Disarming Conflict: A book review

Disarming Conflict: Why peace cannot be won on the battlefield. By Ernie Regehr. Between the Lines, 2015.

Reviewed by Jennifer Wiebe, director of the Ottawa Office. This review originally appeared in The Catalyst.

“Peace, no less than politics, is the art of the possible,” writes Ernie Regehr (O.C.). Regehr is widely respected as a peace researcher, security and disarmament specialist, and co-founder of Project Ploughshares. In this book, he unravels our deeply-entrenched assumptions about both the inevitability and efficacy of military force in resolving conflict.

Regehr’s personal convictions naturally inform his work. But the thesis of Disarming Conflict doesn’t hinge on moral arguments against war. Therein lies its strength. It is meticulously researched and rigorous in its analysis. Regehr is concerned with what actually works for achieving peace and stability.

DisarmingConflict (300x450)The first half of the book examines the ways in which military force has been “predictably ineffective” in settling highly complex political disputes over that last quarter century. After spreading loss and destruction, the overwhelming majority (85%) of intrastate and international wars end in a desperate military stalemate. They are then settled at the same negotiating tables avoided at the outset.

The second half of the book shifts to Regehr’s central theme of “disarming conflict.” It lays out practical prescriptions for preventing and de-escalating war. This includes political diplomacy, human security, small arms control, nuclear disarmament, and the protection of vulnerable populations through peace support operations.

For any self-proclaimed “realist” who may be inclined to dismiss anything written by a peace activist, this is no work of utopian fantasy. Disarming Conflict is evidence-based and entirely practical. It challenges the myth that there are no real alternatives to violence for achieving regional, national, and global interests.

Effectively realizing these alternatives requires a major shift away from devoting the lion’s share of our political and financial resources on the preparation for, and conduct of, war. Instead, we should invest in the kinds of nonviolent approaches and initiatives all-too-often sidelined in our national capitals. “It means building the conditions of positive peace as if our lives depended on it,” Regehr argues.

This book is essential reading for peace practitioners, military personnel, policy makers, ordinary citizens, and skeptics alike!

When he woke up, the monster was still there

By Nancy Sabas, Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador. She is from Honduras. Her reflection was originally published on MCC’s Latin America Advocacy Blog.

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“When he woke up, the monster was still there”[i]: The conflict of Banana and Oil palm companies in La Blanca community.

Tell me, given that you are a journalist and I didn’t go to school:
Drying lagoons is equal to development?
Fumigating communities is equal to development?
I didn’t go to school, but I know that that is not development
I am illiterate and I know that that is a violation.”

– Farmer and community member of La Blanca community.

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the community of La Blanca to interview neighbours and leaders of the South Shore Communities in Defense of the Territory along with the Co-Country Representative of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the MCC Advocacy Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean to learn more about the issues of monocrops and agro-industry in Guatemala.

I recognized the community immediately; I had seen it in the documentary “Ocos Despierta” produced by the Pastoral of the Earth from the Diocese of San Marcos, which we usually watch with the learning groups when discussing monoculture and agro-industries. The scene that always catches my attention is one with a man in the middle of the Zanjón Pacayá river who denounces the killing of fish, which he claims is caused by contamination from the toxic waste disposed of by the banana and oil palm companies in the area. This scene seemed peculiar for the language used, which not only reflects his concern about community subsistence, but also his love and anguish for a river that he understands as alive and in the process of being killed. This man´s connection with mother nature, as portrayed in that scene,  made me despise a little my own urbanity that has taught me to see nature as a mere resource.

Unfortunately, this poor understanding of nature as a commodity that can be abused and exploited is the legacy of a capitalist logic. Under this logic, the agroindustry of mono-cultures in communities such as La Blanca, Guatemala, is destroying ecosystems under the banner of development.

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Monoculture  is a growing industry. According to data from the National Agricultural Survey of 2014 (ENA), Guatemala’s second most important permanent crop, in terms of production volume, is oil palm. According to the ENA, palm oil production increased by 118% in 2014 compared to 2013. The cultivation of land for African palm, therefore also increased by 33%, compared 2013.[ii] Official data published by the ENA in previous years have shown inconsistencies compared to the data provided by the Union of Producers of Palm in Guatemala (GREMPALMA ) and other researchers, who estimate that the expansion of crops has been even greater.[iii]

Surely this industrial growth must be a reflection of an increase in cash flow. These mega-companies provide unskilled jobs and fund local infrastructure projects. Does this translate into an improvement in the quality of life for community members?

