Wear an orange shirt on September 30

This week’s writer is Miriam Sainnawap, co-coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours  Program.

The fourth annual Orange Shirt Day is taking place on September 30th — a day to commemorate the experiences of residential school survivors and their families. Wearing an orange shirt  when we gather is way to raise awareness of the legacy of the Indian Residential School System and build solidarity with the survivors.

Phyllis Webstad is a former survivor at St Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school and one of the leading founders of the Orange Shirt Day. The day is an outcome of her own story. When she was a young child, her grandmother bought her a shiny new orange shirt for school. The shirt was taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission. The first Orange Shirt Day was held in Williams Lake, BC in 2013. Phyllis’s story is a shared history for every survivor and their families: of something taken away, contributing to loss of language, culture and the sense of identity of who one is and where one belongs.

orangeshirtdayThe intergenerational legacy of residential schools has left an imprint on families of every generation where many of us; including me, are on the journey of restoring our collective ties and knowledges within our respective Nations. We exemplify our resilience and strength, we are gracious people.

Every September 30th, I’m committed to wearing a orange shirt in honour of my family and friends,  my community and  all the survivors and intergenerational survivors, because they matter to me. As the slogan printed on my shirt says, “Every child matters.” Indeed, every child does matter.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 Calls to Action, encouraging all Canadians to come to terms with the dark history of Canada’s residential schools system when children were taken away from their families. It is about dealing with the uncomfortable truths.

Canada is at a beginning point of the right relationship with Indigenous peoples. Honestly, we still have a long way to go and we’re not fully engaged enough to moving forward. The key is to have courage. We need each other, and we create momentum when we come together. in a spirit of mutual respect, responsibility and partnership.

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MCC Canada staff on Orange Shirt Day, September 30, 2015.  MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Colombia’s long road to bread and peace

Angélica Rincón could not stop smiling. All around her, crowds of people cheered and waved signs, banners and Colombian flags. Rincón – like others who have worked with MCC Colombia’s partners [Justapaz] – had longed for this turning point toward peace for many years.

After nearly four years of negotiations, [a historic peace accord] effectively ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. Fighting between diverse armed groups has killed some 260,000 people and displaced close to 7 million since 1958.  (Elizabeth Phelps, Saying goodbye to war and hello to peace in Colombia.)

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Angélica Rincón of MCC partner Justapaz lights a candle for peace. Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

This week churches and community groups across Colombia will be marking the International Day of Peace – September 21.  For years churches, organizations and communities across Colombia, including many of MCC’s partners like Justapaz, have come together to celebrate this day with a call to action – calling for the basic necessities of life – Pan y Paz (Bread and Peace). A positive peace is more than a lack of armed conflict; it is a world where everyone has enough to eat and all are able to live without fear. On this day churches and communities march through the streets with candles, singing songs of hope and peace and offering bread to everyone they pass.

In September 2014, in my first blog post as policy analyst for the Ottawa Office and while still working in Colombia, I shared the hopes and dreams for peace of a small community just outside of Bogota, San Nicolas in Soacha. Residents of San Nicolas, especially the youth, have long felt the impacts of violence and threats of violence on a very regular basis.  After more than five decades of armed conflict, the cries ringing out from this community represent the cries from across Colombia – “We just want peace.”

The political context in Colombia is quite different in September 2016. After almost four years of peace talks, the Colombian government and the largest and longest running guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), have announced peace accords, coupled with a bilateral ceasefire and an action plan for implementation. The announcement of the ceasefire was made in late June – resulting in celebrations throughout the streets of Bogota – and the final agreement was reached by both parties at the end of August 2016, with the objective of signing the accords by the end of September.

The peace accords themselves follow the original agenda of the negotiations:

  • Political participation in the national arena for the FARC;
  • Agrarian reform aimed at supporting small-scale land owners and property rights;
  • Greater investment in legal crops, creating incentives for farmers to disengage from the illicit economy;
  • Commissions and special courts to hear directly from victims of the armed conflict;
  • A roadmap to wide scale demobilization of the FARC, to be monitored by international bodies.
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MCC workers, together with partners, celebrate the June 2016 announcement of coming peace accords.  Photos courtesy Anna Vogt

MCC’s partner organizations and staff, such as Justapaz, have worked tirelessly for years in the lead-up to negotiations, and connecting with communities and civil society as the talks progressed. But the work is hardly over.

One could say we are just beginning generations of work.

The first step is gaining approval from Colombians in a national plebiscite (referendum) to be held on October 2, 2016.

