite churches to express the thoughts, feelings and actions that transform relationships. How is the Spirit working through your church to transform relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people?
The lawn beside First Presbyterian Church in Portage- la-Prairie, MB, was full of children playing together during special activities for Vacation Bible School. The air was filled with the sounds of kids laughing and cheering. Half of the kids were Aboriginal and half were non-Aboriginal—though the children didn’t notice any differences: they were all joined together in fun. While chasing a flying toy that landed in a dumpster nearby, two boys—one Aboriginal, one non-Aboriginal— dove in together to rescue it, united in a common mission. As we learn about the intergenerational impacts of residential schools, and the broken relationships—within families and communities and between peoples—caused by oppressive assimilation policies, the picture of children playing together is a valuable lesson: it’s a vision of what restored relationships can look like. Too often the differences between adults are focused on and become barriers to relationships. The children at First Presbyterian were fully engrossed in a moment of joy, undisturbed by who is Aboriginal and who is non-Aboriginal.
It is not always as easy as adults. Barriers can get in the way: stereotypes, prejudice, racism, misunderstanding, expectations. This reminds us that the journey towards healing and reconciliation is an ongoing one. Let us acknowledge the challenges and celebrate the joys. We can enter fully into joyful moments with our neighbours – like these children engrossed in play. They can become steps towards reconciliation and should be celebrated for they are good news. They fuel the effort to make such moments more common. Every sign of reconciliation should be greeted with laughter and cheers, for it is a gift.
—The Rev. Peter Bush, Westwood Presbyterian Church, Winnipeg, MB.
My name is Dianne Ollerenshaw. I am a minister and Director of Regional Ministries of the Synod of Alberta and the Northwest. I support congregations from Medicine Hat to Fort St. John in Treaties 7, 6 and 8. Wisdom on the Journey: Walking to a Sacred Place was a two-day event that brought together 120 people to prepare for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton, March 27–30, 2014. Wisdom on the Journey was hosted by the Presbytery of Calgary- Macleod, L’Arche Canada and KAIROS Calgary.
Survivors and Indigenous leaders shared their experiences and the history of Indian Residential Schools. Our expression of reconciliation is the event we shared and the hope that the hearts of those present were transformed for the journey.
—The Rev. Dianne Ollerenshaw, Director of Regional Ministries of the Synod of Alberta and the Northwest, Calgary, AB.
Several Presbyterian churches in northern British Columbia hosted guests from Hummingbird Ministries, one of seven native ministries of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. The tour brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and was an opportunity for fellowship and sharing. As relational people, it is these opportunities to be together that allow each of us to be open to the transformative love of the Spirit working in and through us.
At one visit in Vernon, residents of a retirement community learned about ceremonial music and dress. One resident expressed the beauty of intricate beadwork on an Aboriginal elder’s moccasins. In a gesture of fellowship, the elder exchanged shoes with the wheelchair-bound resident. It was a holy experience for all to witness.
A change of heart can happen within these small moments of sharing.
Conflict, Sexual Violence and Resource Extraction in the DRC
In June 2013, I participated on a KAIROS organized visit with partners in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The purpose of the visit was to learn about the incidence and effects of conflict-related violence against women. Our partner and host, Héritiers de la Justice, supports women who are victims of sexual violence. There is a correlation between where these attacks take place and their proximity to conflict and resource extraction in the eastern region of the DRC.
PWS&D arranged for my participation in the delegation. Since returning to Canada I have had the opportunity to speak to Presbyterian congregations and groups in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa about what we saw and heard.
In December of 2013, the delegation met with parliamentarians. About two dozen members of the House of Commons and of the Senate heard our presentations and asked questions about our experience in the DRC. There were questions about the extractive industries and the role of mineral wealth in funding the militia groups involved in the fighting.
Our delegation met with officials from the Canadian mining company Banro to express concerns we heard shared with us by civil society groups in the DRC concerning the impact of Banro’s gold mining operations. We encouraged Banro to support the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
The EITI was affirmed by the 138th General Assembly (2012). It is a voluntary initiative in which governments and corporations disclose mining revenue payments. We encouraged Banro to consider disclosing the agreements the company signed with Congolese partners. KAIROS continues to dialogue with Banro.
Earlier this month the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development released a report of its investigations into sexual violence in the DRC, entitled “A Weapon of War: Rape and Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Some of the important conclusions in the report echo the stories we heard, especially the need to support government institutions in the DRC, to financially support locally run grass-roots programs to assist survivors of sexual violence and to support extractive resource governance and mineral tracing regimes.
The church should consider how it might contribute to progress in these areas for the sake of the people of the DRC. Consider supporting KAIROS’ “Open for Justice” campaign that shines a light on the intersection of conflict and resource extraction at kairoscanada.org/take-action/open-for -justice.
Is the World More Peaceful this Year?
Project Ploughshares’ annual Armed Conflicts Report (ACR) was a focus of my internship from January to April 2014. Together with four university interns we prepared reports on conflicts around the world. As we worked on this project I wondered if the world is more peaceful this year?
The threshold for armed conflict in the Armed Conflict Report is the death of 1,000 people. A particular conflict is removed if there is a formal ceasefire or peace agreement and after which there are fewer than 25 combat deaths. In the absence of formal agreements, a conflict is deemed “over” if there are fewer than 25 conflict related deaths per year for two years. By a count of the number of countries in the Conflict report, it would seem the world is not more peaceful this year. In 2013, Egypt, the Central African Republic, and Mali were added to the report. Only Chad was removed. Conflict in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria show few signs of resolution. Yet, I am optimistic. Why?