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“In the past we had three crops and now there’s only one,” says Eduardo Juarez, president of the organization of the 12 communities on the South Shore supported by local partner the Diocese of San Marcos, “There are children with skin diseases and respiration problems.” Another member added, “Our river Pacayá gave us fish for our own consumption and to sell.  People from Coatepeque and La Blanca used to come here to fish. In the winter the river regenerated through small ponds. The prairie area, El Tigre, had lizards, turtles and different species of animals. The Monticulo hill became known as the ‘charm’ because of the sounds of cocks crowing and other animals. Now, only the oil palm lives. It is unfortunate that 10 years have passed and nobody is doing anything. The prairie still appears on the map but it does no longer exist. This has affected our right to life and food”

Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva explains in an essay: “ Nature has been subjugated to the market as a mere supplier of industrial raw material and dumping ground for waste and pollution. It is falsely claimed that exploiting the Earth creates economic value and economic growth, and this improves human welfare. While human welfare is invoked to separate humans from the Earth and justify her limitless exploitation, all of humanity does not benefit. In fact most lose. Pitting humans against nature is not merely anthropocentric, it is corporatocentric”.[iv]

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Guatemala has failed to establish appropriate institutions or laws to oversee water use; this failure represents a huge accountability problem when agro industries, hydroelectric and mining companies use an enormous amount of water for their operations. The multinationals present in the community of La Blanca are Grupo HAME and BANASA. The Dole Fruit Company and Chiquita Banana are the main buyers of their banana production. According to local testimonies, the company BANASA and Group HAME had a legal conflict over the water coming from the river, the Ocosito, to perform their operations, leaving the community stuck in the middle.

According to members of La Blanca and independent investigations, companies use an estimated 40,000 gallons of water per minute. In a paper presented by the South Shore Communities in Defense of  the Territory in the IV TLA Public Hearing before the Latin American Water Tribunal, they state:

“The National Banana S.A. (BANASA) has built an irrigation and drainage system that connects the river Ocosito with the Pacaya River, which covers the entire planting and aims to control moisture conditions on the land. This causes two types of impacts to rural communities: (1) in summer / drought farmers suffer water shortage due to water extraction; upstream of the current with very low flow; and (2) in winter time/rainy season the population is affected by severe flooding increase in their crops and houses. In addition, the venting of water from the banana farms to the Pacayá river has caused industrial pollution and the presence of dead fish in it. (…) Multiple extraction authorizations are granted over rivers, generating conflict between companies and also between companies/communities, with the consequent reduction of flows that the communities need. The State has failed to conduct detailed studies of water systems.”[v]

Last year marked the 10th year of the struggle of the 12 communities of the South Shore. 10 years of demanding compensation for damages to communities, restoration of the prairies, closing off the canals and wells, the establishment of a water treatment system,conservation of rivers and the abolition of monocultures. 10 years full of dignity and resistance to a model that does not revere life.

“Confronting them feels like dealing with a monster” a member of the 12 communities of the South Shore reported. But somehow, that “monster” has been unable to silence their voices calling for justice and their right to good living.

Watch the Ocós documentary.

[i] Augusto Monterroso was a well recognized Guatemalan/Honduran writer, known for his one-sentence story:  ¨When he woke up, the Dinasour was still there”.

[ii] Republica de Guatemala: Encuesta Nacional Agropecuaria 2014.

[iii] Memorial de denuncia ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (2015) Washington. Mikkelsen, Vagn. (2013). Guatemala: Comercio Exterior, Productividad Agrícola y Seguridad Alimentaria Pg. 10

[iv] Vandana Shiva (2014) Economy Revisited. Will Green be the Colour of Money or Life?Global Research

[v] Resolucion Banano y su impacto en las fuentes de Agua Guatemala (2015) Tribunal Latinoamericano del Agua

Haiti is passionate

The international press offers a single narrative of Haiti – one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere” – this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.

In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is Rebekah Sears’ description of Haiti as she experienced it. It originally was published on the MCC Haiti blog

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Members of CCODMIR and the Dominican human rights organization Centro Bono with the MCC team in Malpasse.  Photo/Ted Owald.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are facing a migration crisis. For much of their history, tensions have been high between the two nations, most recently due to D.R. policies that discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. In 2013, a new law stripped tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship and, along with Haitian migrants, were made victim to sporadic and sometimes violent deportations to Haiti.

