Small steps toward reparation

February 22, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 4
Madalene Arias |
Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. Photo by Randy Culp/Google.

Ten years ago, Adrian Jacobs of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy proposed a Spiritual Covenant with Mennonite churches located on the Haldimand Tract. One Kitchener church is now looking closely at that challenge.


The Haldimand Tract includes the land six miles (9.7 kilometres) to either side of the Grand River, from Dundalk, Ontario, to Lake Erie. This includes the Kitchener-Waterloo area. In 1874, Governor Frederick Haldimand drafted a proclamation stating that “His Majesty” would grant Six Nations this land—384,000 hectares (950,000 acres)—in exchange for serving on the British side during the American Revolution.


Six Nations was to receive lease payments from those who came to reside on the land.


Among those who immigrated to the land were Mennonites who settled in the Grand River Valley. The Canadian government was to hold these payments in trust, but that’s not what happened.


As Jacobs stated in his proposal, “our Six Nations trust accounts should contain trillions of dollars.”


The Spiritual Covenant (see more about the Covenant here) proposes that churches offer a token 99-year lease payment annually to Six Nations, which, in turn, would permit the churches to continue using the lands in question. The covenant may be renewed at the expiration of the original 99-year term.


Should the church cease to exist, the land would revert to the possession of Six Nations to be used for spiritual, cultural, social or community purposes.


Josie Winterfeld of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener says that, over the last two years, the church has been considering the actions it will take to live into reconciliation with Indigenous people; specifically, how it will respond to the Spiritual Covenant proposal.


Currently, the congregation is considering the first step of making reparation payments or symbolic lease payments directly to Six Nations.


“We understand that injustices have happened, and that we have been beneficiaries,” says Winterfeld.


More clarity may result from Stirling’s annual meeting in March.


In Winnipeg, Home Street Mennonite Church decided this February that it would provide some funds to two Indigenous- led organizations over the next three years.


At its annual meeting, the congregation decided to designate one percent of its budget—approximately $3,400—for this purpose.


Esther Epp-Thiessen of Home Street says they’d been discussing their decision for almost three years, so it felt like a significant decision.


Within the last month, Home Street has also begun to offer its basement for the Indigenous cultural programming of 1JustCity. Epp-Thiessen says the church has offered the space at no cost, something they consider “reparations in kind.”

Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. Photo by Randy Culp/Google.

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