It’s the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer today for Canadian Anglicans.  With all that’s going on in North America at present, I felt compelled to not just add some prayers for our indigenous sisters and brothers into our service today, but to actually speak to it—as best as a white, past middle-age female Anglican priest living in white dominated rural Ontario, who has never had a close relationship with any person of colour possibly can speak to it.    I’ve been fretting about this, what words can I say to you?  I have no expertise, no training about this and limited understanding of the issues.

When I feel challenged like this, I start researching, looking to the wisdom of others for inspiration, for knowledge so I can share that with you.  I don’t know about you, but this explosion of anti-racism protests that is dominating our media of late has really impacted me, making me consider my own ideas and biases.  Seeing the police brutality of black people in the States and of indigenous people in Canada on TV makes me feel ill.  My thoughts are all over the place as I search for my own biases and prejudices.  Because I know that we all have them, and to get past them we need to understand where they come from, and face them before we can let them go.  The phrase ‘systemic-racism’ keeps coming back into my thinking.  What does that really mean?  I needed to focus on something to get started.  So that’s where I started.  Systemic means “fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice”[1]  Racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”[2].

So systemic racism:  a belief that white skinned people are superior beings to all other humans, so entrenched into all aspects of our social systems that we aren’t even aware of it, it is such a part of our civil identity.  White superiority is built into the structures of our society and has become so ingrained into our thinking, that we don’t even realize it or recognize it as racism.  So we are a society of mostly unwitting racists.  Wow.  How did this come to be? More research.  It started centuries ago, in the Americas with Christopher Columbus and colonization, with the Doctrine of Discovery.

(It) provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. If the lands were vacant, then they could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty claimed. … The presiding theory of the time was that Indigenous Peoples, because they were non-Christians, were not human and therefore the land (they inhabited) was (considered) empty — terra nullius. … in 1492, it is estimated that the Americas were actually occupied by 100 million Indigenous Peoples – which is about one fifth of the human race at that time – who had been living their traditional lives on the land since time immemorial. But, because they were not Christians the land was deemed terra nullius.[3]

(The United Nations concludes that the) ongoing impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous peoples …(because of) that fifteenth century Christian principle… as the “shameful” root of all the discrimination and marginalization indigenous peoples faced today. … (Terra nullius was) promoted as authority for land acquisition, (and) also encouraged despicable assumptions: that indigenous peoples were “savages”, “barbarians”, “inferior and uncivilized,” among other constructs the colonizers used to subjugate, dominate and exploit the lands, territories and resources of native peoples.”[4]

It occurred to me that this might be likened somewhat to considering life if say Canada was taken over by China and if Chinese laws, culture and language forced upon us.  Speaking English would be outlawed.  And our children and grandchildren would be ordered, on pain of death, to attend Chinese-styled boarding schools, indoctrinating them into  the Chinese communist way of life.

So, the Doctrine of Discovery—promoted by the Christian Church from the time of Christopher Columbus continues to impact society today, and in the ways we view and treat Indigenous Peoples. Consider the impact and legacy of the Canadian residential schools system. “In total, over 130 residential schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996.”[5]  “At various times between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada administered three dozen residential schools and hostels.”[6]; with the goal of assimilating Indigenous people into white culture, ‘which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada later described as “cultural genocide.” ’[7] Indigenous peoples were considered sub-human, their culture and way of life, considered inferior, and was systematically destroyed as they were forced onto reservations. Children ripped from their families and ordered into boarding schools subjected to every kind of abuse imaginable—for about 150 years.   Not surprisingly, the degree of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damage inflicted has had generational impact on indigenous communities, which further reinforced white people’s negative stereotypes.  Think about the movies and TV shows of our youth, and what little we learned about “Indians” in school.  Consider the number of missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women.  The treatment of indigenous people by the police still happening today is indicative of systemic racism.  And I’m sure what we see on TV is just the tip of the iceberg.  According to the John Howard Society of Canada:  “The extent to which blacks and Aboriginals are over represented in Canadian correctional institutions is similar to that of African Americans in the United States”.  Blacks are over represented in federal prisons by more than 300% vs their population, while for Aboriginals the over representation is nearly 500%.   The same disparities exist in provincial jails. …  Moreover, these imbalances are getting worse, not better.[8]

What has our Church done?

In 1993 Primate Michael Peers issued an apology to Indigenous Peoples for the Anglican Church of Canada’s role in the residential school system. The Anglican Church was among the signatories to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement in 2006 and participated in the public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), across the country between 2008 and 2015. The final report of the TRC’s Call to Action #59 states: “We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.”[9] 

Ok, so now what?  Where does all this leave me, leave us?  Well, while I have just barely scratched the surface of this, what I have learned does help to open my mind to some new understanding. It’s a beginning.   Once we can gather together again, I promise to provide some educational opportunities for our regional ministry! Here’s something else we can do to recognize Indigenous heritage and history.