But  beyond this lies the challenge of turning the peace accords into reality. Although the announcement of accords was publicly celebrated in the streets of Bogota, how will the various regions respond to the post-accord era? Many critics claim past demobilization processes of other armed groups had significant problems. Will disarmament, support for development and recovery reach all corners of Colombia? And how can the government accommodate the needs and concerns of over 6 million victims of forced displacement? Critics of the accords also claim excessive leniency was granted to both FARC and government perpetrators. Plus, the roots of the 50+ year conflict run very deep, relating to longstanding inequality and access to land and resources. Finally, many Colombians are hesitant to trust this process, as several previous attempts by the FARC and the government to reach a sustainable peace agreement have failed.

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Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

Despite the excitement around the peace agreement, MCC’s partners across the country, as reported by staff on the ground share many of these and other concerns. Integral peace goes beyond high level negotiations. Integral peace calls for a just society where everyone has access to sufficient food, resources and livelihoods; where everyone across the country can live in dignity and pursue their dreams; where people can live without fear or the imminent threat of violence.

As churches and communities mark September 21 this year, calling for Pan y Paz, my thoughts and prayers continue to follow the communities across the country, rural and urban, including Soacha, where communities and local leaders stand up for peace and justice, despite continuing challenges. My prayer is that this year’s Pan y Paz continues to reflect calls for peace and dignity throughout the communities of Colombia, as the country begins to move down the long and challenging road to peace.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

 

Pursue Peace: Recommendations for Canada’s International Assistance Review

Summer is typically a time for rest and relaxation in Ottawa. Parliamentarians head home to their ridings, and civil servants can, at least in theory, breathe a little easier.

Not this summer.

The government’s wheels have been turning madly these past few months. With public consultations launched on defence, immigration, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, electoral reform, climate change, prison farms, Canada Post, innovation, accessible transportation, and the list goes on (check out the “Consulting with Canadians” website for the whole kit and caboodle), it’s been hard to keep it all straight!

All of this busy activity is, of course, very welcome. Particularly welcome for MCC and our int-assistance-reviewcivil society colleagues is the (rather historic) International Assistance Review, launched by Minister Bibeau on May 18th with the aim of creating an international assistance policy and funding framework that will “help the poorest and most vulnerable, and support fragile states, while advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.”

Civil society has long been chomping at the bit for an opportunity like this.

As the most comprehensive examination of Canadian development policy in 20 years, this public review—launched with an accompanying Discussion Paper—provides the government with the opportunity to chart out new priorities, directions, and approaches for responding creatively to the full array of challenges facing our world today.

From mid-May until July’s end, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) hosted a flurry of in-person consultations featuring dynamic break-out sessions on the discussion paper’s six themes. As part of the reimg_20160628_150224view, MCC—like partners such as Mines Action Canada, KAIROS, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Food Security Policy Group, Coalition on Climate Change & Development, etc.—not only participated in various consultations, but provided a more substantive written submission to Global Affairs.

In this submission, MCC made recommendations relating to humanitarian response; peace and security; funding and partnerships; and policy coherence across Canada’s development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas.

More specifically, we encouraged GAC to:

  1. Integrate disaster risk reduction more effectively into programming and funding mechanisms across all branches in order to reduce risk of disaster and promote poverty alleviation (pages 2-3);
  2. Increase investments in conflict prevention initiatives, strengthen support for peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions, and champion the women, peace, and security agenda (pages 3-6);
  3. Provide long-term, predictable, and flexible funding suitable to Canadian INGOs working with local grassroots organizations, and commit to growing Canada’s international assistance envelope with a clear timetable for reaching 0.7% of GNI (page 6);
  4. Ensure policy coherence across development, trade, and foreign affairs agendas serves to strengthen—rather than temper—Canada’s commitment to the interests of developing countries (pages 6-8);
  5. Generate a white paper that clearly articulates Canada’s priorities for the next five years as well as corresponding strategies, policies, and action plans it will develop to implement that framework (page 8).

Given MCC’s experience working in conflict zones around the world, peacebuilding was a particularly important priority (recommendation 2, pages 3-6). We strongly affirmed Global Affairs’ prioritization of peace as a stand-alone, strategic orientation for Canada’s international assistance programming, and urged the government to integrate a conflict sensitivity lens across all of Canada’s development strategies, regardless of the sector.

More specifically, first we strongly encouraged the government to invest in conflict prevention initiatives that seek to resolve, manage, or contain disputes before they become violent. In the same way that a long-term commitment to strengthening disaster risk reduction can build resilience and strengthen peoples’ capacity to deal with unexpected shocks, early intervention is the most effective way to prevent violent conflict from erupting.