The total number of casualties in several conflicts has declined. Because so many conflicts take place in unstable countries and involve many different actors, the peace threshold for the Armed Conflict report can be challenging to attain. It is important, therefore, to note those places where there are fewer casualties. The conflict in Algeria, for example, claimed 10,000 lives in 1998. In 2013 there were 191 deaths.
Any human life lost in conflict is to be lamented. But in these challenging situations, where hope is most needed, solace can be found when the casualties of war diminish. We are inspired anew to work for peace. It is encouraging, therefore to name places where peace agreements are being negotiated and where more stable governance is being attained.
By the end of 2013 the Columbian government and FARC, the main insurgent group, reached agreements on two points of a six point peace plan. In Yemen, a National Dialogue Conference brought every party involved in the conflict together to one table where all voices were heard. A transition plan is being implemented in the hope that it will lead to more democratic governance and reduced tension in the country. In Mali, added to the conflict report in 2013, conflict has almost ceased. Elections deemed reasonably free and fair were held in mid-2013. Burma has also made strides toward peace and more fair and open governance.
Please pray for all people in countries where there is conflict. The armed conflict report is available at ploughshares. ca/programs/armed-conflict/acr-interactive-map. I would like to thank Justice Ministries and gifts of undesignated bequests to The Presbyterian Church in Canada for making this internship possible.
Good Friday Social Justice Walk
The KAIROS group in Simcoe County, of which several Presbyterians are members, organized a Good Friday ecumenical walk for justice. Twenty participants from different denominations struck out from Barrie City Hall taking turns to carry a rough wooden cross.
At the Busby Street Centre, participants listened to a meditation about homelessness. We then continued to the ‘Spirit Catcher’ (a 21 metre sculpture) to recognize Aboriginal peoples. We stopped at an auxiliary office of the Barrie Police and offered a prayer for those who struggle with mental illness and for those who help them. We continued to the Elizabeth Fry Society home to recognize women who have been in conflict with the law. On the steps of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Keith and Carolyn Boyer gave a final meditation. Our response in prayer at each ‘station’ was “Once on the cross, more than enough. But your crucifixion goes on today…”(Joyce Rupp, “Fragments of Your Ancient Name”). In these actions we acknowledge the struggles people face today. But hope comes with Easter. As Easter people, we seek to live out, through our words and actions, the good news: “He is Risen!”
A Reflection from the National TRC Edmonton Event (March 27–30, 2014)
This is not a First Nation issue—it is a Canadian issue” was a message at the heart of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s seventh and final national event. It took place on Treaty Six Plains Cree territory in Edmonton, Alberta, from March 27-30, 2014. There were opportunities for survivors and the public to share how residential schools have impacted their lives. Honourary Witnesses such as the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Cindy Blackstock, and former Supreme Court Judge Frank Iacobucci shared reflections and personal commitments to champion truth and reconciliation in Canada. Commissioners, church leaders and Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders and advocates who work tirelessly for children’s, women’s, and human rights need to be commended and applauded. The Bentwood Box* holds sacred and symbolic items with declarations, resources, and commitments from individuals and organizations. The Presbyterian Church in Canada offered its continued commitment to First Nations people through the Confession.
There were four church listening circles and many other sharing circles where survivors courageously shared their pain and often shame from abuse and oppression. Rev. Stewart Folster, Presbyterian minister and director of the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry, led a church listening circle. He shared a personal testimony about how he has been impacted by the residential school experiences of members of his family. Presbyterians the Rev. Elaine Nagy, the Rev. Helen Smith and Leslie Young participated in other circles. Many observers openly shed tears in response to the stories. There was an overwhelming amount of support and respect in the circles.
There are many survivors who have not yet spoken of their pain and suffering. “Our First Nation communities have turned on themselves,” stated a young Cree woman reflecting on the impact of lateral violence in First Nation political and social structures. Her message is a reminder of the unrest in the people and the land across Canada. It is crucial that reconciliation continue in and between all communities, for the common good of our society.
Highlights of the event included information on the Missing Children Project. This initiative will seek information regarding children who died or went missing while in the care of residential school officials. Younger people spoke about ongoing intergenerational impacts of residential schools on families and communities. Church Archives are present at every event. Former students and family members can look through photos taken at the schools.
Participants were given daily updates regarding people who were following the TRC event through media and online streaming; the event was “trending” daily. There were opportunities to celebrate the creativity and success of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people who expressed healing through music, drama, dance, program implementation and the arts.
The event concluded with thousands of people participating in the “Walk for Reconciliation,” which weaved through downtown Edmonton. Edmonton City Council proclaimed 2014 as the “Year of Reconciliation with First Nations.” It was liberating and many walked with hope for better things to come. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will present its final report in Ottawa in June, 2015.
A special thanks to Rev. Elaine Nagy, Wiggert Hessels and the Presbyterians on the local planning committee, and those who hosted a reception for Presbyterians at First Presbyterian Church in Edmonton. Thanks to all the volunteers for their time and support offered to the survivors and their families.
—Written by Ms. Yvonne Bearbull, executive director of Anamiegumming (Kenora Fellowship Center), one of the seven Native Ministries. Ms. Bearbull is from the Birdtail Dakota Nation.
*The Bentwood Box is made from a single, treated piece of wood that is bent into shape. It was carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston and its panels represent cultures of former residential school students.
News and Reviews
Walking Side by Side—a journey toward healing and reconciliation is the new church study. It explores the legacy of the Indian residential schools system and the journey of The Presbyterian Church in Canada to restore right relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Order copies from the Resource Centre (1-800-619-7301).