Scripture: Mark 5: 21-43. Nigel Bunce
The truth will come out — and it must
That the truth will come out about injustices to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples must be our prayer and our goal as we mark National Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021.
This is the tenth year that I have celebrated National Indigenous Peoples’ Day at St. George’s Lowville. I am pleased that St. George’s makes a tradition of celebrating National Aboriginal Peoples’ Day each year. I hope this tradition will continue.
Last year, we recorded the service on location at Crawford Lake Conservation Park. But recent events cause me to speak to you this year with a heavy heart. Accordingly, we decided to have a low key service in the church this year.
A serendipitous Gospel reading
It is pure chance that our Gospel reading includes the story in which Jesus healed a little girl who was on the point of death. She was unresponsive when he arrived. But Jesus called her spirit back from death.
Inevitably, this Scripture reminded me about the children who died at the Kamloops Residential School, and whose bodies lie in unmarked graves. Most likely, we will witness this discovery again at other former residential schools.
Heads in the sand
As you can tell from my accent, I was not born in Canada. When I came to this country in 1967, I knew essentially nothing about Canada’s history of mistreatment of our Indigenous peoples. After I moved to Ontario, I gradually learned more about Residential Schools and broken treaties.
But I was able to dissociate myself on the grounds that all this happened before I arrived. I didn’t even know, back then, that residential schools were still operating. It all seemed to be something in the past. It didn’t affect me. I wasn’t responsible for any of it. I’m guessing that many Canadian-born people have a similar view – “it all happened before I was born.”
Very gradually, my attitude changed after I became a citizen. It took a long time, but I had to face up to the fact that the Government of Canada is now my government. I cannot change events that happened in the past. But, because I am a Canadian citizen, I am still responsible for the present estrangement from our Indigenous peoples, and our future relationship with them.
The truth will come out: tragedy in Kamloops
Like so many other “settler” Canadians, the revelations in Kamloops last month came to me as a real “smack in the face”. I read the Globe & Mail every day. I listen to CBC news every day. So, how could I not have known what Indigenous people had been saying for years about their lost children?
Yet in 2015, Justice Murray Sinclair released the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It is a monumental document. I learned only last week that it even included a report on the subject of missing children.. I admit that I only read the summary and the 94 Calls to Action.
The Truth will come out. Indeed, it continues to seep out. It is uncomfortable. It tells of inhumane treatment of our Indigenous peoples, and broken promises concerning treaties that various groups negotiated with the Crown. It is a litany of disrespect.
From disrespect towards respect
Right now, UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) is before our federal Parliament. Perhaps, we can hope, that passing this Declaration into Canadian law, will give our Indigenous leaders the sense that we finally respect them. Maybe, that could be a first step on a long road towards Reconciliation.
Several times, since I have been at St. George’s, I have preached the need for more Government action on issues like proper water treatment facilities in remote communities like Grassy Narrows. Also, I have called for more equitable access to health care, housing, and education.
It was well-intentioned. But perhaps even that was the wrong approach. It comes out of a rather “colonial” mind-set; “I know what needs to be done”. So, “let’s just get on and do it.” It would be much more respectful for me to call on our governments to sit down with Indigenous leaders to ask what they need, and how governments can help.
A new commitment
Several years ago, St. George’s made the commitment to acknowledge that our church sits on ancestral First Nations land. We have done this ever since on our letterhead and our weekly service bulletin.
As of today, I commit to making such an acknowledgement at the start of our Sunday services, as a mark of respect. I propose that we vary the wording from week to week. Otherwise, to recite the identical words every week comes across a doing it by rote, without sincerity.
In short, our prayer and our goal must be that the truth will come out about injustices to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples as we mark National Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021.
National Aboriginal Peoples’ Day
Let me finish on a happier note. We celebrate National Aboriginal Peoples’ Day each year on or about June 21st, the day of the summer solstice. Ancient peoples around the world have marked the longest day of the year for thousands of years.
It has sacred significance as a way of Being. Not as those of us of European descent tend to emphasize, a way of Doing. Nevertheless, I see a strong connection between Indigenous, Creation-centred beliefs and my own Creation-centred and Celtic view of the divine.
And, amid all the sadness this year, I see a sign of hope. We celebrate the heritage of our Indigenous peoples at the season when the light is brightest. This year, the light has truly shone into very dark places. And so I end with this prayer.
A prayer to close
O Brother Sun, shining in the heavens, may your light be the symbol of enlightenment for us all, settlers and Indigenous brothers and sisters alike. We ask that we may begin a new journey together, in which we walk from sin into right behaviour, from arrogance to respect, and from unfairness to justice and kindness. And from darkness into the glorious brightness of the One that we acknowledge as Creator, who is known by many names, including Great Spirit and God. Amen.