These policies and actions in the D.R. can be understood as a further attempt by the D.R. government to blame the country’s social and economic ills on Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, essentially scapegoating an entire group of people.

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When one person’s human rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated.” — Pierre Garot Nere, Coordinator of CODDEMIR in Malpasse, Haiti. Photo/Anna Vogt.

During our journey in Haiti we spent time at the border, visiting those working on the front lines of this crisis. We met with members of a coalition of 15 Haitian groups, collectively known as CODDEMIR. For the past seven years, CODDEMIR (in English, the Collective of Organizations working for the Defence of Human Rights for Migrants and the Repatriated) has been pooling financial and human resources for one common goal of standing with the displaced from the D.R.

CODDEMIR engages in national and international advocacy on their behalf, through press releases, reporting, emergency assistance and education. Their passion and dedication spoke volumes to me; I felt hopeful creating a sense of hope as they shared their desire to protect  those who face difficult and divisive situations

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Stripped palms on Lake Peligre, in the border area of Malpasse. Photo/Anna Vogt.

The influx of people crossing the border since June 2015 has caused resentment in some Haitian communities. CODDEMIR has come alongside these communities to educate them about returnees’ needs. As a result, when CODDEMIR’s welcoming center is overcrowded, more local families and communities take displaced people into their homes.

Human rights groups, including CODDEMIR, are calling for significant action; action inside the D.R. to reverse laws discriminating against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, and action by the Haitian national government to come alongside migrants and also invest more in Haitian communities so people don’t feel they have to leave. They are also calling on the international community to pressure both governments to respond justly to the situation.

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In 2015 Michana (R) was living in the D.R. with her infant son. They were deported spontaneously and had no relations to help them on the Haiti side of the border. Miatrice (L) saw her crying on the side of the road and convinced her parents, who already had 8 people living in their home, to take them in. Terre Froide. Photo/Ted Barlow, Operation Blessing.

At the core, these organizations are calling for the recognition of our common humanity, encouraging all of us to welcome others, support each other, and stand together. In this, we can say that Haiti is passionate about welcoming and caring for others.

Rebekah Sears is a policy analyst with MCC’s Ottawa Office. 

A rich feast of peacebuilding flavours

My head and heart were very full at the end of the Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival hosted by Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario, June 9-12.  How could they not be, after three intense days of plenary sessions, workshops, a conversation café, a concert, a drama performance, art exhibits and a rich closing worship service?

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Making new friends. GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

Two years in the making, the conference and festival brought together 200 peace practitioners, pastors, theologians, activists, students and others from 20 countries. From Canada to Colombia, from India to Indonesia, from Germany to Nigeria, we gathered to consider what it means to be Mennonite peacebuilders in unique and vastly different contexts.

There was much to celebrate about Mennonite peacebuilding, particularly with respect to the building of bridges across divides of fear and distrust. From Paulus Widjaja[1] of Indonesia we learned how, in the wake of the Asian tsunami and other disasters, local Mennonites worked alongside members of a militant Islamic groups to rebuild homes.  In working side by side, they became friends.  From Dann Pantoja[2] of the Philippines, we learned how a peacebuilders community has helped to foster reconciliation between separatist Muslims and evangelical Christians. From Christina Asheervadam[3]  of India we learned that restorative justice principles have fostered healing within families and within the Mennonite Brethren churches.

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A choir performs “Earth Peace” by Carol Ann Weaver. GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

The celebration included stories of unique peace initiatives within local, national and international spaces. From Thandiwe Daka[4] of Zambia we learned how peace clubs for children and youth are transforming family and community life in parts of Africa. From Jenny Neme[5] and others from Colombia, we learned of how Anabaptist advocacy for peace has helped to bring about some legal provisions for conscientious objectors and to build momentum for a national ceasefire, after decades of war.  And from Fernando Enns[6] of Germany, we learned that Mennonite participation in the World Council of Churches over many decades has helped to nurture a growing commitment to peace and nonviolence within the worldwide Christian church.

Indeed, there was much to celebrate.  But the conference was not only about celebration.  It also invited us to name and reflect on failures in Mennonite peacebuilding.  And there were many.

