Former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl at the podium of the National Aboriginal Prayer Breakfast with Honorary Chief Kenny Blacksmith and his wife Louise looking on. Photo by Paul Lauzon

First annual National Aboriginal Prayer Breakfast recognized progress in relations

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  • June 25, 2013

OTTAWA - More than 500 people jammed the ballroom of Ottawa's Chateau Laurier Hotel for the first annual National Aboriginal Prayer Breakfast June 21.

Co-host Honorary Chief Kenny Blacksmith, director of Gathering Nations International (GNI), told the guests the vision for such a breakfast grew out of a desire to recognize many positive developments in relations between First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and the government of Canada. The breakfast, he said, is meant to continue in a positive way to strengthen initiatives “that would draw us together,” he said.

“We want to catch a glimpse of what lies beyond an exchange of forgiveness,” Blacksmith said. “When you’ve learned to deal with the past, you also have this glimpse of a future just within reach. I am excited for our nation.”

Blacksmith recalled Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology in the House of Commons in June 2008 for the wrongs inflicted by Indian Residential Schools.

“We heard that apology across this nation,” Blacksmith said. “We knew it was very sincere.

But even more important was that Harper not only said he was sorry, but also asked, “Please forgive us,” Blacksmith said.
Former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, who has since retired from politics, told the prayer breakfast he imagined Harper was surrounded by lawyers at the time advising him not to apologize or ask for forgiveness because of potential liability issues. But the Prime Minister’s doing so was “absolutely powerful,” he said.

Stahl recalled the National Forgiven Summit of 2010 where 5,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit people came to Ottawa to extend forgiveness to the government of Canada and the churches. The event, organized by GNI, offered a Charter of Forgiveness and Freedom to Strahl on behalf of the aboriginal peoples present. That offer of forgiveness on the part of those leaders “who were ready to offer forgiveness” was also powerful, he said.

“Good things happen when people, organizations and governments ask for forgiveness,” Strahl said. “The entire Christian faith is dependent on the forgiveness of sins.”

Yet Strahl admitted the Western world has trouble understanding the concept of forgiveness and spends “a lot of time scrubbing spiritual terms and concepts out of the conversation.”

“Eyes glaze over” when spiritual matters are talked about, he said.

“We have a good track record in talking about our interests, but not in talking about value and spiritual truth,” he said.

His Aboriginal Affairs department was one that tried to recognize the spiritual side of life.

“Aboriginal people have not allowed spiritual truth to be removed from the public domain,” Strahl said.

Meetings with aboriginal leaders often involve prayer, he said. “An elder will open the meeting in prayer; nobody protests. Nobody talks about the separation of Church and state.”

It’s easy to understand a rights agenda, or the exercise of power or people making demands, Strahl said, but harder to understand forgiveness and reconciliation, neither of which can be legislated.

“How can you put in legislation I am going to force you to be a friend?” he asked.

Forgiveness is “so much in the heart and in the vision of the God who made all of us, who created us,” said Blacksmith.

“It’s in the heart of His Son Jesus. It is written in the black book, the Bible, simply, that’s the way.

“Our people have had prophetic dreams and visions hundreds of years ago that one day people would come to our shores and one day a black book would be given to us,” Blacksmith said. The missionaries who came to North America 500 years ago, “their job was not done in vain.”

“We received that black book and it has given us life and hope and vision for the future.”

The breakfast was co-hosted by Conservative MP James Lunney and Conservative Senator Don Meredith. Ontario Minister for Seniors Mario Sergio represented the Ontario government at the gathering. Speakers included Rev. James Goll from Nashville, Tenn., and Rev. Brian Warren, co-host of the 700 Club Canada.

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