Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 2, 2001
Blankets rolled out to back native rights
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — The lawn in front of the Supreme Court of Canada became a multi-coloured mosaic on National Aboriginal Day as Church and native activists rolled out hundreds of blankets.
The blankets symbolized their commitment to restoring right relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.
The blankets — aboriginal symbols of land and security - were collected in 28 communities across Canada and placed on board four "blanket trains" that converged in the nation's capital June 21.
Organized by the Church-based Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) and the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative (CEJI), the demonstration included calls for the establishment of an independent commission to implement aboriginal land, treaty and inherent rights.
Last September, leaders of the Anglican, United, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches took part in the launch of a petition campaign coordinated by ARC and the CEJI in support of the land rights commission.
"These blankets represent the reclamation of our land rights in Canada," Ovide Mercredi, former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told the crowd of several hundred people.
Mercredi, now an advisor to the current AFN chief, Matthew Coon Come, said aboriginal title is "the most important aspect of our identity in this country."
He added that Canadians and their governments should not be afraid of aboriginal identity "but should, in fact, take steps to make it happen very quickly."
The churches in Canada have actively promoted aboriginal land rights in recent years, but Janet Somerville, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches said they are also active worldwide in support of indigenous people.
"All over the world there is a re-birth of hope among indigenous peoples," she told those gathered. "It is a hard struggle everywhere but it is the breath of hope everywhere."
God is hungering and thirsting for justice and the Canadian churches are together "walking with the leaders of the aboriginal movement in Canada, and thirsting with them for justice," said Somerville.
"What we're hoping for, specifically, is a transformed relationship between aboriginal peoples and non-aboriginal peoples in this country and in the world," she said.
The "blanket train" and Supreme Court action was part of a year-long education and advocacy campaign by the churches that included the petition to be presented to Prime Minister Jean Chretien in September.
It calls on the federal government to "act immediately to establish a truly independent commission with the mandate to implement aboriginal land, treaty and inherent rights."
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