As many parishes across the diocese prepare for their 2016 vestry meetings, they are being asked once again to endorse the diocese’s annual social justice vestry motion as a way of enacting a Christian commitment to working towards a more just society. This year’s motion responds to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) by calling for government action on key recommendations of the commission and committing parishes to undertake study and reflection on issues of Indigenous rights and reconciliation.
“Social justice issues do not only have a political dimension,” says Archbishop Colin Johnson. “The church also needs to speak about the biblical dimensions that impact or arise out of these issues. This opportunity for a discussion at an official body such as a parish vestry is important, regardless of the results of the decision.”
The formal work of the TRC wrapped up in June 2015 after a seven-year process. The commission held public hearings across the country for survivors of the Indian Residential School system and collected more than 6,200 statements from survivors and their families. These events documented decades of physical, sexual and emotional abuse suffered by thousands of Indigenous youth in more than 130 schools across the country, many run by Christian churches. In order to share these stories and insights, the TRC released a final report along with 94 calls to action directed to Canadians in all walks of life.
Although the formal process has come to an end, the work of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians requires ongoing commitment and effort to address a problematic history and move together towards a better future. In their summary report, the commissioners of the TRC wrote that for churches, “demonstrating long-term commitment requires atoning for actions within the residential schools, respecting Indigenous spirituality and supporting Indigenous peoples’ struggles for justice and equity.”
Archbishop Johnson echoes these priorities, noting that action on this issue is particularly important “because of the role the church had in residential schools, the number of Indigenous people who continue to be members of our church and the biblical call to be agents of truth and reconciliation. How we engage in that, not whether we engage in that, is the matter for discussion.”
This year’s vestry motion pursues this discussion by encouraging parishes to learn more about the TRC and the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and calls for strong government action on two key recommendations contained in the calls to action. The motion affirms the federal government’s efforts to initiate an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and encourages ongoing commitment to this work. The motion also calls on the provincial government to develop an educational curriculum for all grade levels that addresses the history of the residential school system and highlights the contributions of Indigenous people to the history and culture of Canada.
Workshops were held in January in each episcopal area to build the capacity of interested parishioners and clergy to facilitate engagement in their parishes on the issues addressed in the motion.
The advocacy work of this motion carries on from earlier work that has been done, both locally and nationally, to heal the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Anglican Church. The results of the motion will be collected by diocesan staff and used in the diocese’s advocacy work with both the federal and provincial governments.