Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Indigenous People Day as a Call to Action


Forty years ago, in 1982, what was then the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for 
for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. It wasn't until 1996 that this came to fruition in Canada as Aboriginal Peoples Day, renamed as Indigenous Peoples Day five years ago. The website of the Canadian government describes it this way: 

 This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The Canadian Constitution recognizes these three groups as Aboriginal peoples, also known as Indigenous peoples.

Although these groups share many similarities, they each have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

In my recollection we didn't hear much or do much as Canadians to acknowledge this important celebration and commemoration in the first years. There is now much more attention in cities and towns across the country. Even the Google doodle (below) recognizes the day.

                                                     Copper Thunderbird -- Norval Morriseau, Ojibwe artist 

School kids learn about Indigenous customs and are part of the celebration. I wish this was a national holiday but that may eventually come. It may be that it receives greater attention in schools and other institutions because people don't have a day off. 

This can also be a day of reflection and contrition for those of us who are part of the colonial history of Canada, including Christian denominations which were complicit in the Residential School system which was a form of organized, sanctified genocide. This past Sunday was the Indigenous Day of Prayer in United Churches and was an important theme in the worship service at Trenton United. 

Once again I invite you to read and ponder the first apology of the United Church of Canada which took place in Sudbury Ontario in 1986 as part of General Council. and the gracious response in 1988. I have emphasized a line in the response which can be our commitment: 

1986 Apology to Indigenous Peoples 

Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured. 

We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality. 

We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ. We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the gospel. 

We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result, you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and we are not what we are meant by God to be. 

We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the Spirit of Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God’s creation healed.

 The Right Rev. Bob Smith General Council 1986 The United Church of Canada 

 In 1988, at the 32nd General Council, the Indigenous church acknowledged the apology, expressing its hope that the church would live into its words. Mrs. Edith Memnook, a representative of the All Native Circle Conference, said: 

The Apology made to the Native People of Canada by The United Church of Canada in Sudbury in August 1986 has been a very important step forward. It is heartening to see that The United Church of Canada is a forerunner in making this Apology to Native People. The All Native Circle Conference has now acknowledged your Apology. Our people have continued to affirm the teachings of the Native way of life. Our spiritual teachings and values have taught us to uphold the Sacred Fire; to be guardians of Mother Earth, and strive to maintain harmony and peaceful coexistence with all peoples. 

We only ask of you to respect our Sacred Fire, the Creation, and to live in peaceful coexistence with us. We recognize the hurts and feelings will continue amongst our people, but through partnership and walking hand in hand, the Indian spirit will eventually heal. Through our love, understanding, and sincerity the brotherhood and sisterhood of unity, strength, and respect can be achieved. 

The Native People of The All Native Circle Conference hope and pray that the Apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity. We appreciate the freedom for culture and religious expression. In the new spirit this Apology has created, let us unite our hearts and minds in the wholeness of life that the Great Spirit has given us. 

                                                         Christi Belcourt,  Metis Visual Artist

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