The national attention paid to the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in the past few weeks represents a tipping point in the way Canada’s First Nations people relate to the rest of us. As one who has followed, for 25 years, developments centring on the core issue of the great injustice-the Indian residential school system-I truly believe that we have reached a special moment of societal change in the way all Canadians relate together.
Canada’s historic ecumenical churches have expended great efforts to draw attention to the stubborn problems afflicting us, and have already learned a great deal with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters as rituals of apology and serious attempts at healing and compensation have been taking place.
These churches have actively supported and participated in the processes leading to the Berger Commission Report (1977), the publication of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996), and the more recent apology of the prime minister on behalf of all the people of Canada (2008).
A pivotal moment in our journey together as a nation has occurred with the recent appearance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. Its 94 recommendations portend an era of profound change.
Through all these years, the churches have attempted (sometimes poorly, sometimes sublimely) to view their mission as poised and serving on the cutting edge of public policy and advocacy. Now-when it may seem that we have completed our task and can pass responsibility on to other powers in society, like the courts and legislatures-I believe there are new challenges facing God’s people as we enter a new day. The journey of justice-seeking and societal renewal has not ended. In a true sense, it has only just begun.
As a country, over the past century and a half we have progressed through the stages of imperial colonies as well as bi-cultural and multicultural societies. We are now ready to define ourselves as a “nation of minorities.” This means that we will ground our Canadian identity in Aboriginal ways of living inclusive, organic community to an ever-expanding human family within our borders. Aboriginal people will play a key role helping us to define ourselves as Canadians in the future.
Religion in Canada will evolve and expand, not disappear. We will continue to see that our varied faith traditions are connected, at their core, to the primal meanings that strengthen a society best represented among us by our First Nations people. Divisive patterns that characterized our past will be reframed in new, inclusive ways.
This implies the cultivation and development of spiritual practices that will integrate Indigenous Native American with global faith traditions, and open pathways of meaning for all humanity.
There is a lot to unpack here, theologically and spiritually. The TRC has proposed paradigm shifts that will hopefully engage the best, more open and generous hearts and minds.
The ecumenical churches of Canada continue to have much to do.
1. Berger Commission Report
2. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
3. Prime Minister’s Apology
4. Truth and Reconciliation Report Recommendations
Wayne A. Holst continues to teach religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church in Calgary.