OTTAWA (CCN) — A coalition of seven Catholic organizations have launched the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle to further reconciliation efforts with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
The Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council (CCAC), the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC), the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace/Caritas Canada (CCODP); the Knights of Columbus, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic Women’s League; and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) met to formally inaugurate the Circle at the CCCB offices in Ottawa Dec. 5. They will meet again early in the New Year.
“I’m looking forward to a Happy New Year in 2017 for indigenous people and the Catholic Church,” said Deacon Rennie Nahanee, chair of the CCAC and one of five indigenous members of the Circle. Nahanee is a member of the Squamish First Nation in British Columbia and co-ordinator of First Nations’ Ministry for the Vancouver archdiocese.
“Between the church and indigenous peoples, not everybody knows what their roles are and these need to be defined in the New Year,” he said.
“It shows we are taking seriously the response to the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) Calls to Action,” Nahanee said. “We want to want to have a good relationship with indigenous people like we used to prior to the residential schools.”
“It’s mutual respect we need to have for each other and the church is changing,” he said. “They want to listen to what the indigenous peoples are saying.”
“It’s just now we’re on an equal basis,” he said. “No more residential school telling you what you should do, but what we can do together.”
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has laid out the plans to do that. “We cannot respond to everything they are asking for but we can do what we can do. I believe it’s going to be great.”
“We had already been talking and exchanging in an informal way,” said Josianne Gauthier, director of In Canada programs for Development and Peace. Gauthier had been part of the working group that had been working on defining the mandate, to “give ourselves some objectives as Catholic movements going forward.”
The groups had crafted a joint response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s March 2016 deadline for a response to the Calls to Action from the churches that were involved in running Indian residential schools.
“The idea was to have a national response, because we are not a national church like the Anglican Church,” said Nahanee. “We wanted to have groups that were more or less representative of a national Catholic response.”
“I think it’s a good thing, otherwise we are just responding from our own different dioceses across Canada,” Nahanee said. “It’s better to have a number of people who can speak together. That way we know what is going on in each of our areas. We know how each is responding to the Calls to Action.”
Membership in the Circle means “embracing our responsibilities” and examining the “impact of reconciliation on the future of our mission,” Gauthier said. The Circle will examine how reconciliation is “lived out and how it connects to our mission for social justice, peace, and the rights of all to this national reconciliation process that the Catholic Church and the Catholic movements are engaged in.”
“Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle is a Catholic coalition of indigenous people, bishops, clergy, lay movements and institutes of consecrated life, engaged in renewing and fostering relationships between the Catholic Church and indigenous people in Canada,” said the Circle’s mission statement.
Among the Calls to Action is the formal adoption and application of the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a “framework for reconciliation.”
For Nahanee, the UNDRIP’s call to recognize the spirituality of indigenous people and their rights to have their culture and spiritual develop without interference from the church is key.
“I think it’s about respect for the culture as it is,” he said. “We would still like to convert people back to the church, to Christianity, because I believe people still need to be God-centred.”
But Nahanee said he also believed in what Pope John Paul II said when he visited Canada that the Gospel “does not take away the culture but can purify and strengthen it.”
Since the government policy that tried to “take the Indian out of the child” in the residential schools, and the subsequent loss to generations of indigenous peoples of their language and culture, Nahanee has seen a revival.
“People who managed to hang onto their language and customs have shared it and that culture is growing very strong now,” he said.
Gauthier added, “I also really liked how, even though the bishops’ conference is present, it’s not a hierarchical presence, it’s a circle. Everybody has a voice. Everybody is heard and given a chance to express themselves. Our ideas do not always flow at the same speed.”