Bishop Durocher brings message of solidarity with First Nations

  • June 12, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - On behalf of Canada’s Catholic bishops, Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher brought a message of solidarity and hope with Canada's First Nations to the National Day of Reconciliation June 11.

The day marked the first anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology from the Canadian government for Indian residential schools.

On Parliament Hill, Durocher spoke of Pope Benedict XVI’s words of deep regret, solidarity and hope spoken to aboriginal leaders in a private audience in late April in Rome.

“I believe that I echo the conviction of my fellow Canadian bishops when I tell you that we make the Pope’s words our own: we offer you the expression of our regret, the commitment of our solidarity, our dreams filled with hope,” said Durocher, bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall and co-treasurer of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Durocher spoke of how his family had given him the pectoral cross he was wearing as a sign of their love and support, but how aboriginal children were stripped of their families’ love and support when authorities forced them into the schools, where many were abused and suffered from a loss of their culture.

“As a bishop, I cannot help but think of the one who hung upon that cross 2,000 years ago. He too was stripped of His human dignity, rejected and shunned, abused, spat upon and cursed. How can we who wear this cross not feel a particular care for those, who, like Him, have borne the source of human indifference, spite and hatred?"

The Day of Reconciliation began with a sunrise ceremony on Victoria Island, land considered sacred to aboriginal peoples that sits in the Ottawa River between Ontario and Quebec.

The traditional ceremony, attended by aboriginal, church and political leaders, was rich in symbolism of new beginnings, said Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl. Strahl said it represented hope for the journey of restoration, relationship, humility and reconciliation. 

“Our actions and inaction have a powerful spiritual impact on everyone,” he said, urging everyone to work together to building a better life for aboriginal peoples “from coast to coast to coast.”

Mid-morning, First Nations' drummers led a procession of aboriginal elders and leaders to meet a similar procession of politicians and bishops, including Durocher and retired Toronto Anglican Archbishop Terrence Finley. The groups exchanged gifts, with Durocher passing on a traditional gift of tobacco for smudging, wrapped with ribbons of four colours to represent the four directions. He also presented a print of the Baptism of Christ by an aboriginal artist from the bishops' conference art collection. The drummers then led a joint procession to Parliament Hill, where young people took part in a traditional round dance before speakers from various First Nations, political parties and religions spoke about the meaning of true reconciliation and the hard work ahead to combat aboriginal poverty.

“Our First Nations people have suffered too much,” said outgoing Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine.

Fontaine said they wanted to live their dreams in good, safe healthy communities. But many of them are not safe or healthy, he said, noting that the swine flu pandemic is sweeping aboriginal communities, especially in northeastern Manitoba, where people live with severe overcrowding in dismal housing conditions. One government could not be blamed, he said.

“What we have today is the result of years and years of neglect on the shoulders of successive governments,” he said, noting a commitment is needed from every political party to ensure his peoples are treated fairly.

First Nations’ poverty is the single most important social justice issue Canada faces, he said.

Fontaine also spoke of the beauty, resilience, intelligence and skills of First Nations peoples, pointing to the great progress that has been made. Fifty years ago there were only 10 aboriginal people pursuing education beyond high school. Now there are close to 30,000 he said. There are 2,000 lawyers, 40 judges, 20,000 small businesses run by aboriginal people.

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