“…More and more Christians, pastors, and leaders are now asking, ‘How can we be reconciled with Indigenous Peoples?’
Let’s view reconciliation as having three parts: a recognition of wrong done, a request for forgiveness, and a commitment to a new relationship.”
Matthew 5:23-24 tells us, “… if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” The Lord asks us first to be reconciled before offering our acts of worship. On May 30, 2021, the initial discovery of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C., sent shockwaves throughout our nation. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike mourned the loss of these children, realizing that though we may not have directly or intentionally caused harm, we’ve all inherited a multi-generational conflict that requires healing and resolution. The following Sunday, many churches offered their worship to the Lord as normal. Others paused for a moment of silence, wore orange in solidarity, or acknowledged the discovery in a meaningful way. We saw even more churches expressing this kind of love on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. As subsequent discoveries continue to happen, more and more Christians, pastors, and leaders are now asking, “How can we be reconciled with Indigenous Peoples?”
Let’s view reconciliation as having three parts: a recognition of wrong done, a request for forgiveness, and a commitment to a new relationship. The only path to reconciliation is through Bible-based constructive conflict.1 Constructive conflict fosters open communication and active listening2 (James 1:19). Destructive conflict dominates conversation. Constructive conflict fosters peace and enhances relationships (Matthew 5:9), while destructive conflict destroys them. Constructive conflict can achieve win-win outcomes by focusing on the needs of the other party (Philippians 2:4). Destructive conflict is self-centred and has only one winner.3
There are three ways we can apply these concepts to our relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
First, we need to come to an understanding of the wrong done. We cannot understand what went wrong unless we are truly listening to Indigenous voices. To seek to understand is an expression of love modelled by God Himself. He went to great lengths to understand us—to the point where He became one of us. He walked among us, ate with us, drank with us, rejoiced with us, and wept with us. He understood us deeply as an act of love.
One of the reasons Indigenous voices have not reached Canadian ears is because Canadians have failed to recognize that history is relevant to our present situation. There are many resources that are publicly available to all Canadians as a way for us to hear the collective voices of Indigenous Peoples. Christians should get comfortable utilizing these resources to inform their perspectives. Such resources include the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP)4 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Reports.5 We recommend you start by reading RCAP highlights.6 The RCAP came from a royal commission established in 1991 in the wake of the Oka Crisis.7 It was the product of extensive research, including a broad survey of historical and contemporary relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 and published its final report in 2015. The TRC final report is a compilation of Indigenous voices that brings to light the traumas experienced within the residential school system and offers a clear perspective on how oppressive policies impacted Indigenous Peoples.8 We need to ask ourselves these questions: “As believers, are we utilizing these resources effectively, and are we listening intently to the voices of Indigenous Peoples to understand the wrong that was done?”
Many are not aware that Canada has a unique relationship with Indigenous Peoples which was established through the Royal Proclamation of 17639 and through treaties.10 As Indigenous Peoples worked together in harmony with early settlers, and as the settler population began to increase, these treaties were put in place to define a relationship between Indigenous Nations and the nation of Canada.11 The spirit and intent of the treaties was to ensure that Indigenous Peoples and settler society would live in peace and harmony. These treaties were not temporary; in fact, they continue to be in effect today12 and are recognized in Section 35 of the Canadian constitution.13They are to last “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”
As Christians and Canadian citizens, we must do our part to learn about Indigenous Peoples and their relationship to Canada. Are we making the effort and taking the time to understand Indigenous Peoples?
Secondly, we need to seek forgiveness and restoration. Again, we have all inherited this multi-generational conflict and, regardless of our personal actions in the past, we now have the opportunity to be part of the resolution. Constructive conflict with open hearts leads us to a better understanding of the truth.
As believers and Canadian citizens, are we aware of the broken relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples? Are we aware that the approach to treaties has implications for all Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples?
In the 1800s, as Canada’s settler population increased, the spirit of harmony between nations gave way to a policy of assimilation. The interpretation of treaties changed, and policies were put in place to benefit Europeans over Indigenous Peoples. Lands rich in minerals and resources were taken away from Indigenous Peoples, who were seen as impediments to progress. Instead of welcoming Indigenous nations into Canadian confederation in the same way colonies became Canadian provinces,14 the new Canadian government chose to assimilate Indigenous peoples as individuals.15 This was the purpose of the oppressive policies of the Indian Act, including the residential school system.16 Residential schools were created to eliminate the concept of Indigenous “nationhood.” They were meant to eradicate Indigenous cultures, traditions, spirituality, and ways of life from Canada. Young children were forcibly removed from their families to attend these schools. One of the largest schools was at the Kamloops, B.C., site where the first 215 unmarked graves were confirmed.17
Thirdly, are we willing to accept this truth to commit to a new and restored relationship together?