Second, MCC called for greater support for civil society groups and religious and img_20160628_132326community leaders seeking to address ethnic and religious divisions through innovative peacebuilding and conflict transformation programs. In regions of ongoing violence, it is critical that local communities have strategies to resolve and prevent identity-based conflicts before they lead to sectarian violence.

Third, MCC encouraged greater investment in initiatives that provide access to safe education and psychosocial support for children and families traumatized by violence, displacement, and social upheaval.

Finally, MCC called on Global Affairs to champion the women, peace, and security agenda. Understanding the gender dimensions of armed conflict and peacebuilding is essential because of the demonstrable impacts that women’s meaningful participation in peace processes has on the successful implementation of agreements at the community level.

We’re certainly mindful of the hefty task before Global Affairs to take careful consideration of ideas put forward across the country and to translate them into (what will hopefully be) concrete policies, tools, and programs.

As Parliament resumes next week and kicks House business back into high gear, the consultation wheels will continue to turn. Word around Ottawa is that the outcomes of this review (rumoured to be completed before the end of 2016) will inform Budget 2017.

As they say, the proof will be in the pudding. And we will eagerly be waiting to see how it tastes.

Click here to read MCC’s full submission.

Jenn Wiebe is MCC Ottawa Office director

 

Advocacy, living water and a prayer for parliamentarians

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:10, 14

If Jesus offered you a drink of “living water” what would you hope to receive from it? What would you need from the water?

These were questions asked by Kati Garrison from MCC’s liaison office at the UN in New York, as she led a devotional during a recent gathering of staff from MCC’s three advocacy offices (Ottawa, Washington and the UN). Kati was reflecting on the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well — a passage  made familiar by Sunday School and the occasional sermon — and relating it to the work of advocacy.

I personally have never really considered what it might mean for me to receive “living water.” And in particular, what support and strengthening do I need for working in advocacy?

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Staff from MCC’s advocacy offices pose in front of famous words from Isaiah, near the United Nations offices in New York.  MCC photo/Doug Hostetter

Each participant at the gathering was encouraged to write their response on a piece of paper shaped like a drop of water and to place it in an empty pitcher. At a later point, we were each invited to receive some “living water” by returning to the pitcher and removing a drop. I had written “hope” on the drop I deposited and found “peace” on the drop I received. May I offer hope to those needing an advocate and may I find peace for the long journey that is advocacy.

Kati also encouraged us to remember that it was to a Samaritan woman that Jesus first offered a drink of living water. She was someone the disciples viewed as “other.” In our current contexts, who do we view as “other”? How can we see past their “otherness” to see one another as human beings and find God’s light in each other?

In our work in advocacy, it is often all too easy to see politicians as “other.” We sometimes forget that they are people, too, struggling with difficult decisions and challenges. Sometimes we only see them as the government or part of a particular political party and not as individuals like ourselves seeking to make a difference in the world. Occasionally we may even see parliamentarians and civil servants as part of the problems we are seeking to solve or the challenge we are trying to overcome, rather than a part of the solution as God intended.

The Peace Tower at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

In less than two weeks, parliamentarians will be returning to Ottawa to resume the first session of the 42nd Parliament. Here in the Ottawa Office we will be watching a number of government initiatives including: a possible peacekeeping mission in Africa, the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, the government’s ongoing response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and next steps following consultations and reviews around international humanitarian assistance and defence. As we monitor these and other issues, we will also be praying for those “others” that we may hear each other, understand each other, and find God’s light in one another.

Lord,

Thank you for the gift of living water and the love, hope, peace, courage, trust, patience, community, and so much more that it provides. As we receive this gift may we also find ways to be “living water” for others. May we offer hope, understanding, strength, compassion, love, and light to those we meet and interact with each day as we seek to make this world a better place.

We pray for parliamentarians who face long days filled with meetings, debates and events, while away from their families for weeks at a time. Grant them strength and wisdom to make difficult decisions around complex issues. May they have the patience to hear the voices of all those concerned. May we see them as individual people seeking to serve the people of Canada and not just part of a particular party or system.

We pray for government officials and civil servants that they may receive wisdom as they advise members of Parliament, understanding as they work to implement government decisions and policies, and patience as they strive to work within systems that do not always value people.

We pray for all the support staff working in the high pressure environment of Parliament Hill that they too may find strength, wisdom and patience as they assist with the work of government.

May God’s light shine through each of us, casting away the shadows so that we may truly be revealed to each other.

AMEN

By Monica Scheifele, program assistant in the Ottawa Office.