by Sara Anderson
Last November, a group of Christian settlers belonging to various denominations from the Haldimand Tract (and elsewhere in Southern Ontario) spent three days together with Indigenous folks from the Six Nations of the Grand River, with the goal of talking about “what’s next for the church and Indigenous communities.” While it was clear that everyone attending had vastly different levels of knowledge of some of the issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada today, the learning that we were able to accomplish through visits to the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, participating in a traditional territorial welcome, and sharing meals and stories with each other, allowed us to come away with a sense that we had begun to build a relationship with some members of the Six Nations community. There continues to be interest in strengthening this relationship through further gatherings and retreats. This to me stands out as an example of how Christian settlers can begin to build long-term relationships with their Indigenous neighbours.
I would like to hear a more consistent call and commitment from Mennonite Church Canada for more education and relationship-building with Indigenous neighbours within area churches and various congregations. Some congregations are quite far along in this journey of reconciliation, while others are further behind. Continuing to identify this as a priority I think will be key to keep congregations aware of these issues and hopefully will inspire them to build relationships with their local Indigenous neighbours and other settler allies.
I’d also like to see Mennonite Church Canada promote more opportunities for liaising with other organizations (both Christian, settler, and Indigenous) who are already on this journey. Reconciliation in the Canadian context between Indigenous peoples and settlers almost requires an ecumenical attitude, and I would love to see Mennonite Church Canada encourage area churches and congregations to be aware of and engage with other groups who are working towards the same goal.
However, I would also have a word of caution for settlers. Too many times in Canadian history have Indigenous people heard commitments made, and then saw those commitments subsequently broken. It may be a disservice to Indigenous peoples to give them voices in our churches without these strong and sustained commitments accompanied by continued learning and growing, in addition to our actions as allies. As a national church body, area conferences and congregations, we will need to think carefully about the long road ahead and what it would mean for us to commit ourselves to building these relationships through both easy and difficult times.
As for FDTF specifically, I worry that without a national vision for the Settler-Indigenous relations program in Mennonite Church Canada constantly being re-articulated and re-evaluated based on on-going relationships already cultivated within the program, some area conferences and congregations might never make settler-Indigenous relations a priority; or they may have wildly different and contradictory approaches to this relationship. The Indigenous Relations program is an important resource for area conferences and congregations across the country to access, and it is a resource based in cultivating relationships that have been years in the making. While it is important that area conferences and congregations build relationships with local Indigenous neighbours, if they are uncertain where to begin, the Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous Relations program is a proven resource that they can take advantage of.
Sara is a member of Ottawa Mennonite Church and works in the Indigenous Rights program at KAIROS Canada. She is a Master’s candidate in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton Univerrsity. The above reflections are a summary of email correspondence between Sara and EVI. Click here to read the full transcript.
For more on FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations, see Moses Falco’s post from earlier this week.