Is Indigenous reconciliation possible?


Sermon June 19, 2022. National Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Fathers Day, Nigel Bunce

Indigenous reconciliation usually means restoring the broken relationship between Indigenous peoplesand the governments and settler people of Canada.  But reconciliation is about much more than affirming peaceful and respectful relations.  How can we set about trying to restore, or replace, what past actions caused to be lost?


Today’s Scriptures and liturgy are like an enormous smorgasbord. There’s so much to preach on, but I have to choose. I’ll defer talking about the Elijah story – one of my favourites – till Evening Prayer on Wednesday.

As well, it’s both Fathers Day and National Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In the time I have been at St. George’s, we have celebrated both those events every year. But I don’t recall celebrating them simultaneously.

I’ll begin with Fathers’ Day

The father image of God comes straight from the Gospels. Because Jesus used it in his only prayer that they record. He began, “Our Father.” However, the original word for “Father” was “Abba”. Closer to “Dad” or “Papa.”

Thus, Jesus explained the intimacy that the disciples should feel towards God. Also, Jesus prayed to “Our Father”, not “My Father”. He included the disciples in the prayer. “Our Father” includes all those who pray to God, not just us. We even pray this way when pray alone.

Jesus has us pray to a God who is an idealized earthly father. Not an angry judgmental god. However, it’s only one aspect of God. Because God is beyond human comprehension.

I’ll turn now to National Indigenous Peoples’ Day

However, I can only speak as an outsider. I am a settler. More than that, a recent settler. I came to Canada in 1967. The year the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.  But this year in particular, I have been trying to see myself as an Indigenous person might see me.

What is reconciliation?

On Ash Wednesday this year, I reflected on the word reconciliation. It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot. In 2 Corinthians 5: 17-19, St. Paul wrote this.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. Who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ God reconciled the world to himself. Not holding their sins against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

The main meaning of reconciliation is restoration of friendly relations. Roman Catholics use the word in the context of penance. That is, restoring right relationships after sin. That’s closer to how Paul used the word. Because Paul had a deeply negative view of human nature.

That’s because Paul subscribed to the doctrine of Original Sin. Therefore, Paul considered that ever-sinful humanity needed reconciliation to God. That’s the meaning of the phrase ‘God and sinners reconciled’ in the carol Hark ths herald angels.

Interpersonal reconciliation

Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 23-24) talks about reconciliation with someone you have quarreled with. It’s more important than even charitable works. I quote. “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and you remember that someone is angry with you … first reconcile with them. Then return and offer your gift.”

The parable of the prodigal son seems to relate reconciliation with fatherhood. The son had squandered his inheritance of loose living. That had brought disgrace on the family. But the father forgave him unconditionally.

They reconciled, and feasted together to celebrate renewal of their relationship..However, reconciliation with our Indigenous Peoples means more than restoring friendship. There’s also the matter of restoring what has been lost. This came to me very forcefully earlier this month.

Indigenous reconciliation (or not)

Canada broke its Treaty 7 promise to the Alberta Blackfoot Nation in 1910. It wrongfully took almost half of the Siksika First Nation’s reserve land, and sold it to settlers. The land in question included some of the most productive agricultural and mineral-rich lands.

On June 2, the federal government announced a $1.3 B settlement of a land claim with the Siksika First Nation in Alberta. What really made me realize the depth of the injustice was a comment by Chief Ouray Crowfoott on the CBC program As it happens.

Quote: “I mentioned to the Prime Minister earlier. Canada needs to stop using the word reconciliation. You will never reconcile. You will never make it whole. This land claim, yeah, $1.3 billion. That’s a lot of money.”

In other words. The money’s nice, but it can’t compensate for the loss. Likewise, how can Canada ever recompense Indigenous peoples for the ongoing trauma of the residential schools? We tend to use the term Indigenous reconciliation in the narrow sense of restoring friendship and respect.

Indigenous reconciliation: not the same as car repair

However, Indigenous peoples, quite reasonably, see Indigenous reconciliation differently. To undo the harm done. To restore what was broken. And that’s generally not possible. It isn’t the same as repairing your car after a fender-bender.

A different ‘Great Replacement’

An ironical aside. White supremacists promote an idea they call the “Great Replacement”. They blame so-called ‘liberal elites’. For systematically replacing white European populations with non-white, non-Christian people. How might I feel about that if I were Indigenous?

I think that my first response might be this. “You settlers used the ‘doctrine of discovery’ to replace us. Moreover, you continue to do so. Now, you want to bring 400,000 newcomers to Canada /Turtle Island every year. This continues to dilute our numbers. In other words, to replace us.”

And, yes, I must recognize that I am one of those newcomers.

Again, Indigenous reconciliation is more than peace and friendship

I am pleased that St. George’s makes a territorial acknowledgment every week at the beginning of our service.  But I recognize that this only addresses the ‘peace and friendship’ aspect of Indigenous reconciliation. What I called earlier the narrow meaning of the word. It doesn’t, and cannot, embrace the aspect of restoring what was lost.

Worse. We thank our First Nations’ brothers and sisters for their care of the land through the generations. But yet, we continue to pave over it. Within the lifetimes of Kaleb and Melissa, I foresee, Oakville, Milton, and Burlington as one giant expanse of suburbia, How can we claim to care for the land in our own time?

These are hard issues for us to think about. But on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2022, I felt that I had to face up to them. Even though it’s also Fathers Day. Amen.