Bill C-262 and living into a new covenant

By Diane Meredith,  Co-Coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours Program.

It’s Wednesday night in early May at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto.  I sit with reams of people in a nearby park, seeking solace from the busy streets and basking in the long-awaited warmth of spring. This day has been long in coming as ice storms are barely behind us. A talk on the Anishinaabek understanding of the sacredness of protecting the waters is about to begin inside the cathedral. I pull myself away and dash inside, surprised to find myself seated among a crowd of some 60 or so of us on this path of “reconciliation.”

Nancy Rowe, Giidaakunadaad, a traditional knowledge keeper and Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman) of the Credit River, begins to share her wisdom about the traditional territory around Lake Ontario/Niigaani-gichigami. Before she begins, Rev. Evan Smith of Toronto Urban Native Ministries (TUNM), extends her hand and offers her a red pouch of tobacco, as is the tradition when greeting an elder or someone offering wisdom. Nancy reaches out and accepts the pouch of tobacco—and a covenant is sealed.

I can’t begin to capture the fullness of Nancy Rowe’s teachings rooted in decades of oral history spoken by elders across Turtle Island. But when she shares this knowledge, I feel a loosening of the grip of a deep skepticism on my heart about the “reconciliation road” the churches profess to travel with Indigenous Peoples.

tobaccoHer explanation of this seemingly simple custom of offering tobacco breaks open a window into a winding long road of the history of the Anishinaabek worldview, including creation stories, forms of spirituality, and governance. Even in its enormity, we begin to grasp that her story is but a glimpse into an expansive worldview so many of us know nothing about. It is however apparent that the meaning of this act—of extending one’s hand to another to offer sacred tobacco—is “covenant.” It is a commitment made between the partners to honour ways of governance and the protocols of living in right relations between and within nations.

The act of sharing tobacco to seal a covenant, often through pipe ceremonies or through the exchange of pouches of tobacco, is a long held ancient Indigenous tradition. It was an act that was extended by Indigenous peoples to the settlers in their first meetings. It seems as if these agreements were made with sincerity. Yet tragically history tells us they were as readily broken with a ferocious greed that explains where we are today.

When this tobacco (in Ojibway called “Semah,” one of the four sacred medicines) is extended and accepted, a spiritual covenant rooted in reciprocity (mutually agreeing to give up something to create something else) is activated, says Nancy. “I am here,” she says, “away from my grandchildren, because I believe this teaching with you is also very important…We are the only ones…humans, who don’t follow the original instructions from Creator as to why we are here… Everything in creation before us agreed to help us being here to fill our purpose… But are you willing to give back? Is there reciprocity?” she challenges.

Bill C262 posterOn May 29th MP Romeo Saganash’s Private Member’s Bill C-262 will be read for the third time in the House of Commons.  Soon after, it will be voted on. The Liberal Government states it will support the bill. This bill calls for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This declaration was drafted by Indigenous Peoples worldwide over a 30-year span.  Consisting of 46 articles, covering all aspects of life, UNDRIP is a universal international human rights instrument that outlines the minimum standards governments should provide to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples. Bill C-262 will ensure that the Government of Canada, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, takes all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the rights as outlined in the UNDRIP.

Tabled in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation 94 Calls to Action called on the Government of Canada, civil society, and the churches to implement UNDRIP in at least twelve of its articles. In 2017 Anabaptist Leaders in response to the TRC Call to Action #48 said: “In our ongoing efforts to seek right relations with our Indigenous neighbours, MCC also commits itself to using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a guide for right relations and reconciliation. We affirm the principles of self-determination, equality and respect embedded in this Declaration…”

Nancy Rowe’s teachings remind us of the sanctity of covenants based on reciprocity, and the importance of respecting the spirit that dwells within and between these agreements. The treaties, she explains, were a simple example of ancient systems of Indigenous governance and natural laws that were shared with newcomers. “What are you doing to support Indigenous-led healing initiatives of Creation and our society? Everything is about reciprocity and relationship. The enemy of life is greed,” says Nancy.

