Indigenous relations are not science fiction

From Our Leaders

March 28, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 6
Jonathan Neufeld |
Photo by Lukas Hartmann/Pexels.

It has been more than eight years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report, including 94 Calls to Action that various levels of government and religious communities committed themselves to implementing. is one of the sources I turn to for a thorough and current assessment of the implementation of the Calls. As of March 1, 2024, they report 13 Calls to Action as completed, 47 “in progress,” 19 “stalled” and 15 “not yet started.”


When the topic of conversation surrounding Indigenous relations is on the Calls to Action, I have heard individuals or congregations occasionally distance themselves from feeling any responsibility or power to influence whether or not the Calls are realized in Canadian society.


My hope, though, is that we continue to remember that one cannot opt in (or out, for that matter) of Indigenous relations. From coast to coast, we are neighbours—living on the same lands, walking the same streets, breathing the same air, sustained by the same earth and loved by the one Creator. It is never a question of our being in relationship, but rather what sort of relationship we seek to nourish and incarnate.


I recently heard Elder Adrian Jacobs, senior leader for Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation for the Christian Reformed Church in Canada, describe our collective path as “polishing the tarnished silver of relationship.”


That landed with me as further affirmation of the relationship waters we all swim in, and the invitation for everyone to work toward a polishing. A restoration of connection, marked by truth-telling, curiosity, appreciation, listening, trust and (re)conciliation.


I remember being called out by a Haudenosaunee elder in a workshop. I suggested that reconciliation is akin to science fiction work, working towards a relationship that has yet to be imagined. Her direct response was to correct my perspective and remind me that treaty has always been, and will always be, the relationship that Indigenous communities have offered their neighbours.


We don’t need to imagine anything else. We need to polish the relationship that is already named.


Part of the polishing process is attending to the Calls of Action, seeking to understand the Indigenous knowledge around treaty and engage in myriad other reforms and recommendations that have been named as needed.


This polishing has opportunities in denominational, regional and congregational contexts. In 2016, MC Canada repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, our collective response to Call to Action 49. Important action, but repudiation doesn’t immediately describe what we are for. It does not immediately impact relationships in any concrete way.


If we understand repudiation not as a finish line, but rather akin to a starting pistol calling us toward (re)conciliation, then, it is my hope, MC Canada can be a resource and encouragement to the regional Indigenous relations working groups and through them to regional collectives and congregations who are rubbing shoulders with Indigenous neighbours on a daily basis. Thereby, polishing the commitment we all have to live toward a future of reciprocity, mutual appreciation, sharing and peace.


Jonathan Neufeld serves as Indigenous relations coordinator for Mennonite Church Canada. He can be reached at

Photo by Lukas Hartmann/Pexels.

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Indigenous relations may not be science fiction, however within the Canadian and Mennonite communities, Indigenous relations regarding the TRC Calls To Action and reconciliation are indeed mostly fiction. The Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous-led policy think tank has given up tracking the fulfillment of the 94 Calls to Action of the TRC, stating that in 8 years (2015-2023), 81 out of the 94 CTAs remain unfulfilled. It is too slow.

MC Canada has boldly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, evil should be repudiated, especially by the church. Now it is well time for MC Canada to consider the other side of the coin, "whose land is it then?" Biblically we are informed that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." The Indigenous response traditionally has been that "no-one can own the land, it/we all belong to the Creator." Harmony it seems!

The Mennonite people though are out of harmony in regards to land ownership. The belief is strong that "the earth is not the Lord's" but that it belongs to "us," via the DoD, terra nullius, British property laws, right of conquest, God's leading to the promised land, etc. We are out of harmony with the Indigenous peoples whose lands we occupy, but we are apparently out of harmony with God's justice as well.

For MC Canada to tepidly (my opinion) call for right relationship with Indigenous peoples is a thing. Better yet to call Mennonites to right relationship with God. Send out the missionaries and emissaries to Mennonite churches far and wide, write Pauline letters to the churches to repent, to proclaim land back and reparation a priority in the eyes of God, "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever=flowing stream." This is not an "Indian problem," it is a "Mennonite problem."

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