 

In recent years, especially since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its work, it has become increasingly common for gatherings in Canada to begin with acknowledgments of the Indigenous history of the land on which the meeting is taking place. For us in the Church, this practice helps us acknowledge that we are located in a particular place with a particular history, and reminds us of our obligations toward both the land and to those who have inhabited it long before the arrival of Christian missionaries. It is also our way of expressing a willingness to move toward reconciliation and a renewed, respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. Including territorial acknowledgments in worship services was one of four means of reconciliation recommended in 2016 by the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice.[10]

According to the bit of research I’ve done, the land on which we live and upon which the churches in our Regional Ministry sits was ceded to the British Crown in Treaty 29 in 1827 as part of the Huron Tract Treaty. This was signed by “eighteen Anishinaabek chiefs in Amherstburg; the area included most of what is now known as Huron County, and parts of Perth & Middlesex. …  While the Crown used treaties to gain access to land for settlement and mining, First Nations understood treaties as building nation-to-nation relationships and protecting their continued stewardship of the land.”[11]  Hmmm…The irony is that terra nullius didn’t recognize the personhood of native people, never mind the concept of nation-to nation relationship.

“Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.”[12] We can do this.  It’s a small first step, an eye opener that we do need to learn more, understand more, and acknowledge that white privilege is built in to our systems.  That means racism is systemic, to the determent of the rest of God’s children.  Just because we don’t see so directly it in this wee little corner of Canada, doesn’t mean we can close our minds and eyes to it, or to what’s in our own hearts!

Another thing we can do is when we hear racist jokes or comments; we can speak out, rather than just ignoring it, because it makes us uncomfortable to address it.  Our faith tells us that God created all people in God’s own image, not just white skinned people.   We are all God’s beloved children!  Jesus preached inclusion and love of all our brothers and sisters, even the ones we’re taught by our culture to despise. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Let me end with “A Prayer of a White Settler for National Indigenous People”[13] specially for today.  It was shared on facebook by a friend and fellow priest.    Let us pray.

Creator God,
I come to you with a humble heart,
So grateful for Your creation,
this place I am in.

The land is full of Your glory this solstice day.
Sunlight sparkles on fresh green leaves.
Bees buzz as trees burst into bloom.

Even as dew collects on dandelion leaves,
Or raindrops gather in boiling thunderclouds,
A morning sip of lifegiving water deepens my gratitude
for the life that teams across Turtle Island.

O Creator, perfect host,
Your care and compassion were, and are,
echoed in the generous hospitality
of the original peoples – Indigenous peoples.

But the reciprocal relationships of host and guest
have been shattered.
And the pain continues.
For the death and destruction, I pour out my sorrow in lamentations.

It is for the sins of my own heart that I seek forgiveness.
Cleanse me of the thoughts and emotions
that keep those relationships from healing –
wash away the toxic entitlement, prejudiced assumptions, defensive disinterest.

O Creator, faithful Guide,
Show me the path towards right relations,
Shape not only my words and deeds,
but even more, my reactions and thoughts.

Open my heart to the wonder, the beauty, the gifts
of the person next to me,
the protester on the news,
the culture so different from my own.

Expose my racism,
Root out my deep-seated fear of change,
That I may be healed within,
even as I try to be part of the healing of Your world.
Amen.

Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/systemic Accessed June 16, 2020

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism Accessed June 16, 2020

[3] https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/christopher-columbus-and-the-doctrine-of-discovery-5-things-to-know Accessed June 16, 2020

[4] United Nations: Impact of the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ on indigenous peoples as quoted in https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/christopher-columbus-and-the-doctrine-of-discovery-5-things-to-know Accessed June 16, 2020

[5]https://www.google.ca/search?source=hp&ei=lOToXtSrCeSGggfa5rLADA&q=when+did+the+last+canadian+residential+school+close&oq=when+did+the+last+cana&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQARgAMgIIADICCAAyBggAEBYQHjIGCAAQFhAeMgYIABAWEB4yBggAEBYQHjIGCAAQFhAeMgYIABAWEB4yBggAEBYQHjIGCAAQFhAeOgUIABCxAzoFCAAQgwE6BAgAEApQ7wNYoitgsUZoBHAAeACAAc4BiAHSG5IBBjAuMjQuMZgBAKABAaoBB2d3cy13aXo&sclient=psy-ab Accessed June 16, 2020

[6]  https://www.toronto.anglican.ca/parish-life/social-justice-and-advocacy/indigenous-justice-and reconciliation/?fbclid=IwAR1vuC7mIWXBHnZG79xDxHj3tZ6tyFAFqJ9LuCIoat9xKM2h4eaRGA5m2A accessed June 15.20

[7] Ibid

[8] https://johnhoward.ca/blog/race-crime-justice-canada/ Accessed June 16, 2020

[9] https://www.toronto.anglican.ca/parish-life/social-justice-and-advocacy/indigenous-justice-and-reconciliation/?fbclid=IwAR1vuC7mIWXBHnZG79xDxHj3tZ6tyFAFqJ9LuCIoat9_xKM2h4eaRGA5m2A

[10] https://www.toronto.anglican.ca/parish-life/social-justice-and-advocacy/indigenous-justice-and-reconciliation/?fbclid=IwAR1vuC7mIWXBHnZG79xDxHj3tZ6tyFAFqJ9LuCIoat9_xKM2h4eaRGA5m2A Accessed June 15, 2020

[11] https://www.huroncountymuseum.ca/treaties-huron-county/#:~:text=The%20Huron%20Tract%20Treaty%20was,along%20the%20south%20of%20St. Accessed June 16, 2020

[12] https://native-land.ca/territory-acknowledgement/ Accessed June 17, 2020

[13] Written by Shannon Neufeldt-found on Facebook, June 18, 2020