Like the warmth of summer after long winter storms, justice for Indigenous Peoples is too long in coming. As Ovide Mercredi, Cree leader and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has stated, “The days of the status quo or business, as usual, will not lead to reconciliation.”[1]

Indigenous hands are being extended once again to settlers – here and now. The passing of Bill C-262 into law will ensure the rights of Indigenous People are respected. Bill C-262 is an opportunity to live into a new covenant that will break the inertia and the broken promises of the past. When enacted into law, it will become a dwelling place for the spirit of right relations to thrive between the Creator, God’s creation, and one another.

Rebekah and Jane Sears during march

TRC event in Ottawa 2015 MCC photo by Alison Ralph.

With the passing of Bill C-262 many changes will come; and society, government and church will most surely have to accommodate them. The road to reconciliation demands such change. But I am fully confident that, in this act of reciprocity, all partners in this covenant relationship will benefit for generations to come.

 

 

[1] Kathleen Martens, APTN News “Ovide Mercredi report rips Ontario Law Society on handling of Keshen file,” March 24, 2018.

 

We are still here

Miriam Sainnawap, author of this reflection, is Co-coordinator of MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours program.  She is Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

Miriam’s reflection is prompted by the story of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who was murdered in Winnipeg in 2014. The white man charged with her death was acquitted in February 2018 because of insufficient evidence. Prior to her death, Tina was in the care of Children and Family Services. Tina’s death galvanized attention on the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls in Canada and led to the establishment in 2016 of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

When I heard the trial verdict “not guilty” in the death of Tina Fontaine, I burst out in tears of grief and anger. That anger inspired me to write.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I could imagine Tina and her aspirations, dreams and hopes.

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From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Not to undermine Tina’s tragic death, I also saw myself in her. Like Tina, I grew up in a  remote community (in northwestern Ontario). Like Tina, I was 15 years old when forced to leave home and live in an unwelcoming urban centre, so that I could fulfill my education opportunities. I quickly had to learn to adjust to white-dominated society and speak in English.

I could be Tina.

As a young Indigenous woman in Canadian society, I quickly learned my worth is devalued and my voice is suppressed.

Tina’s case raises major issues related to the treatment of Indigenous youth in this society.  The systems in place that are meant to serve and protect do not have my best interests and do not reflect my tradition and values.

No justice exists unless truth is told. Reconciliation does not exist now.

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From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Let’s get to the point. The current mess we find ourselves in is our reflection of our society. Canadian society has yet to begin and name the systematic injustice, racism and privilege. Let alone acknowledge whose land they reside and stand on.

Good intentions are not enough. Apologies cannot fix the long-standing broken promises. Paternalist attitudes cannot help save Indigenous youth. Imposed livelihood solutions cannot empower our communities. Colonial systems cannot serve us.

Indigenous people have known, for far too long, that injustice has been a way of life: violence, forced assimilation and abuse.  Those grievances felt over the many generations of the past, exist today and go on into the future.

The goal of colonization has been to get rid of my ancestors and wipe out my nation. Over the years, the attempted assimilative policies have threatened our very existence and survival as the people of the land. They have denied our humanity.

Colonization is costing the lives of Indigenous peoples, my community and my people. What price must we pay?  What price must young Indigenous women pay?

Tina’s life was cut short. She didn’t get the chance to live her dreams. She will continue to remind us we need to do better as a society. We need to stand up for justice and the time is Now.

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From a walk in honour of Tina Fontaine, February 23, 2018, Winnipeg. Photo by Miriam Sainnawap

Indigenous people matter. Indigenous young women matter. We deserve equitable and fair access to justice.

We have dreams and hopes for ourselves and our communities.  We love our families and friends.  We attend universities, drink our cappuccinos like you and go to ceremonies.   We work constantly to make our daily lives better.

We are resilient. We are the people our ancestors prayed for and hoped for the future. We are still here.

A prayer of response to Mary’s Magnificat

The Magnificat is often understood to be a song of praise. Recorded in Luke 1:47-55, it is Mary’s response to the prophecy that, through her, God’s fulfillment will come.

I sometimes struggle to believe Mary’s strong and powerful affirmation of the coming of God’s “upside down kingdom.” Mary’s words are meant to comfort and give hope to those seeking justice, but injustice continues and at times even flourishes.

Where is the mercy for those who fear the Lord? Did I miss the proud being scattered? When I look at the leaders of the world, I still see dictators and tyrants, who remain on their “thrones” of power. I don’t see the lowly being lifted up or the hungry being filled with good things or the rich being sent away empty.

