I have heard a few times - not often – that some people feel that Indigenous issues are imposed upon our citizens, and what does the unceded territory of Indigenous Nations have to do with the churches anyway? We Indigenous Peoples tend to get discouraged and disheartened by road blocks that are put in front of us.
As a preamble, I did not think of myself as a disadvantaged child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, or as a disadvantaged youth when I moved away and lived as a teenager in the Lower Mainland and the Kootenays. Times were rough, but I truly had a community take care of me as a child. Family, and friends of my mother, took care of me and I was never without support or left feeling like a lonely child. My mom did not raise me, but it was never in my thoughts that this was not the normal way of living. When my mother was able to be with me and my brother and sister, she was really there for us. It did not occur to us that she was a “bad” mother for not being around. She was our mother and she loved us.
Later on in my life I was sent away to go to school in the Lower Mainland, and after that in the Kootenays. Again this was not a sad story for me - just a fact of life for us in the sixties, and we lived it as it was. Though my brother and two sisters went to residential school, they did this without protest. My mom sent us without questioning, because the authorities had the absolute rule over us and how we had to live our lives.
We lived on their land, and in their houses, and we needed permission for work and repairs done on the land and the houses we lived in. Everything was with the permission of the federal government through the Department of Indian Affairs. As a child and a youth I did not question how or why my life was what it was, but for my grandparents and my mother normal life was living in a constant state of fear and anxiety.
When I think about how all this was imposed on us as a way of life, and how we had little chance to question the authorities appearing in our isolated communities, I wonder how it can be an imposition for our citizens of today to look at the reality that has been created for Indigenous people?
The following was written in 1987, yet in some ways very little has changed for some of our people. There are still rules of governance that the elected chief and council have to abide by. Some northern villages have poor housing, and no employment opportunities.
“Over the history of federal native administration, both isolationist and assimilationist policies have, with the occasional participation of provincial governments, significantly encroached on the fundamental rights of aboriginal people. The result has been a significant body of laws that have impaired the ability of such people to determine their own future, whether as distinct cultural communities or as individuals outside these communities. “
(ABORIGINAL PEOPLE: HISTORY OF DISCRIMINATORY LAWS http://publications.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/BP/bp175-e.htm Prepared by: Wendy Moss, Elaine Gardner-O'Toole, Law and Government Division, November 1987 Revised November 1991)
Sadly there continues to be a stream of articles such as:
- “First Nations housing in dire need of overhaul. Shortages, overcrowding and ramshackle homes the norm on many reserves - Kazi Stastna · CBC News · Posted: Nov 28, 2011 5:10 AM ET | Last Updated: April 12, 2014” - https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/first-nations-housing-in-dire-need-of-overhaul-1.981227
- Bad water: 'Third World' conditions on First Nations in Canada - Two-thirds of First Nations have been under at least 1 water advisory between 2004 and 2014 (Joanne Levasseur, Jacques Marcoux · CBC News · Posted: Oct 14, 2015 6:00 PM CT | Last Updated: October 15, 2015 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/bad-water-third-world-conditions-on-first-nations-in-canada-1.3269500)
- “Low graduation rates at reserve schools put aboriginals in jeopardy: report” (Gordon Omand, Vancouver, The Canadian Press - published January 28, 2016 - updated May 16, 2018)
In this study I've listed above it shows that BC had the highest graduation rate at 60% - way above the national average of 42% for Indigenous students graduating from high school. Yes, there are some improvements, but we do have a long way to go to really improve the lives of our Indigenous peoples. And in some parts of Canada conditions are very bad.
We have come a long way and we have made some significant changes over the past decade. The first time we had a new beginning for healing and reconciliation was when the federal government made an apology on June 11, 2008 - ten years ago. But in so many ways it woke up old wounds for the survivors and some did not hear the apologies, or ever heal from the residential school trauma. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada at the time, Archbishop Michael Peers, made the apology 15 years earlier to the National Native Convocation Minaki, Ontario on Friday, August 6, 1993. In his apology he talked about healing on both sides and he also talked about not making any empty apology.
So when our citizens and churches acknowledge the traditional, unceded Indigenous territory on which we are all residing, we hope they are also acknowledging in their hearts our desire for equality with the rest of Canada on that territory. We are in some cases living in poverty and conditions that none of us want to live in. In our national anthem, we sing about one-ness in “our home and native land.” Yet some of our Indigenous people feel that we are living in a country that is afraid to look at the real conditions for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The website of the Diocese of New Westminster has these words with the address visible on every page: “On the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations.” We are also proud to proclaim that “The Mission and Ministry of the Diocese of New Westminster focuses on: Worship; Faith; Compassionate Service - locally, regionally, nationally and internationally; Empowering Diversity; Indigenous Justice, Truth and Reconciliation; Christian Formation; Parish Development, Community Engagement and Learning.”
I am grateful for all that this diocese is doing to live with honor, and in a new relationship, with these unceded, ancestral lands and all the people who live here.