December 21, 2015
JEAN KO DIN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

The truth part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process is done; now is the time for Canada to enter into reconciliation, said Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald.

MacDonald, who is the first national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, spoke at Toronto's St. Gabriel's Parish Nov. 25 to reflect on how Christians can help repair Canada's relationship with indigenous people.

The Advent season is, he said, a good time to reconcile with the Church's dark past surrounding Indian residential schools and move forward with an improved vision of the future.

"At the beginning of this Advent . . . we also should begin to identify where the living Word of God lives among us," said MacDonald. "I would like to suggest that the living Word of God lives among us in the recovery of indigenous rights."

MacDonald is of Ojibwa descent and he said the report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June offers Canadians hope.

The commission was established in 2008 to collect documents and testimonies to record the history of Canada's residential school system. Many of the more than 150,000 Aboriginal children who attended residential schools experienced physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

The report released in June marked the conclusion of the commission's work. The 381-page document outlined 94 recommendations, including specific recommendations for a second papal apology for the Catholic Church's role in running about 60 per cent of the 139 residential schools.

The report also called for the Church, along with other faith communities, to work with indigenous spiritual leaders to recognize "the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence."

"During the Truth and Reconciliation process, a lot of Catholic indigenous people were very critical of the Catholic hierarchy," said MacDonald. "It's time for the Roman Catholic Church to reclaim its past.

"I believe that God is calling the Christian churches, the Roman Catholic Church in specific, to a reset of our relationships and to begin to live in hope, justice and peace."

The 94 recommendations outlined in the commission's report are a good start, said the Anglican bishop, but Christians can do more, even as lay people.

"If even three of you decided to go to your MP and say 'I am outraged at the disparity of education for First Nations people compared with every other Canadian; I am outraged that people in Canada don't have access to drinkable water,'" said MacDonald.

"I think if that was expressed strongly and positively, I think we would see a very different picture."

MacDonald also suggests people be more engaged with First Nations' culture and traditions. The 2011 census estimates that 56 per cent of Aboriginals now live in urban areas.

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MacDonald suggests that a good way to learn more about indigenous culture is by seeking out local powwows and creating community relationships. It's also important, he said, to be more welcoming to the native culture in Church communities.

"The indigenous people here in Toronto who are Roman Catholic probably would love to attend a Mass that has some of their symbols and culture integrated."

Overall, MacDonald said he had great hope in the resilience of the Aboriginal people. The young people, especially, value both their Aboriginal heritage and their Canadian heritage. In that, MacDonald said, is a good glimpse of a better future.