Reconciliation can take place on three levels: person to person, group to group, and nation to nation. On the interpersonal level, our new relationships must not carry harmful stereotypes and myths against Indigenous Peoples with whom you serve. Commit to a process of learning from them and alongside them.
To create new relationships as a church, listen to the voices of Indigenous Peoples. Ask your senior leadership to read the TRC Report and the RCAP report. Consider some education initiatives for your congregation as mentioned in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations 48 and 49.18 Ensure that your church has healthy, Bible-based conflict resolution policies and procedures so that conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous church members are resolved in a healthy way.
Support the development of a new and healthy relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples by learning what a healthy relationship could look like. Learn about Indigenous issues, such as limited access to drinkable water in Indigenous communities, housing issues, and other socio-economic matters. Take this into consideration when talking with your MPs or when voting. Pray for the spiritual issues and specifically the barriers that exist for Indigenous Peoples to clearly see the gospel message in its purest form—apart from any legacy of colonization—so they may freely embrace it.
We can be reconciled to one another. It may take generations—because it took generations to create the problems. But reconciliation is possible when we commit to constructive, Bible-based conversations. The journey toward reconciliation is a long road, but if we follow Christ’s example and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can glorify God in our response to the brokenness we see in the world.
Jimmy Thunder, MBA, serves as the director of economic development for Norway House Cree Nation, adjunct faculty at Horizon College and Seminary, board member of Circles for Reconciliation, and founder of Reconciliation Thunder, a non-profit that uses social media
to support Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
Andrew Thunder, MBA, is the director of corporate responsibility at The North West Company, the executive director of the Healthy Horizons Foundation, and serves as an Indigenous relations consultant for post-secondary institutions, churches and businesses.
- Donald E. Bossart,“Growing Through Conflict,” Religion Online, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.religion-online.org/article/growing-through-conflict.
- Greg Atkinson, “Are you an active listener?” Biblical Leadership, October 30, 2016, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/are-you-an-active-listener.
- Dennis McCallum, “Managing Conflict in Home Churches,” Dwell Community Church, accessed October 9, 2021, https://dwellcc.org/learning/essays/managing-conflict-home-churches.
- Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Government of Canada, last modified November 2, 2016, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/aboriginal-heritage/royal-commission-aboriginal-peoples/Pages/final-report.aspx.
- National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, University of Manitoba, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports, accessed October 9, 2021, https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.
- Highlights From the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100014597/1572547985018.
- Tabitha Marshall, “Oka Crisis,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 11, 2013, last edited July 9, 2020, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/oka-crisis.
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Government of Canada, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1450124405592/1529106060525.
- Royal Proclamation, 1763, First Nations and Indigenous Studies, The University of British Columbia, accessed October 9, 2021, https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/royal_proclamation_1763.
- A History of Treaty-Making in Canada, The Government of Canada, last modified September 2, 2011, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1314977704533/1544620451420.
- Reflections on the Making of Treaty 1 and the Implications of Canada's Indian Act of 1876, Canada’s History, YouTube, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFO5mHEj_EY.
- What Are Aboriginal Rights? Government of Canada, last modified July 30, 2020, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100028574/1529354437231?wbdisable=true#:~:text=Treaty%20rights%20are%20rights%20set,vary%20from%20treaty%20to%20treaty.
- Rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, Justice Laws Website, Government of Canada, last modified October 28, 2021, accessed October 9, 2021, https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-13.html#docCont.
- Consider the process that gave rise to federalism in Canada. Visit https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/federalism.
- Zach Parrott, “Indian Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 7, 2006, last edited December 16, 2020, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/indian-act.
- Bob Joseph, “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act,” Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., June 2, 2015, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.ictinc.ca/books/21-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-indian-act.
- Courtney Dickson and Bridgette Watson, “Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says,” CBC News, May 27, 2021, last updated May 29, 2021, accessed October 9, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tk-eml%C3%BAps-te-secw%C3%A9pemc-215-children-former-kamloops-indian-residential-school-1.6043778.
- Susana Mas, “Truth and Reconciliation offers 94 ‘calls to action,’ ” CBC News, December 14, 2015, last updated December 16, 2015, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/truth-and-reconciliation-94-calls-to-action-1.3362258.
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.