With all the issues facing us today, why is it important to stay focused on Indigenous issues? And why is it especially important for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus to focus on these issues?
In Luke 4:18, Jesus was clear why he came: “… to bring Good News to the poor, … to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” Jesus commands us to follow his example.
When the survivors and others affected by Indian Residential Schools took Canada to court and won, as part of the judgement, the government was ordered to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC’s mandate was to inform Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools and document the truth from survivors, their families and communities of the past and ongoing impact of those experiences. At the completion of its work, the TRC issued 94 Calls to Action clearly stating the changes required to begin to address the damage. After seven years, little has been done.
Over 9,000 unmarked burial sites have been found on a small number of the 139 Residential School properties. In 2021 there were 71 communities under drinking water advisories. People in Indigenous communities are living in sub-standard and deplorable housing. Our healthcare system still treats Indigenous people very differently, often with tragic results. Our education system chronically underfunds Indigenous compared to non-indigenous education. Often children from Grade 9 onward must leave their homes and communities to attend high schools in strange cities. Our legal system is systematically prejudiced and overly harsh with indigenous offenders even though, according to the Gladue Report (1999), courts are required to take generational trauma into consideration. Nearly 30% of people in custody in Canada are Indigenous, but are only 4% of the population. The child welfare system continues to take children from their families, communities and culture. Although Indigenous children make up only 8% of the child population, in March of 2020, 69% of children and youth in care were Indigenous.
We are called to be light and truth in a world that is sometimes very dark. Our efforts can seem inconsequential. It can be pitch black but if you light one match, the darkness is displaced. The more lights the bigger the impact on the darkness.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what one person can do when they encounter wrong. The people who represented religious communities did nothing and pretended not to see. The Samaritan not only helped the injured man at the time, but left money to care for him going forward. Involvement is to be ongoing until the issue is resolved.
Walking Together in a Good Way (September 23-25, 2022 at Westview Baptist Church in London) is an opportunity to listen to and learn from Indigenous elders, teachers, healers, leaders, and others. Reconciliation requires truth. We need to know and understand what Indigenous people want and need and how we can join with them and support them to achieve those things.
Come, listen and learn. Everyone can be part of the solution.