Reconciliation as a sacred work

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its summary report and Calls to Action a year ago, governments, institutions, faith communities, and, really, all of us, have been challenged to join in reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Some communities and faith-based organizations already have done well to build relationships and work in solidarity with Indigenous communities. They are listening to and being guided by our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

But others still need to develop the work of reconciliation. And as Senator Murray Sinclair has stated, “If you thought the truth was hard, reconciliation will be harder.”

As the TRC report and Calls demonstrate, reconciliation requires of us an ongoing, sustained commitment to solidarity and justice in recognizing Indigenous rights and Indigenous justice.

For CPJ, as indicated in a statement released on March 30th, engaging in reconciliation means building on our past actions and moving to deepen our policy analysis, building relationships of solidarity, and promoting Indigenous rights, particularly in the areas of poverty eradication and climate justice.

Reconciliation as a tool to address poverty in Canada

A recent First Nations Child Poverty report states that “many Canadians wrongly believe that First Nations peoples and ‘the poor,’ in general are responsible for their own poverty.”

This wrong belief has left 4.9 million people in Canada worn down by the burden of poverty. Many Indigenous communities experience shocking poverty. Some communities have child poverty rates as high as 76% . Many others are facing unsafe housing, food insecurity, and lack of access to clean water, adequate health care and education.

The Dignity for All campaign, which CPJ co-leads, has worked since 2009 to push for a national anti-poverty plan. It has engaged civil society and Indigenous organizations across Canada and developed a model National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada. We need a comprehensive plan that recognizes Canada’s human rights commitments and immediately and urgently responds to the crisis of poverty facing Indigenous communities. It must honour both the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the TRC Calls to Action.

Indigenous rights and climate justice

The First Nations Child Poverty report states further that “Comprehending the depth of poverty experienced by Aboriginal peoples, and designing long-lasting, effective, and holistic solutions, requires an understanding of the interconnectedness of traditional lands and Indigenous worldviews, cultures, and economies.”

The report also emphasizes “the sacred responsibility to care for the land, water, animals, and all living creatures that sustain us.”

This understanding of a sacred responsibility to care for creation and for each other is the root of climate justice work. As we deepen our relationship with the earth, we connect with each other and with the sacred.

We can and should be guided by Indigenous people in this deepening relationship.

Violating our sacred responsibility leads to the devastating impacts we are beginning to witness. Indigenous communities in Canada are already feeling the impacts of climate change, which will contribute to further social and economic challenges, increase food insecurity, and impact traditional practices.

Committing to reconciliation means doing the hard work of facing the truth of colonialism, its intergenerational impacts, and its continued legacy. It means facing our own internal colonial mentality, as individuals and as communities.

However, reconciliation is also sacred work. Our communities are transformed when we recognize the humanity in each other and recognize the sacred in all of creation.

When this happens we are compelled to act for justice and to commit ourselves to the hard work of reconciliation.

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About the author


Darlene O’Leary is the Socio-economic Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice. She has a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from Saint Paul University. Darlene served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre. She has taught undergraduate courses in ethics, theology, and global issues and was a post-doctoral fellow in UPEI’s Faculty of Education, guided by the amazing Inuit women in the Masters in Education (Nunavut) program. She currently lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie.

About the author