Mennonite Central Committee shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ. We have a vision of communities worldwide in right relationships with God, one another and with creation.
Sometimes we share God’s love through an emergency food response to disaster. Often, we seek right relationships by working alongside partners in community-based, on-the-ground development.
But sometimes, as for two days in late March, sharing God’s love, and building right relationships means being in Ottawa with other senior church leaders encouraging Canadian senators to support a Canada where engaging justly with Indigenous peoples is part of our identity.
I am deeply grateful for my own opportunities over several decades with MCC to work alongside Indigenous communities from Six Nations in Ontario to Sheshatshit in Labrador. I appreciated the gift of working alongside these Indigenous partners in building life-giving relationships and supporting healthy livelihoods.
But sometimes we are also called to help shape and transform our society and the space in which these relationships exist. Some readers will remember the old “teach a man to fish” narrative. Of course, we know that many Indigenous people are accomplished harvesters and if anything, they taught us newcomers and settlers to fish. However, centuries after settlers arrived there are now lakes and rivers to which Indigenous people may have no access. Or if they have access, the body of water does not support healthy fish.
Then what is our response to God’s call to love our neighbour? Might we then need to ask how bodies of water are managed and governed and for whose benefit? How is it that the benefits of resources from these waters and surrounding lands have largely flowed south and into the hands and homes of newcomer and settler Canadians?
Canada is presently considering adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The bill to do so, C-262, is currently in the Senate. C-262 is not a formal treaty, but it would change how we share not only the fish, but the many other resources God has placed among us. It would call us to develop consistent and predictable methods of seeking and gaining meaningful input and consent on major development projects that impact Indigenous lands. These are principles that already exist in Canadian law. C-262 will help provide a roadmap on how to implement these principles well.
I considered it an honour to join with our sisters and brothers from the Quaker, United Church, Anglican and Presbyterian communities to meet with four senators and their staff to share how Bill C-262 would provide an excellent framework for reconciliation in Canada’s future. Several of them noted how many letters of support for UNDRIP they had received…kudos to the many of you who wrote to them already!
Three things have stayed with me since our “meet the senators” tour.
First, I was struck again by the very critical role the Senate plays in this and all legislation, and thus was reminded of the value of MCC and the churches investing in relationships with senators.
Second was the clear sense that the Declaration is not taking Canada into a strange and completely uncharted space, but rather it continues in the direction we have slowly been moving with the TRC, toward a Canada where first peoples and settlers are committed to genuine and mutual relationships.
The third, and more troubling reality, was that the clock is running down very quickly on the possibility of this important act of reconciliation becoming a reality.
MCC, along with other faith bodies, recently signed a letter sent to all senators, stating “Indigenous peoples are calling Canada to a path of mutuality and authentic relationship. Non-Indigenous Canadians of all ages and backgrounds are asking the Federal government to honour Indigenous peoples’ human rights. The Senate holds decision-making power to bring Canada closer to honest and fair relationship. Please support Bill C-262.”
We invite you to have your voice heard, too. We are now within a few weeks of this legislation needing to pass before an election is called and the bill dies. This is an opportunity for us to slightly but meaningfully shift the trajectory of harmed and hurting relationships. Senators are paying attention to the messages they receive; let’s continue to motivate them to act.
I invite you, even if you already have written, to use the highly effective “write the senators” tool to encourage the Senate community to support Bill C-262, and to move Canada closer to the community we long to be.
Rick Cober Bauman is Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee Canada.