In one armchair was seated the prime minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper; in the other, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo. Behind them was a standard bearing the Canadian flag. The photo op captured, in a flash, the history of colonialism and the hope of self-determination, the legacy of assimilation and a longing for recovery of language and culture. It recalled words of apology in the House of Commons and summoned action in the indigenous communities.
The moment anticipated the historic gathering of First Nations chiefs with the prime minister in late January. According to the Globe and Mail, the only stated objective of this meeting was to “reset the relationship” between Canada and First Nations peoples.Many were hopeful that steps would be taken to repeal the age-old Indian Act. The prime minister’s unwillingness to consider that was viewed as a real block to resetting the relationship. Many chiefs left the gathering as concerned as ever for their people, their lands and their resources; concerned for their children and their futures.
Given all this, I am pleased that our church is so deeply committed to resetting relations with First Nations peoples. I hear expressions of repentance and contrition for wrongs committed. I hear words of apology and see endeavours to live the words spoken. At hearings and gatherings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I see people listening in stunned silence and in learning that moves them to every effort to make amends. I see commitments of time and resources to support the work of healing. I see people who really hear the desire for self-determination on the part of indigenous peoples and who want to really work with them to achieve it. I see humility that accepts the hand of fellowship in a journey of spiritual renewal leading to “a new agape”-a new love. I hear prayers that this country be guided on a new and different path.
I make these observations not to extol how virtuous and wonderful we are but rather to encourage us to press on with this sacred work. Its roots are in the justice of the prophets and in the gospel of Jesus, the Son of God. Our commitment is very much on my heart as I pray my way through Lent.
After all, isn’t that what this holy season is all about? The resetting of our relationships with God, with one another and with the whole of creation.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.