Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 5, 2001
Natives seek new relationship
Churches called to see aborigional people 'in a whole new way'
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Restoring right relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians requires reeducating Church members on the history of aboriginal people and the issues they face, say aboriginal rights activists.
"In Canada we have to become more aware of our history and a way to do that would be to incorporate more aboriginal history into the school curriculum," says Chris Anderson, a native studies professor at the University of Alberta.
"Going back to the history books is helpful but we also need to look at the present reality, the context in which we now live," says former United Church moderator the Rev. Stan McKay.
Anderson and McKay, also an aboriginal rights advocate and a theology instructor in Manitoba, addressed a workshop on aboriginal issues at Southminster Steinhauer United Church Feb 24. Some 40 people from different churches attended the event.
The workshop, titled Restoring Right Relations with Aboriginal Peoples, was organized by the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition and the Interfaith Committee for Aboriginal Peoples.
The workshop is part of a Canada-wide jubilee initiative to bring justice for aboriginal people.
In an interview, McKay described the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal societies as troubled.
"There is a problem of alienation between aboriginal people and society," he said, noting that for many generations the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal societies was based on aboriginal people being passive.
But in recent years aboriginal people have become outspoken about their rights and many people feel threatened by that.
"I think if you go in any of the coffee shops on the Prairies where groups of people gather for coffee in the morning, you will hear some frightening conversations about how they perceive aboriginal people," McKay said.
"People who have been silent for their whole lives are speaking up now but their plea for justice is being met with anger."
That anger is being felt especially around the residential schools issue with some Church members asking, "How much is this going to cost the Church to settle the litigation?"
"There is anger in the Church and the response I think, in some cases, can be described as a racist response," McKay lamented.
"There is great anger and it's generally directed at aboriginal people themselves. They are being called irresponsible and a burden on society."
One of the biggest tasks, McKay said, is to "reeducate Church members on the issues aboriginal people are facing."
Anderson said if Canadians want to restore right relations with native people, they will have to see them in a new way.
"I think Canada has to get out of this idea that aboriginal people are historic people and understand that they are modern aboriginal people and that they want to live a life just like everybody else," he said.
"We are not a culture of the past. We have evolved in many ways to meet the challenges of the new millennium."
Workshop participants took part in an hour-long exercise that required them to take the place of aboriginal people and suffer the consequences. Some were shocked at what they learned.
"Infecting blankets with smallpox is an act of evil people," exclaimed United Church member Pat Seale. She was also shocked that leaders of the time didn't stop the assimilation process when they knew it was harmful.
"I think white people should become more sensitive to what we have done to our brothers," Seale said. "We have to support them in their movement towards achieving their goals and vision of what they want to be."
Phyllis Loeppky, a member of St. Theresa Parish, agreed. "I feel that we have put them down systematically and that we still keep on doing it. I think it is time to change and support them in their quest for justice."
Judy Darbyson, secretary of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Vegreville, called the workshop "eye-opening." She wasn't aware of the injustices to which native people have been subjected.
What shocked her the most was learning a pope in the 1500s gave colonizers the okay to invade native lands.
"What I learned today is there were injustices done," she said. "When we know what has happened, we can change things."
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