Aboriginal elder welcomes Canadian churches’ endorsement of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

 — Apr. 19, 201619 avril 2016
By Kristine Greenaway, for WCC News

Canadian church leaders issued a joint statement endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and promising to implement its principles. Doreen Spence, an aboriginal Canadian who was one of the architects of the declaration, welcomes the move.

“Endorsement is a big step forward. I really commend them,” Spence says. “It has taken them a long time.”

Spence served as presiding elder to the core group of indigenous people who met in Geneva over a 20-year period to craft the declaration and guide it through the lengthy process that led to its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The World Council of Churches (WCC) supported the working group by offering meeting space at the Ecumenical Centre.

The Canadian churches’ statement, signed by seven church leaders, says they commit to implementing the principles, norms, and standards named in the UN declaration and “embrace the opportunity … to work for reconciliation and to fully respect the human rights and dignity of indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Canadian church leaders issued their endorsement on 30 March in response to a call-to-action by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission into abuse of aboriginal students in church-run residential schools. In its report released in June 2015, the TRC called on churches, faith groups, and social justice groups in Canada to “formally adopt and comply with” the principles and standards of UNDRIP as a framework for reconciliation between the country’s aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.

Leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada, Christian Reformed Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Salvation Army, and United Church of Canada issued the statement in Ottawa, the country’s capital city. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Holy Cross Fathers also issued statements, as did several ecumenical and interfaith groups.

The rights named in the UN declaration include: the right to participate in decision-making; the right to cultural and spiritual identity; the right to lands and resources; the right to free, prior, and informed consent; and the right to be free from discrimination. Implementation of some of these rights is likely to be contentious, particularly in the interpretation of aboriginal rights that affect resource extraction projects. The question of funding for teaching aboriginal languages is also on the table as a key element to cultural survival. Children in church-run schools were not allowed to speak their birth languages. As a result, many languages are expected to disappear.

What’s next?

Spence believes the endorsement will create a ripple effect like a stone thrown into a pond. “There will be some positive moving forward,” she says. “My dream is what happened in South Africa with truth and reconciliation. This will help us rise above the judgment and the blame.”

At the same time, her expectations of church action in follow-up to the endorsement are tempered by realism. “I am not holding my breath for them to jump into action. The churches respond more readily to refugees and immigrant issues,” Spence says.

Spence, who jokingly refers to herself as an “old Cree granny” (grandmother), attended Bible college for three years as a young adult before going on to study nursing. Today, at 79, she is active in teaching about spirituality and respect.

Recently she spoke about UNDRIP at an interfaith event at Beth Tzedec synagogue in the western Canadian city of Calgary. The event drew participants from a coalition of churches, several faith groups and three levels of government. This week she is a guest lecturer at Harvard University in the United States, speaking on women and religions.

“Not all of my people are healthy enough to be able to face speaking with non-aboriginal people. But I am,” Spence says.

WCC’s work with the world’s indigenous peoples is ongoing with a conference titled “Reconciliation Processes and Indigenous Peoples: Truth, Healing and Transformation” scheduled for Trondheim, Norway, on 20-21 June.

Posted: Apr. 19, 2016 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=9137
Categories: WCC NewsIn this article: Canada, church, declarations, Indigenous peoples, United Nations
Transmis : 19 avril 2016 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=9137
Catégorie : WCC NewsDans cet article : Canada, church, declarations, Indigenous peoples, United Nations

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