How do I respond to the intense hope and joy recorded in the Magnificat when, for so many, the world seems so bleak?

As I wrestle with these questions, I find myself praying as Mary sings.

Magnificat

My soul seeks to magnify the Lord as my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for the Almighty has done good things and
though change feels slow and is sometimes hard to find,
I know that it comes. I know that it happens.

With Mary I wait for what has been promised.
I wait for tables to be turned and power to shift.
For a scattering of the proud and a tumbling of the mighty.
I wait for new life and a new world.

For those treated as social outcasts just for being who they are
or because of events outside their control,
I pray for God’s loving presence to be as real to them
as it was to Mary when she proclaimed
the Lord has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

To the Mighty One who has done great things
I pray for an open heart and unblocked ears
that I may hear the voices of the poor and oppressed
and act to share their struggle for justice.

For those who have experienced violence,
or been forced to flee their homes,
I pray for God’s mercy which Mary promised
is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.

For those who experience racial hatred
and suffer the bigotry of the narrow minded,
I pray that they might know the Lord has shown the strength of his arm
and the proud will be scattered in the conceit of their heart.

For those suffering under the oppression of tyrants and dictators,
I pray they may take comfort in knowing justice is coming
for the Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.

For the poor and hungry,
I pray they may experience what it means
to be filled with good things
while the rich are sent away empty.

To the one who helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
I pray with longing that all may have the joy of the Magnificat
as its promise is fulfilled with God among us.

By Monica Scheifele, Ottawa Office Program Assistant

The settler within me

What does it mean to ally oneself with people victimized by colonization when one is a settler? This is a question that has confronted me repeatedly in recent months.

MCC in Canada has just launched a major multi-year education and advocacy campaign on Palestine and Israel called A Cry for Home. The campaign highlights the cry of MCC’s Palestinian and Israeli partners for a just peace – a peace characterized by justice, equality, dignity and respect for international law. It is a project that I and MCC colleagues have helped to shape..

One of the issues that the campaign highlights is the colonization of Palestinian land for illegal Jewish-only settlements. As of June 2017, there were 196 settlements and 232 outposts (smaller clusters of Jewish settlers) in occupied Palestine. Nearly 800,000 Jewish Israelis – 10 percent of the Israeli population – live in these colonies. According to international law, these colonies are illegal.

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An Israeli settlement under construction near Bethlehem. Photo/Esther Epp-Tiessen

As I learn about these settlements and their impact on Palestinian people and Palestinian land, I grow angry.  And then I remember that I am a settler too. I am a settler on the Indigenous land of Turtle Island (North America).

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents came to Canada in the 1920s as Mennonite refugees fleeing violence, famine and social upheaval in the wake of the Russian Revolution. My father’s parents settled in southwestern Manitoba (Treaty 2) and my mother’s on Pelee Island, Ontario, the traditional home of Caldwell First Nation.

My grandparents all arrived in Canada with very few resources, and the first decades in the new land were very difficult. Both my parents grew up in poverty. But as a 2nd generation Canadian, I have been blessed with privilege:  a good education, meaningful work, a comfortable home, clean and abundant water, many opportunities — and so much more. Only recently have I begun to recognize how my privilege is rooted in the losses of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

What do I do with the recognition that I live – very well – because I live on stolen land?  And how do I reconcile my own story with my critique of Israeli settlements in Palestine?

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Lia Tarachansky near the settlement in which she grew up. Photo/Palestinedocs

Not long ago I met Lia Tarachansky, a Russian-born Israeli Jew who grew up in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.  Lia is my teacher in uncovering what it means to be a settler who has benefitted from the losses of others. She is a brilliant thinker and a compassionate human being.

As a journalist, filmmaker and activist, Lia has committed herself to telling the story of Israel’s past, and to shattering the myths around the founding of the State of Israel. She fearlessly documents the story of the Nakba and how the founding of Israel meant the displacement and dispossession of 750,000 to 900,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. She unveils the ongoing process of colonization at work through settlements, home demolitions, barriers to movement and military occupation.

