As I write these words, I am in a cottage looking over beautiful Lake Ontario near the start of the mighty St. Lawrence River. The sun is shimmering off the water; maple, oak, poplar and ash trees sway in the gentle summer breeze. I am grateful to be here and consider it a privilege and a joy. It seems like an ‘abundant life’ (John 10:10).
I also know that to be here meant that sometime in the past, Indigenous peoples were made unwelcome by circumstance or design. Today, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte consider this their traditional territory, and I have learned to acknowledge and honour that truth.
It has been five years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its mandate and released its six-volume report documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Indian Residential Schools system; a legacy that our prime minister called ‘a sad chapter in our history’ during the 2008 apology.
For generations the church has placed its own theology and thinking above those outside the fold. ‘We know better’ was an often-used excuse for imposing on others a version of the gospel that was so infused with a dominant culture that it bore little resemblance to what Jesus would surely want. The Accra Confession rejects any theology that claims God is for the rich over the poor, and ‘any form of injustice that destroys right relations – gender, race, class, disability or caste’.
Today in Canada, twelve years after a government apology and five years after the significant work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Indigenous peoples in Canada (and others) are rightly asking what we have learned.
Members of the National Indigenous Ministries Council of our church have again reminded us that violence against Indigenous people is one of the most severe injustices and it needs to be named and stopped. Systemic racism against Indigenous people is operational in our institutions and in the structures of our society.
In the space of only two months this year Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore, Abraham Natanine, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Stewart Kevin Andrews, Everett Patrick, Jason Collins, and Eishia Hudson--all eight Indigenous people—have died during encounters with police services in Canada. Two of these individuals died during so-called ‘wellness checks’.
In response to these cries for justice, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has offered an action plan and commits itself to following through on these and other efforts to bring healing and justice.
The plan condemns and calls for an end to violence against Indigenous peoples, whether through policing, systemic means, or interpersonal racism. It reaffirms the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an appropriate framework for reconciliation. We encourage our members to find concrete ways of seeking justice for Indigenous people and learning about Indigenous history.
In the Accra Confession, John’s gospel is held as a warning and a promise:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11, NRSV).
As Christians in the Reformed family, we live not to destroy but to build up, and we have as our model Jesus himself, who offers live in abundance to all.
—Rev. Stephen Kendall
Principal Clerk, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Toronto, Ontario, Canada