CORNWALL, Ont. (CCN) — Members of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council (CCAC) called on Canada’s bishops to help find permanent funding for an institution to promote indigenous culture and spirituality.
“We need a place where indigenous voices become one voice, not a series of disparate voices, not heard only sporadically across this county,” CCAC member Irving Papineau, a Mohawk from Akwesasne, told the told the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 27.
“It requires resources and the support of a body such as this and trust that indigenous people truly can run their own institutions,” Papineau said.
There are “cries for the development and support of an institution, a place under indigenous leadership where we will give voice to the knowledge-keepers of our communities,” said CCAC member Harry Lafond.
Those knowledge-keepers were “silenced by the Indian Act and not allowed to be the teachers they were called to be,” said Lafond, a Catholic Cree from Saskatchewan who attended the synod on the Americas in Rome in 1997. Only since the 1970s have these elders “begun to come out and become active members again,” he said.
We need a place to gather, to teach, to develop our spiritual, knowledge of a good life, to teach our ceremonies and “dreams of Aboriginal involvement in their adopted church,” said Lafond.
“We need to do it together, side by side, as people that are related,” Lafond said. “It’s a rare moment in history and we can grab it and make something out of it.”
“For indigenous people is it not an option,” he said. “If we go on with the status quo, we will continue to deteriorate, to populate the prisons of this country and to be a colonized people,” he said.
Lafond and Papineau participated in a panel with Keewatin—Le Pas Archbishop Murray Chatlain organized by the CCCB’s justice and peace episcopal commission to address how the Catholic Church is responding to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Chatlain also raised the issue of permanent funding, noting the “poor results from the Moving Forward” fundraising campaign that was called for under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. “I think there’s a general feeling we should make some effort toward healing funds.”
The CCCB, the CCAC, the Canadian Religious Conference and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace had formed a joint response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s eight Calls to Action that specifically dealt with the role the various churches had in residential schools.
It is proposed the groups continue as a “Guadalupe Circle,” the archbishop said, and aim for a healing fund and ongoing fundraising “not directed as a certain number, but aimed at education and continuing positive work.”
“We are open to working on a continued healthy relationship, something we are investing in and want to continue in a positive way,” he said.
Ongoing education is Call to Action #59 that calls on the church parties to “develop ongoing education strategies to ensure their respecting congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families and communities were necessary.
The other Calls to Action concern bringing church policies in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; respect for indigenous spirituality; repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullus; a papal apology in Canada; maintenance of cemeteries; permanent funding; and a Covenant of Reconciliation.
The request for a papal apology has been made, Chatlain said, and discussion was to continue later in the plenary that ended Sept. 30. There will be a Covenant of Reconciliation that will have “some kind of formal recognition” but it “has not been decided on yet.”
On the maintenance of cemeteries, the archbishop noted many students of residential schools died, and were buried far away from their families. They died of TB, or other infections of the time. Families are still not sure where their members are buried, he said. “That’s something we will have to wrestle with, with the documentation we have.”
The CCCB responded to the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullus call last March with a document explaining the Catholic Church’s teachings on these matters. The church has not had a “doctrine of discovery,” Chatlain said. On the other hand, the CCCB cannot repudiate a papal bull.
Urban dioceses can also participate in the reconciliation work, but it poses a difficult challenge that requires “ingenuity, creativity and openness to go into the dioceses and really beat the bushes,” said Papineau. “If you beat the bushes you literally will find Indians sleeping in the bushes because they are homeless in your diocese.”
He pointed out indigenous people are often the poorest people in urban centres and they live in some of the worst areas. But reaching out is “the only way you can be church,” he said.