On Tuesday, February 25, 2020, Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday in the Christian world, Chief Robert Joseph, O.B.C., O.C. sent out an invitation to 45 people, all advocates for Reconciliation; people of faith who have been involved in ecumenical support of Reconciliation Canada before, during and after the time of the Truth and Reconciliation events in Vancouver - August/September 2013. The purpose stated in the invitation read: “In brief, rising tensions across the country requires all of us to be concerned and to be helpful.” He apologized for the short notice as the meeting would take place at the Synod Offices of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster just a few days later on February 28, 2020.
In the email invitation Chief Joseph offered a draft agenda and finished his note with this:
“Please come. We need each other.”
Archbishop Melissa Skelton, supported by Synod Office staff and others, put out a call to folks who we know are keenly interested in Reconciliation, and the net result was two dozen people present at the meeting representing First Nations groups and Christian denominations.
The meeting was co-facilitated by Chief Executive Officer of Reconciliation Canada, Karen Joseph and retired Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Reverend Peter Elliott. In his 25 years as Dean, Peter Elliott was a strong supporter of Reconciliation initiatives, the work of Reconciliation Canada and the leadership of Chief Joseph.
Barbara Lawson Swain, Chief Strategy Officer for Reconciliation Canada was also present, she distributed a two-page information sheet that contained the proposed vision statements for the group to discuss. The title of the outline succinctly defined the issue:
“Wet’suwet’en, Gaslink and Blockades – Pipelines are NOT the Issue! – We are Witnessing Systems Change in action! … A Liberation of Peoples and Nations.”
Following the territorial acknowledgement offered by the Reverend Dr. Ray Aldred, Director of Indigenous Studies at Vancouver School of Theology which was then followed by each person present introducing themselves (Dr. Aldred led the introductions), Chief Joseph gave a brief overview where he voiced his concerns. He said that he was upset and worried about the messages circulated in the media, and amplified by social media about the state of Reconciliation in Canada, that “Reconciliation is dead.” He pointed out that there is plenty of proof that this is not true including the fact that Canadians are coming forward to support Indigenous people in large numbers. This is a complete change from previous conflicts like the Oka, Quebec crisis in 1990 where and when 100% of the support was indigenous. Non-indigenous support for the many blockades and demonstrations in support of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs is estimated to be in the neighbourhood of 90%. That certainly points to the continuing progress of Reconciliation.
Karen Joseph said that what is happening across Canada is disruption. And, disruption is bound to happen once people have realized that dramatic changes are taking place. She went on to point out that there are three stages:
All those gathered agreed that a principal result of any new agreements should reflect that the beautiful lands of BC are to be preserved for future generations. We must join together to ensure that the land is maintained for our young people and for the future.
In order to establish some context for the escalation of the conflict it was pointed out that the flashpoint was the actions of RCMP officers on site pointing loaded rifles at Wet’suwet’en matriarchs who had gathered in support of the hereditary chiefs and their protest of the LNG pipeline construction. An action that all agreed would never happen in other circumstances. This extreme level of provocation certainly fueled the conflict and the resulting nation-wide disruptions.
With the basic information, proposed agenda, and proposed collective response statements made available to the group, each person attending the meeting was asked to speak and contribute. Karen took careful notes, and asked questions for clarification.
At this first meeting there were definitely some consistent themes and many of them involved the valuable contributions that can be made by people of faith and faith communities. The importance of validating the concerns of each group involved in the conflict was also seen as necessary to developing a collective response, group statement or list of suggestions.
Chief Joseph asked the question, “Why are we here today?” And he answered by saying that at the core of this disruption, at its heart, this is a Spiritual movement, therefore, it is important that people of faith are present and help lead the way.
Karen Joseph and others stressed the importance of developing suggestions for action that have a long lifespan, continued relevance, as these disruptions accompanied by dramatic change are going to happen over and over. A good idea to be prepared to respond with spiritual and faith based support.
This was just the first meeting and we are waiting to receive the Reconciliation Canada official meeting notes and perhaps a draft of a letter that can be sent out to the members of the participating First Nations and Christian denominations.
It is also important to note that this meeting took place during the time when talks were being held between government representatives and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. From the initial news reports, the talks have been positive but that only strengthens the need for people of faith to respond and to lead as the journey toward Reconciliation continues.
(This report was prepared by Nii K’an Kwsdins (Jerry Adams), Missioner for Indigenous Justice, diocese of New Westminster and Randy Murray, Communications Officer for the diocese.)