Paulette Regan is another hero of mine. In her profound book about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Unsettling the Settler Within¸ Regan invites settler Canadians to do the same. True reconciliation in Canada, Regan insists, can only happen when non-Indigenous Canadians decolonize themselves. That includes shattering the myth about Canada’s own “peaceful” relationship with Indigenous peoples. And it means acknowledging and coming to terms with our privilege.

Of course, reconciliation means much more than that for Regan.  But for settler people, she insists, our efforts to be allies must begin with dealing with our own “stuff.” She writes,

“… what is our particular role and responsibility? Is it to ‘help’ Indigenous people recover from the devastating impacts of prescriptive policies and programs that we claimed were supposed to help them? Given our dismal track record, this seems a dubious goal. Or is it to determine what we who carry the identity of the colonizer and have reaped the benefits and privileges of colonialism must do to help ourselves recover from its detrimental legacy?”

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Mennonites walking for reconciliation at the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, June 2015. Photo/Alison Ralph

It is clear where Regan stands.  And it is clear where Tarachansky stands as well.

Settlers seeking to be allies of the colonized must do the hard and painful work of examining and coming to terms with the ways in which we have benefited from the colonial project and how we replicate and maintain colonial relationships today.  We must be prepared to be “deeply unsettled” in that process. Regan assures us that the unsettling will be a good thing.

Jesus once said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).  Before I am too critical of Israeli settlers, I need to come to terms with the settler within me.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

A Cry for Home — Why now?

Everyone needs a home — where families are safe and secure, where their basic needs are met, where they can come and go freely, and where they can imagine a future of justice and peace. But that is not the reality for Palestinians — or even for some Israelis.

This month MCC in Canada launches a special campaign on Palestine and Israel called “A Cry for Home.”

A Cry for Home logoIt is a multi-year initiative inviting MCC supporters to learn about, engage with and advocate for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. It is a call to respond to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for a safe, secure, just and peaceful home.

Why this campaign at this time? After all, hasn’t MCC been addressing issues related to Palestine and Israel for years? There are several reasons we are embarking on this initiative now:

  • Because of the cry of our partners. We are responding because of the urgent plea of our partners — especially Palestinian Christian partners — for solidarity and for advocacy. MCC partners have for years been urging a bolder stance in calling for an end to occupation, oppression and injustice. Indeed, in the past six months, Palestinian Christian organizations have urged “costly solidarity” on the part of the global Christian church, insisting, “This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians.”
  • Because of the increasingly desperate situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The theft of land and the building of illegal settlements for Israeli Jews in the occupied West Bank continues apace, despite insistence from the international community that such activity stop. The demolition of Palestinian homes, schools and orchards goes on with impunity. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic, with the UN declaring that it will be unlivable by 2020 and perhaps even sooner. In the meantime, Palestinians and others who resist are increasingly bullied, silenced, imprisoned.
  • Because we care also about Israeli Jews. While the Palestinians suffer most in the current reality, we know that Israeli Jews are also harmed by the words, walls, and weapons that divide them from Palestinians. Like Palestinians, they long for homes and a homeland that is safe and secure. Like Palestinians, they suffer violence. Yet many of them live with a deep sense of fear and foreboding. We acknowledge that for many people, the fear is rooted in Christian persecution of Jews over the centuries. Yet, like many Israeli peacemakers, we believe that a peaceful future for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians will result from an end to the occupation, from the practice of justice, and from respect for international law.housesand_farm_0
  • Because of MCC’s long history. MCC has been active in Palestine and Israel since 1949, when the creation of the State of Israel made hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees in their own home. Our history and continuous presence, as well as partnership with Palestinians (since 1949) and with Israelis (since 1967), has given us insights into the ongoing conflict, as well as a special burden to help in supporting a resolution to the conflict. Throughout that history, partners have urged MCC not only to meet immediate needs with relief assistance and community development support, but to engage in advocacy to address the root causes of the current reality.
  • Because the topic is challenging. Over many decades, MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel — particularly, our advocacy for a just peace — has generated a diversity of opinions from our supporters and constituents. While many of MCC’s supporters resonate with our work and approach, some of them disagree with us when we critique the policies of the State of Israel and its actions toward Palestinians. With this campaign, we want to engage with these diverse perspectives — exploring questions together, dialoguing constructively, and building understanding.
  • Last, but definitely not least, because of our faith. Our Christian faith — and our commitment to Jesus — compels us to stand with the oppressed, lovingly speak truth to power, and actively seek a just peace in the land where Jesus walked. Jesus himself denounced injustice and proclaimed good news of liberation to those living under a yoke of oppression; we can do no less. More than that, our faith gives us hope that transformation and reconciliation are truly possible. We are inspired by the vision of the Holy Land as a place where all people — Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians and Muslims — live with peace, justice and security, a land where “everyone sits under their own vine and fig tree and no one makes them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