Kim Penner[7] reminded us that Mennonite peace theology has neglected to adequately address violence against women.  Lisa Schirch[8] pointed out that Mennonites have often been quicker to love the offender than the victim of violence.  In a facilitated dialogue, Leah Gazan[9] and Steve Heinrichs[10] insisted that Mennonites have only begun to consider what decolonization means in the Canadian context and what reconciliation between Indigenous and Settler people will require. Regina Shands Stolzfus[11] and Tobin Miller Shearer[12] were even more hard-hitting, saying that “white Mennonite peacemaking” is an oxymoron; in their view, white Mennonites rarely dare to consider their privilege of “whiteness” and this failure keeps them from genuine and authentic peacemaking. Numerous voices reminded us that Mennonites are often better at peacebuilding outside of our own churches and communities than within them.

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Lots of conversation.  GMPCF photo/Jen Konkle

We also heard voices of caution and concern.  For example, Alain Epp Weaver[13] issued a caution against what he called “Christian pacifist triumphalism” – the notion that Mennonite peacemaking will always “work” and that we will have an answer for every violent context.  At some times, he insisted, “the most faithful response is silence, mourning and lament.” Tom Yoder Neufeld[14] insisted that Mennonite peacebuilders remember that Jesus – the crucified One – is our peace; without that remembrance he said, “Our theology will become an ideology of nonviolence.” And there was the plea from Betty Pries[15]  and Ted Koontz[16] that peacemaking is not so much about what we do as who we are – people of peace, with a heart of peace.

There was also the poignant story of KyongJung[17] Kim of South Korea, who spoke of what it means to be a conscientious objector in his country – namely, serving an 18-month prison sentence.  Describing his own personal journey to pacifism, Kim insisted that a Mennonite peace church will grow – not through comfort — but through difficulty and adversity.

So what does it mean to be a Mennonite or Anabaptist peacebuilder today?  The conversation café produced an abundance of ideas and images which were translated into the “wordle” below. The point was not to arrive at a consensus definition, but rather to engage as many participants as possible in exploring what they see as core to Mennonite peacebuilding.  The conversation hinted at the tension between those who see Mennonite peacebuilding as a set of well-honed tools and practices and those who see it primarily as a faith orientation and spiritual identity. It also alluded to the reality that, despite the conference’s deliberate efforts to involve Mennonites from the global south, those from the global north continue to have an undue influence in articulating what Mennonite peacebuilding is all about.

Wordle from GMPCFIn many ways, the conference was like a vast feast with an amazing array of dishes – each one offering a new flavour on Mennonite peacebuilding.  No wonder I felt full to the brim.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, with Rebekah Sears and Jennifer Wiebe, of the Ottawa Office.  

 

[1] Paulus Widjaja is Director of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Peace, Duta Wacana Christian University, Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
[2] Dann Pantoja, works with Peacebuilders Community, under Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Philippines.
[3] Christina Asheervadam is Director of the Center for Peace & Conflict Resolution Studies with the Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College in India.
[4]Thandiwe Daka is from Zambia and is a participant in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program.
[5 Jenny Neme is Director of Justapaz, Bogota, Colombia.
[6] Fernando Enns is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Director of the Institute of Peace Church Theology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He sits on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
[7] Kim Penner is a doctoral student in theology at the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre.
[8] Lisa Schirch is Research Professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
[9] Leah Gazan is a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Treaty 4 territory; she teaches at the University of Winnipeg.
[10] Steve Heinrichs is Director of Indigenous Relations for Mennonite Church Canada.
[11] Regina Shands Stolzfus is Assistant Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, USA.
[12] Tobin Miller Shearer is Associate Professor of History at the University of Montana, USA.
[13] Alain Epp Weaver is Director of Strategic Planning for Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, PA, USA.
[14] Thomas Yoder Neufeld is retired from teaching New Testament Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, ON.
[15] Betty Pries is a mediator and trainer with L3 Group/ARC Ministries, Waterloo, Canada.
[16] Ted Koontz is retired from teaching Ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN, USA.
[17] KyongJung Kim is Northeast Asia representative for Mennonite World Conference, Waterloo, ON.

Praying by the prison, Part 2

By Randy Klassen, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Canada.

Does our place make a difference to our praying? That’s the question that came to me one morning last fall, as I realized my morning prayer walk took me right across the river from Saskatoon’s federal prison, the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). How do my prayers take my location, my community, into account? Christians are often taught a posture of prayer with eyes closed—but if that also teaches us to shut our minds to the realities of life in our neighbourhood or our nation, our praying will be not only blind, but lame.

