Indigenous justice means justice for all,’ says Anglican Canadian Indigenous leader
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said he is hopeful that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) outlining concrete actions that would respect the sovereignty and integrity of Canada’s Indigenous peoples would help Indigenous Anglicans’ own struggle for self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada.
What resonated with him the most in the report, said MacDonald in an interview, was its call for “a full and complete acceptance of the values, protocols and ideals of Indigenous people and their equal weight in governance, in life, in culture. It adds a lot of weight to what we’re trying to do.”
Indigenous Anglicans believe that “the Gospel, the living word of God, wants to be living and real in Indigenous life,” said MacDonald. “You can’t do that if you have no respect for Indigenous life.
“What we have looked for, hoped for and longed for in the church and in the larger society is something that this report asked,” he added. “What the TRC report describes so well is that Indigenous concerns are woven into the fabric of Canadian life so completely that you cannot have justice unless you have indigenous justice, and indigenous justice means justice for all.”
Nonetheless, MacDonald acknowledged that it is a strong declaration that “will be challenging to Canada, as we have already seen.” He added that it is one that will also be challenging to the church “because people are so habituated into thinking that Indigenous values, ideals, values and practices are inferior, that they have no place in governance, life and in the life of the church.”
MacDonald said the TRC has not only allowed the truth of what happened at the Indian residential schools to be told “in a full and comprehensive way,” it has also provided a roadmap towards reconciliation and “towards a future of real partnership and life” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
These, according to National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, were the two most important achievements of the TRC, which ended its six-year inquiry on June 2 by releasing a 382-page report that concluded the residential school system amounted to “cultural genocide.”
The TRC also issued 94 recommendations that included a call for a new royal proclamation and covenant of reconciliation that would reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown, as well as concrete actions for addressing issues such as Aboriginal child welfare, education, language and culture, spiritual traditions, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, justice, health and missing residential school children.
“The report, for me, was an emotional moment,” said MacDonald. “So many things came together at that time that we’ve been hoping for, working for, believing in, struggling.”
The presence of church leaders at the closing event of the TRC, held May 31 to June 2 in Ottawa, as well as their joint response to the report, have given him hope, said MacDonald.
“I think the churches’ presence here and commitment really speaks for itself. I’m more hopeful than I have been in the past that the church is committed to follow through, that it understands that the goodness and the joy of this is the follow through,” he said. “Even though the follow through will be very, very difficult, I think a lot of our leaders are beginning to understand that this is good, not just for Indigenous people but for every Canadian. “
Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh said she also felt “very positive” and “very hopeful” about the churches’ response to the report. “I know that the church has always tried to stand by us and I appreciate that.”
In their response, the churches that operated the federally funded residential schools — Anglican, United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic — said the report will offer direction to their “continuing commitment to reconciliation.”
“We are committed to respect Indigenous spiritual traditions in their own right,” they said in a statement. “As individual churches and in shared interfaith and ecumenical initiatives…we will continue to foster learning about and awareness of the reality and legacy of the residential schools, the negative impact of such past teachings as the Doctrine of Discovery, and the new ways forward found in places, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Churches also promised to continue funding “community-controlled initiatives in healing, language and cultural revitalization, education and relationship-building, and self-determination.”
Mamakwa expressed hope that the TRC’s recommendations and the churches’ promises “will take shape, that they will be implemented.”
For Mamakwa, a key element in the recommendations was education, specifically, educating all Canadians not just about what happened at the residential schools, but about Aboriginal history. “I think that would create change in attitudes,” she said. While “some good work was done” by the TRC, she said, its work was not widely known in her own community. “It has just hit the tip of the iceberg. There’s more work to be done,” she said.
What she would like the church to concentrate on the revival of language and culture, said Mamakwa. “The church can really acknowledge and validate our culture through our language.” She lamented that a lot of the church resources in her community are often in English.