This year of 2017 is the year Canada celebrates 150 years as a confederation. As we do so, what is the story we will share? While four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) came together on July 1, 1867 to form the new Dominion of Canada, the rest of the provinces joined later over time with Nunavut as the most recent in 1999. What does Canada have to celebrate with a sesquicentennial milestone? For some Canadians, it will be a time of reflection and thanksgiving for peace, freedom and their ability as newcomers from other nations to establish a better life. For others, it will be a time of lament that the generosity and hospitality of Indigenous people, existing as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people long before 1867, was returned with several broken treaties and stolen land. For the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) denomination in Canada, this is a reminder of signing onto the New Covenant Declaration 30 years ago to re-commit to living into the values of treaties.
The story of Indigenous peoples around the world is often full of pain and loss. One historical example of this from Canada includes actions of missionary movements and churches that forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families into residential schools in efforts to rid them of cultures and traditions that were perceived to be evil. These events and others have broken our treaties (covenants) with Indigenous peoples and left wounds. Similar injustices are seen in many communities where World Renew works around the world. Too often, the communities with significant levels of poverty and injustice are Indigenous communities.
These events and others have broken our treaties (covenants) with Indigenous peoples and left wounds.
Recognizing that each person is created in the image of God, worthy of respect and value, World Renew, as an agency of the CRC, works with Indigenous people to restore and reconcile relationships that have been broken and abusive. In Luke 4:18, Christ reminds us of the mission He gave us to share His love in ways that promote dignity and justice for all, especially those who are oppressed. When we do this, we also support the fundamental freedoms and human rights that are expressed in 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Last year, the Christian Reformed Church in Canada endorsed this declaration and committed to living into it in recognition that this helps us to live out our covenant commitments to Indigenous peoples.
So what are some examples of how World Renew works with Indigenous communities to fulfill articles in the UNDRIP and God’s call to renew, restore, and reconcile with them? While there are many more stories to share, I found these particularly exciting:
Relevant UNDRIP article:
Article 2: Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their Indigenous origin or identity.
Reducing human trafficking with Indigenous communities along the Atlantic coast
Relevant UNDRIP article:
1. Indigenous individuals and peoples have the right to enjoy fully all rights established under applicable international and domestic labour law. 2. States shall in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples take specific measures to protect Indigenous children from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development, taking into account their special vulnerability and the importance of education for their empowerment.
Improving the quality of education so more children of ethnic-minority Indigenous families will have an opportunity to succeed and enjoy their studies. The children’s Indigenous language is used for their education while Lao is also taught as a second language.
Relevant UNDRIP article:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning. 2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination. 3. States shall, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for Indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Micaela, a mother from one of the families in Guatemala, testifies to the dramatic changes that happen when our programs with partners are implementing new technical skills and a community-based approach to reduce isolation in Indigenous communities:
“The best thing that could have happened to us in life is to know about God through the gospel and the people of APIDEC (partner of World Renew),” Micaela said. “They taught us to raise a home garden where we are growing crops to eat and sell. We have radically changed our lives because we know that the APIDEC staff will treat us with love and respect. My family and I are really happy to live in a community that is improving because of its hard work. Now, our community is less isolated because a road has been built to it. During the last few years, we have also established schools, hired teachers, built health centers that provide care for our children, and set up a licensed cemetery. These are changes that we have achieved and that we will all benefit from. We hope to continue growing as families and together as community.”
May these stories from World Renew’s international programs inspire us to live more fully into our covenant commitments with Indigenous peoples!
Now that is something worth celebrating, don’t you think? While Canada as a nation signed its support to UNDRIP in 2010, there is a lot of work yet to be done to implement all of these commitments. May these stories from World Renew’s international programs inspire us to live more fully into our covenant commitments with Indigenous peoples and follow God’s call for greater justice and love!
To continue the conversation about covenant and treaty with your congregation, participate in this year's Aboriginal Ministry Sunday. Order bulletins and find a litany, prayer, and Sunday school lesson plan from the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee here.