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I see things differently now. I am reminded that the Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer—and that for many in the praying community (whether the disadvantaged in my city, or across the globe, or behind prison walls), access to food is a very live issue. And more: for all of us, food issues involve and implicate us in complex global issues of economics and politics. In praying about bread, I am, indeed, reminded that my lifestyle, including my food habits (buying, growing, eating), have an impact on how God responds to this petition from others. Praying about bread is highly relevant, as it is the place where theology intersects with agri-business, commerce—and also justice.

So where do bread and our prisons intersect?

“Give us this day our daily bread.” One of the primary causes of inmate unrest and rioting is food service. Saskatchewan recently experienced this after the provincial prison system changed providers last summer, outsourcing to a large multinational catering company. The economic savings sound impressive: from about five or six dollars a meal (presumably including both food and labour) down to about three and a half dollars. But food quality was predictably down-graded. Regina saw significant protest; inmates in Prince Albert’s women’s prison also registered problems. The premier’s infamous response to the uproar resonated with many people: “If you don’t like the prison food, there’s one way to avoid it, and that’s don’t go to prison.” But such a response sadly lacks an understanding of the many downward currents in our society (notably, the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, insufficient social workers or foster caregivers to work with struggling families, or lack of employment and social programming in small communities) that suck people into criminality.

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A group of inmates discuss restorative justice at Dochester Penitentiary, News Brunswick. MCC photo/Shane Yuhas)

Premier Wall’s comment begs the question: should food be part of “punishment” in prison? A number of American prisons are known to serve so-called “disciplinary loaf” (also known as “nutraloaf”)—even though the American Correctional Association discourages its use (and Canada gave up the practice only about twenty years ago). Nutraloaf is designed to meet all nutritional needs, but rate exactly zero on any culinary scale—a tasteless lump of indeterminate composition and unpleasant ingestion (read here for one food critic’s take: “a thick orange lump of spite with the density and taste of a dumbbell”). It is controversial in American prisons (and even contested in court as “cruel and unusual punishment”), but continues to be baked up and served by blind Justice.

Closer to home, a group of people “concerned for the well being and dignity of prisoners in Canada” recently published an open letter to the federal government. A number of food-related issues are listed, including the following concerns:

We protest the high prices of food in prison. We decry the lack of expiration dates on all products in prison. We also protest the lack of training we receive inside prison to prepare healthy meals. Some prisoners in minimum or medium security institutions live in independent living units, where they are expected to prepare their own meals. They receive 35$ per week for food. With the high cost of food, that amount is insufficient.

Apparently for residents of Canadian prisons, the prayer for daily bread is no mere formality.

“Give us this day our daily… bison.” This prayer to the Creator would have epitomized the life of the ancestors of most of Saskatchewan’s prison inmates. Two centuries ago, bison were free and plentiful on the central plains of Turtle Island, and the First Nations of these territories centred their lives on the hunt and the generally plentiful provision of this food source. Then came the railways, the hunters from insatiable North American and European markets, and the unimaginable destruction of the herds (from tens of millions in the pre-contact era, to about one thousand left in 1889, only 85 of which were roaming free on the prairies). Like a series of falling dominoes, the 1870s and 1880s saw the bison wiped out, treaties signed, the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools established, railways built and settlers arriving in western Canada—all feeding the current situation of too many broken communities, and massive over-representation of Indigenous peoples in our prisons.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” A decade ago, six federal prisons operated their own farms. These became places of meaningful employment for inmates, they provided fresh milk and eggs for the community, and (for those working the dairy) gave opportunity to learn what it means to care for another living being. In 2010, the federal government announced it was closing these prison farms for economic reasons. The story of the protests regarding the closure of the Kingston (Ontario) dairy farm, has been well told in the documentary film “Til the Cows Come Home” (2014). And while it’s premature to say that the cows are finally coming home, on June 2 the federal government announced it was going to review and revisit the prison farm issue. This is exciting news that prison farm supporters have long awaited.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Many prisons have inmates working in their kitchens, learning food prep skills that are both restorative (building self-confidence and a sense of hope) and marketable. A few prisons in Europe have taken this to a higher level yet, opening up restaurants staffed by the incarcerated. The Clink (four sites in the UK) and InGalera (Milan, Italy) have each become gastronomic sensations in their own locales. They provide food service for the public and hope for the incarcerated. These are marvelous ways for God to pour—or should we say, knead—grace and mercy into this most basic of human needs:

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

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MCC photo/Dave Klassen

Excitement and apprehension: Canada and the UNDRIP

This week’s writer is Miriam Sainnawap, co-coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours program.  She is from Kingfisher Lake First Nation in Treaty 9 territory (northwestern Ontario).

