N.W.T Catholic Bishop responds to Truth and Reconciliation call to action
Church calls on its members to make 8 commitments to Indigenous Peoples
The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie–Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories says the church has already started to lay the groundwork for implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops published its response to Call to Action 48 — which asks all faith groups in Canada to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Church's response calls on all its members to make eight commitments to Indigenous Peoples — including working with Catholic educational institutions to tell the history and experience of Indigenous Peoples and supporting the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
"I think because of the residential school reality in [the Northwest Territories], this was one of the places where looking at the legacy [of residential schools] and the response to it happened early," said Bishop Mark Hagemoen.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the federal government opened 10 residential schools in the Northwest Territories.
Some were run strictly by the Catholic Church, others had both Anglican and Catholic residences attached, and some were non-denominational.
'Concrete' plans will be a challenge
"There have already been a number of responses that have been asked for by the people here that have been undertaken," said Hagemoen.
He cited a program piloted 15 year ago in the Northwest Territories called "Return to Spirit."
"It involved taking residential school survivors and people that worked at the schools in separate processes, and then in a third process bringing these people together to interchange and share in a process that invited and welcomed a movement towards reconciliation."
While Hagemoen acknowledged that there is still a lot of work to be done, he said spelling out that work in "concrete terms" is a challenge.
"Our programs and priorities need to be informed by what came out on [Wednesday]."
Hagemeon says next month, a number of representatives from different Dene communities are going to be travelling with him to start working on developing a pastoral plan.
"I would hope within two years, and that would be ambitious, that we would be able to be in a place to launch and even have formed a pastoral plan that would be informed by the aboriginal reality of the majority of this diocese."
On Wednesday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a public statement repudiating illegitimate concepts and principles reflected in the 15th-century Doctrine of Discovery.
That document was used to justify the seizure of land from indigenous peoples, dating back to the European settlement of North America.
'You have to put it into action'
N.W.T. resident Paul Andrew says actions will speak louder than words.
"Apology, love, respect, honour. Those are action words. You have to put it into action."
"I know that [the Catholic Church] has apologized for various things, but I don't know whether they have ever used the word genocide, and those are the kinds of things that make a difference."
Last May, chief justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, made headlines when she said that Canada attempted to commit "cultural genocide" against aboriginal peoples — a statement Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, agreed with.
Reaching out to those no longer part of the church
Andrew also wants to see the church doing more to reach out to Aboriginal Peoples that are no longer members.
"Most of us that are not part of the church now seem to have been forgotten," he said.
"Reconciliation is happening within their little diocese and within their faith, which is fine if that's their definition of reconciliation, but that's not my definition of reconciliation. They need to make it right with everybody."
For Andrew, though, the most important thing is that the church actually follows through on its commitments, rather than just "keeping things to discussions," — and while he's hopeful, he's not setting his expectations too high.
"I was born in a country that did not treat aboriginal people very well, and the church was a big part of that, so I was born skeptical."
with files from Kate Kyle