Please join us in responding to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for home.
Visit our campaign page for information on how to learn, engage, advocate, pray and give. And please sign up for regular campaign updates.

 By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

Praying by the prison (part 4): “On earth as it is in heaven …”

By Randy Klassen, national Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Canada, based in Saskatoon, SK.

This week, May 28 to June 3, Canada is marking National Victims and Survivors of Crime Week. It’s an important initiative that aims at supporting and caring for the hurt among us.

And, I’ll confess, it’s specifically important for me, as I journey in this world of MCC’s restorative justice work, because I’m also so involved and invested in what we often call “offender-based” service. We visit prisoners; we walk alongside those who have offended sexually, in “circles of support and accountability” (the CoSA program). We do this because we sense a divine push to these dark places.

But in our willingness to enter these broken lives, we sometimes forget the trail of other broken lives left in their wake—the broken lives of victims.

victims and survivors of crime week

Or, even if we don’t forget them, we don’t invest in them in the same way. Maybe we assume that they’re being taken care of. Maybe we assume that since victims and survivors and crime have a moral right to attention and care that they are indeed getting what they need. But, if you listen to the victims’ voices around us, you’ll soon discover how the initial pain or loss, so tragic in itself, is often heavily compounded by how the criminal justice system deals with victims. This reinforces a perennial public complaint: our Canadian justice system focuses more on the rights of offenders than those of victims.

And so, as I walk along the river across from one of Saskatoon’s prisons, and as I walk the sidewalks of my neighbourhood where I know families are enduring the impact of crime, I ponder what part of the Lord’s Prayer I need to focus on. The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven…” pops into my head. But not in a good way. Today that phrase pulls me right into the biblical story of Job.

Job—the wealthy, the privileged, the pious—undergoes a frightful experiment of “heaven on earth.” He becomes the victim of a heavenly conversation that is baffling and, frankly, rather chilling. The conversation goes something like this:

God: Have you noticed my man Job? Isn’t he awesome?

Satan (the prosecution): Really? Take away the power and privilege you’ve given him, and watch him crumble.

God: Okay, you’re on.

Whatever we make of that divine deal, the outcome is that Job becomes a victim. And the basic needs of Job, shown throughout this ancient tale, are still the basic needs of victims and survivors of crime today: presence, communication, acknowledgement, and acceptance. Job rages, he despairs, he laments. Job calls for justice. Tragically, he does so alone—all while his so-called friends blame him for bringing such trouble on himself.

Way of letting goThe story of Job, as a case study in the experience of victims, has much to teach us. So do the on-going stories of today’s victims, such as the profound reflections in Wilma Derksen’s latest book, The Way of Letting Go

Survivors of crime need to be heard. Their experiences, their pain or their anger, need to be acknowledged and validated. They need to be empowered in how they move forward in life—something that the current criminal justice system really struggles to accomplish.

True, we have in Canada the option of registering a “victim impact statement” for the court. But even this tends to reinforce the victim’s role as a witness to the crime, rather than as the actual recipient of harm. It tends to reinforce the criminal justice system’s goal of finding and punishing the wrong-doer, rather than addressing and restoring, as much as possible, the harm done to an individual.

The biblical Job walks a journey from victim to survivor. The word “survivor” connotes an active accomplishment (“sur-” means “over, above”), a dynamic reality of outlasting, even triumphing. Job does so in an encounter with the “kingdom, power and glory” of the Creator, the Voice out of the whirlwind.

Wilma Derksen, in Letting Go, does a similar kind of thing, although the Voice shows up differently for her, throughout her hard journey of more than thirty years. The Voice gently appears as “the Nazarene” in chapter after chapter. Derksen bears witness to the resilience of the survivor. And in so doing, she also bears witness to the grace of the One who walks alongside all victims in this world’s vale of tears.

