Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas diocese hopes more of the Church and Canadians educate themselves about issues like the European settlement of North America from the indigenous people. Register file photo

Righting wrongs done to natives begins with ‘truthful history’

  • March 30, 2016

OTTAWA - Canadian bishops are calling on Catholic institutions to tell “a truthful history” of the Church’s interaction with indigenous peoples.

A document released March 29 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops outlines several steps that can be taken to inspire Catholics to right past wrongs through a “practical commitment to heal enduring injustices.”

The document was issued in response to a recommendation from last year’s Truth and Reconciliation report that asked faith groups to build a framework of reconciliation based on the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

That declaration, issued in 2007, already reflected many previous statements made by the Church, said the Canadian bishops. So in their document — titled A Catholic response to Call to Action 48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — the bishops had no problem reaffirming their support of the UN declaration, stating “its spirit can point a way forward to reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada.”

The Canadian bishops conference released a second document March 29, which, like previous Church documents and statements, repudiated “illegitimate concepts and principles” reflected in the 15th-century Doctrine of Discovery. That doctrine was used to justify “seizure” of land from indigenous peoples dating back to European settlement of North America.

“I just hope more of our Church and Canadians in general educate themselves about these issues,” said Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, whose diocese is made up of 83 per cent First Nations and Metis peoples. 

One place to start is by making sure Catholic institutions tell a truthful history of the encounter with indigenous peoples, such as the effects of the residential school system, and the impact of ignoring or undermining treaties, the bishops said.

Other steps include: making interaction with indigenous communities part of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue; improving holistic health services; promoting a restorative-justice model to combat the high incarceration rate of these communities; supporting the national enquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women; helping indigenous communities build educational programs to promote their culture and experience; and reflecting on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples so it can be supported and implemented.

Chatlain said the challenge is to “put into effect some of these clear goals.”

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “I just pray we take genuine efforts in all of our dioceses to move forward in a positive way.”

Chatlain said issues raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been high on the bishops’ agenda for a long time. He said “some of the philosophies and cultural practices” that went into Canada’s founding did not make a “level playing field at all” for indigenous peoples.

In their document, the bishops cited a long list of historical issues, including matters related to self-determination, self government, land claims, treaties, oppression of cultural traditions and spiritual practices, education, social conditions, and, of course, residential schools.

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