In May, I attended one of the most highly attended meetings at United Nations in New York City. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (15th session) is where Indigenous peoples worldwide gather to build solidarity and form alliances with other Indigenous peoples and organizations, and to bring the concerns confronting their communities to the UN.
UNDRIP 2“We are now a full supporter of the declaration, without qualification,” Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said, on behalf of the Government of Canada. Her announcement indicated that Canada will fully adopt the United Nations of Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Canada’s previous government had endorsed the declaration in 2010 and named it as an aspirational document, but had maintained some significant objections. With Bennett’s announcement, those objections were lifted.

As I stood up for the standing ovation in a conference room, I was filled with mixed emotions of excitement and apprehension. I was excited that finally Canada is taking this meaningful and important step forward with Indigenous peoples. I was also apprehensive as to whether Canada will actually do what is needed for full implementation.

While the Declaration addresses the complex issues of Indigenous rights in Canada, it is more helpful to understand the UNDRIP is a substantial document with 46 articles addressed in principles with short details.

The Declaration aims to protect and support the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, language, culture and economic development, among other things.  It was developed over a 25-year by a working group of Indigenous people from around the world.

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Jingle dancer Sherry Starr memorializes the children who died in Indian Residential Schools at a mass blanket exercise, Winnipeg, June 4, 2016.  Photo credit/Alison Ralph

The adoption of UNDRIP is an important symbolic gesture, requiring a major commitment to policy changes and laws, but adherence to the Declaration will unlikely lead to real change on the ground, unless there is full participation and partnership with Indigenous peoples.

Bennett indicated that the implementation process would follow in accordance with Section 35 of the Constitution, would recognize and affirm the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights, and would commit the Crown to its duty to consult with Indigenous peoples. In other words, the Declaration will align itself with Canadian law, because the document is not legally binding and not enforceable in its application.

My anticipation remains in how the Declaration will be implemented. It is critically important for the government to engage in careful conversation and consultation with Indigenous peoples.

Let’s ensure the government holds to its public commitment to work with Indigenous peoples. It is a step and only the beginning.

A prayer for refugees for World Refugee Day

The United Nations has designated June 20 as World Refugee Day — a day to commemorate the strength, courage and resilience of millions of refugees.  To help churches and groups mark this important day, MCC has prepared a worship and information packet  called “Hospitality and Hope: Resources for Worship, Learning and Action.” The following prayer, written by Steve Plenert, is excerpted from the packet. 

Lord Jesus Christ,

We remember that in your infancy you were a refugee. The political leaders of your country sought to end your life, and so your parents fled with you to another country in secret. We don’t know how long before you were able to return to your home and your people.

Help us, O Lord, to grow in compassion for those who are displaced from their homes in our day. Help us not to see them only as problems, statistics or threats. Help us to see refugees as fellow humans who have been forced to flee their homes, and as people who have gifts to share with us.

RefugeeO God, we know refugees and displaced persons must make excruciating decisions, and we ask for your mercy upon them. We ask for mercy for parents who take children from their homes. Mercy for children who leave parents too weak to travel. Mercy for those who choose to stay for whatever reasons and who live with severe consequences for those choices. We ask for mercy for those whose housing is inadequate – cold in winter, hot in summer, insufficient for privacy or hygiene or satisfaction. Have mercy on your children who have left their homes, O Lord.

O God, we know – sometimes too well – the causes of displacement and migration. We pray for the situations that have led to the refugee crises in our world. We pray for those who promote extremist ideologies, that they would change their ways and not choose violence. We pray for repressive regimes, that they would seek to engage people in building freedom.

Help us, O Lord, to be compassionate and to know how we can help those who have been displaced. Help us to know when it is time to provide relief, when it is time for resettlement, and when advocacy for peace and change is what is needed most. Give us courage and strength to be people of compassion and justice in the face of complex and overwhelming demands.

We know that you love all people, dear Lord. Help us to be the instruments of your love and peace in the world.  Amen.

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