Listening to aboriginal peoples is a matter of life and death

Mary Fontaine is a member of Canada’s Cree people who serves as a member of WCRC’s Executive Committee. In reflecting on what is important for WCRC member churches to learn from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is hearing testimony from survivors of residential schools for aboriginal children run by churches on behalf of the government, she writes:

“The residential schools in Canada were set up to destroy the “Indian”.  As Duncan Campbell Scott said, “To get rid of the Indian…until there is not a single Indian left in the body politic.” (Ed note: Scott was a 19th century Canadian federal civil servant.)

The treatment of Indigenous children in these institutions is an act against God and one I think that those in power who initiated and sustained this system will have to answer for.  So it’s good that churches are owning-up to this sin of hate and injustice. But that’s not all there is to the story.  The Indigenous peoples’ story in Canada does not begin and end with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  It’s one thing for the stories of Indigenous children, now elders, to tell their stories and to have these stories locked up in a museum. But the saga of oppression through Bill C-45 and other legislation continues.  (Ed note: Fontaine is referring to legislation that endangers historic aboriginal rights to land and resources.)

There seems to be some kind of inherent will to destroy the earth caused by greed.  Perhaps Rosemary Radford Ruth was right when she said that Christianity is responsible for the destruction of the earth through its theological influence that humans have the dominion over the earth.  Indigenous people regard the earth as a mother and nurturer and all living creatures our brothers and sisters.  Perhaps the Western world could learn and benefit from this spirituality.

I think if we spent more time listening to each other among the nations, we would realize what matters most in our co-existence in this world.  I think we would find for example, that we are all want clean drinking water and a non-toxic earth for ourselves and future generations.  We need to take responsibility for how we treat the gift we have been given on this earth.  The earth and all its beauty is being destroyed because of greed and power.  There need to be some changes … Perhaps we are too quick as Christians to justify ourselves by God’s eternal grace.

Canada is not the only place where Indigenous peoples are oppressed and where our lands are being taken and in the process of being poisoned by industry.  Everywhere in the world, Indigenous lands are being taken and the water and their lands being poisoned.  I think about Ecuador where Texaco and Chevron buried the oil instead of cleaning it up.  It then seeped through the water tables into the river, the source of water for the Indigenous people there.  This is what is going to happen here in Canada too.  …It’s only a matter of time. It’s also only a matter of time before the poisons seep through to larger areas.  What affects one people will affect others.  We are all connected.

So is the TRC a good thing?  Absolutely… [but] even though things are better now, the systems of oppression are still in place.  We need the help of the church and the people. We need to work together for the good of all of us.  Let the world listen to what we are saying.  It’s a matter of life and death.”

Mary Fontaine

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