So now, I walk and ruminate on those final words of this prayer, “for Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory…” I hope and pray that the invisible realities these words express will strengthen the weak, give hope to the struggling, and carry those who are grieving. In a word, that those who have experienced harm, and loss, and tragedy in this life, might arrive at their journey’s end not a victim, but a survivor.

Elsipogtog: an opportunity to rebuild trust

This week’s blog is written by Christina Farnsworth, MCC representative for the Maritimes. She is based in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Friendship seems too to hold states together, and lawgivers to care more for it than for justice; for unanimity seems to be something like friendship, and this they aim at most of all, and expel faction as their worst enemy; and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.  – Aristotle, Nichomanean Ethics, Book VIII, translated by W.D. Ross

The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels. – James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Statement upon conclusion of the visit to Canada, October 15, 2013

In a blog posted here in September, I reflected on the importance of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples together to work out how we can live in peace and friendship. The need for peace and friendship has arisen still more urgently as I have reviewed coverage of the recent confrontation at Elsipogtog and the Sacred Fire Encampment near Rexton, NB.

KAIROS Elsipogtog

Mi’Kmaq Elder Billy Lewis and members of the Halifax KAIROS cluster participate in a solidarity event on fracking. New Brunswick, June 2013. Photo courtesy of KAIROS.

Since July, a coalition of Mi’Kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Acadian and other Maritimers has gathered to protest against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick. On October 17th, the RCMP moved in to enforce an injunction to remove protestors who had been blocking access to SWN Resources equipment since September 29th. The situation deteriorated into violence with the RCMP using non-lethal force and pepper spray. Five RCMP vehicles were burned by the protestors, and it is reported that some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at officers.

Aristotle says, “When men are friends they have no need of justice,” and this sentiment is echoed in the Bible when Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:30). If we loved our neighbours and cared for them and their interests as much as we care for our own, would we need to be reminded by laws to listen to those who are struggling to make their voices heard?

The media has been full of images of burning police vehicles, police snipers, Elders and Indigenous People facing off with lines of RCMP officers. If we focus on the events of October 17th exclusively, I believe that we will miss a greater reality and opportunity: there is a legacy of struggle and distrust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous People in Canada; and we have the chance to build new bridges if we choose to engage in respectful dialogue around our differences.

The Sacred Fire Encampment has brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to peacefully protest shale gas exploration (also known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”) and industry in New Brunswick. When I visited the encampment this past July, I met people of all ages and walks of life who share concern for the environment and have worked together to make their concerns known. Much of the proposed fracking is on traditional Mi’Kmaq territory, including that of Elsipogtog First Nation; it should be noted that no land was ceded by Indigenous Peoples in the Peace and Friendship Treaties of the 1700s.

We cannot reduce what was over three months a non-violent protest uniting New Brunswickers of all backgrounds to a face-off between Indigenous People and the RCMP. As Canadians and as Christians, we need to be asking how we can re-build trust, how we can ensure that all involved are heard and valued.

We also need to be cognizant that this protest is speaking to two issues. One is a deep concern around the protection of the environment; the other confronts a lack of awareness of Aboriginal rights and responsibilities related to land and resources. This is not the first time Canadians have witnessed dramatic events that link these two issues. Some have referenced Oka when talking about the October 17th altercation. Others have pointed to the Ipperwash Inquiry Report as a resource that could have been useful in averting the violence. If we truly want to be inclusive, honourable and selfless as a country, as Governor General David Johnston described Canada in his recent Speech from the Throne, we cannot allow ourselves to write off legitimate problems because of the methods that were used to highlight them.

After he wrapped up his recent nine day visit, James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, noted in his Statement upon conclusion of the visit to Canada that “resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the aboriginal peoples concerned.” Until the question of rights over land and resources is addressed, how can we discuss the use of resources in good faith? And are we as Canadians requiring that our governments and our industries meet the requirement of free and informed consent before beginning any development on Indigenous lands?

Our society is deeply divided with fear, misunderstanding and a lack of safe space for dialogue. Elsipogtog, and other contexts like it, provides a new opportunity for creating such space, bridging gaps of mistrust and fear, and building a reconciled community. It offers a possibility for deeper and more just friendships.