Governor General David Johnston invested Winnipeg Archbishop-emeritus James Weisgerber, left, as an Officer of the Order of Canada Sept. 12. Photo by Sergeant Ronald Duchesne, Photographer to the Governor General

Weisgerber fears aboriginal violence

  • September 18, 2014

OTTAWA - Canada faces potential violence unless a just solution is found to the plight of Canada’s aboriginal people, warned Winnipeg Archbishop-emeritus James Weisgerber.

A day after he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada on Sept. 12 for his work as a “champion of social change and justice,” Weisgerber said he sees “an awful lot of young people that are very angry and very frustrated and often there can be temptation” to act violently.

“It’s going to take us a long time to get there, but at least we’re talking about it,” he said. “And it’s moving. Is it going to move fast enough to avoid huge difficulties, like violence? I’m not sure.”

Weisgerber noted the Idle No More protests of late 2012 and 2013 were “very peaceable,” but should “hotheads” get involved it could become violent very quickly “and that would not be good for us,” he said. “There’s a real urgency.”

When Weisgerber served as president of the Canadian Confer-ence of Catholic Bishops he facilitated an historic Vatican meeting in 2009 between Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine and Pope Benedict XVI. That meeting was one of the achievements cited when Governor General David Johnston invested Weisgerber with the Order of Canada.

Pope Benedict expressed regrets for the abuses that Aboriginal people faced in Indian Residential Schools.

“Pope Benedict was very clear that this is a beginning not an end,” said the archbishop.

“In Catholic theology, when you go to confession, you examine your conscience, you admit you have done something wrong, you confess your sins, you commit yourself to never do it again, and to make up for all the harm you have caused,” Weisgerber said.

“I think that’s a long journey. I’m not sure the federal govern-ment’s intent on that at all.

“Many, many of us as Canadians aren’t either.”

Weisgerber said all Canadians must figure out “how we are going to live together.”

“There can’t be winners and losers as there are now. We’re either all going to win or we’re all going to lose.”

He said the issues are extremely complex. There is division within the aboriginal community and lethargy on the part of the federal government. He also cited “indifference on the part of average Canadians and a huge amount of racism.”

“Again, a lot of it is lack of un-derstanding,” he said. “Many fall into a ‘blame-the-victim’ mentality, when in fact many problems faced by Aboriginal people are the result of oppression,” he said.

Retired from running a diocese, Weisgerber, 76, believes the Church has “a huge role to play,” because it can talk to average Canadians “who know nothing about this.”

“There’s no quick fix and it’s going to cost,” he said. “That’s not what we generally like to hear.”

Weisgerber said he is not sure where he stands on calls for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. People want “somebody to take it seriously,” he said, but is an inquiry required to show that, or “do you say we already know what the problem is and do something about it?” 

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