This column appeared in the Feb. 2013 issue of the Anglican Journal.
Many Canadians yearn for constructiveprogress in the relationship with indigenouspeoples. Ongoing miscommunication andmisunderstanding have blunted this hope,however.
Recent federal and provincial legislativeproposals that run counter to the needs of aboriginalpeoples are the latest in a long seriesof efforts by Western institutions, includingchurches, to”solve theindigenousproblem.” Theseefforts includemilitary action,assimilation,benign neglect,education, welfare money, no-money, religion-the list goes on.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Interim Report notes that reconciliationwill require changes in the relationship betweenaboriginal people and the governmentof Canada. Taking a social welfare approachto dealing with aboriginal people fails torecognize the unique legal status of aboriginalpeoples. Without that recognition, we run therisk of continuing the assimilationist policiesand the social harms that were integral to theresidential schools.
The churches were a big part of the treatymaking process that established the moral,legal and-dare we say it-spiritual norms forthe future of Canada. Even if they were notalways directly present or direct signatories,the churches provided the spiritual and moralcontext that gave First Peoples a recognizableframe to make an agreement between peoples,between nations. The promise of the churchesto walk with the People of the Land made thetreaty process coherent and believable.
We must renew the initial promise ofthe treaties. Believing that we made thesepromises under the authority and judgment ofGod, we made a great moral and legal commitmentto welcome the national cultures andidentities of each other. We did this believingthat this would bring blessings to our childrenand grandchildren. It is time for the church torise up and reclaim this vision, so that all ofCanada may live into the promise of a vibrantand positive future.
Ma rk MacDonald is national indigenousbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.