Justice advocate to receive top award

The Anglican
 on June 1, 2016

Jennifer Henry says Canada is having a “kairos moment” for Indigenous rights. “It’s a moment when I think the country is starting to understand the need to address the colonial legacy and to begin to put in place justice actions that are going to bring about reconciliation.”

It’s a moment that Ms. Henry, the executive director of KAIROS and a member of Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, has worked hard for over the past 23 years. She is being given the Anglican Award of Merit, the n a t i o n a l church’s highest honour for lay people, in recognition of her efforts.

Growing up in the Anglican Church and being involved in youth ministry, Ms. Henry met people who had a “fire in the belly” for social justice. Inspired by their passion, she has dedicated her life to making the world a better place.

“I feel very strongly that our faith compels us into action for justice in the world, that we collaborate with God in bringing about hopeful transformation,” she says. “That’s my passion, that’s my vocation and it is my privilege that I’m able to also make it my job.”

KAIROS is a non-profit agency that brings together 11 churches and religious organizations in a collective commitment to ecological justice and human rights. It has a staff of about 18, with an office in Toronto and another in Ottawa. It does research and policy development, education and advocacy. Its priorities are Indigenous rights, climate justice, migrant justice and working with partners around the world on human rights and gender justice.

Ms. Henry says its top priority is Indigenous rights, in particular the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It is currently rolling out a campaign directed at every provincial legislature and territorial government about Call to Action #62, which calls for mandatory curriculum in every school that focuses on treaties, the history of residential schools and the contributions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people to Canada. In March, church leaders, including Primate Fred Hiltz and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, committed to implementing Call to Action #48, which calls on churches and faith groups to “adopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards” of the UN Declaration of the Rights on Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.

“We have this moment now, and the churches are coming together to support this moment,” says Ms. Henry. “It’s a very important time because if we don’t make changes in this moment, we’re going to lose some of the momentum that has been gained.”

In addition to its advocacy efforts at the federal and provincial levels, KAIROS works hard to provide education, advocacy and resources at the grassroots level, she says. One of its most popular and powerful resources is the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, used by churches and other groups across the country to learn about the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Mass Blanket Exercises are planned at provincial and territorial capitals across Canada around June 2, the one-year anniversary of the TRC’s release of its Calls to Action.

“We’ve worked very hard with our communities across the country to increase an understanding of Indigenous rights and to develop relationships with Indigenous communities,” she says. “Now what we have is an incredibly strong network of people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are working to see the rights that we have long sought be realized.”

She says the Anglican Church is critical to that effort. “In Anglican churches across the country, people participate in ecumenical social action, lifting up the kinds of resources that KAIROS has to offer and engaging with people of other churches in action in their communities. The Anglican Church is vitally involved at that level, but it’s also engaged in the board of KAIROS and in the ecumenical circles that support KAIROS, so that when we need to draw upon the high levels of the church for their engagement, they respond.”

She says it is a privilege to work at KAIROS at this moment in history, but is quick to give credit to others across the country. “The energy comes from the people who we work with across the country, people who are working really passionately, who really believe there can be a better world, and are putting their faith into action in that way. Those are the people who give hope and keep you inspired.”

As for receiving the Anglican Award of Merit, she is honoured to be recognized by her peers in this way. “The real delight comes from the fact that the folks who put my name forward were my colleagues. I feel very grateful for that, and it’s an honour to have the nomination come from them,” she says.


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