A couple of weeks ago my friend Zoë and I had the amazing opportunity to travel to New York City and attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is held every May and is a chance for Indigenous Peoples around the world to gather, share their stories, and engage in self-determination.
I was hoping to do our very first Faith & Peanut Butter vlog post from the United Nations HQ but that didn’t happen. I would however, still like to share my experience with you.
Zoë and I stayed at a Dominican convent in midtown Manhattan—the price was right and the sisters were so sweet—and we walked to the UN each morning. We spent most of our time attending side events (workshops or panel discussions organised by NGO’s with consultative status at the UN). The side events were a chance for people from around the globe to gather and talk about different challenges facing Indigenous communities worldwide.
Most of the side events that I attended pertained to resource extraction and the challenges it poses to Indigenous communities, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the reactions of Canadian First Nations Peoples to all three.
These past two years have been a real journey for me in terms of being exposed to perspectives of Indigenous communities around the world and the false perceptions that I had unknowingly internalized. I’ve been at once humbled and inspired!
So here is the first of what I imagine will be a number of posts on Indigenous issues. Where the heck do I start? Here are two of the most important things to know about if you don’t already…
I The legacy of the Indian Residential School System is perhaps the darkest chapter of Canadian history. Residential schools, which tore children from their families, were a very real form of cultural genocide and are at the root of so many of the challenges facing Indigenous communities today. Intergenerational trauma is a powerful thing, folks! These schools, whose mandate was to “civilize” First Nations children, were run by Christian missionaries and funded by the federal government. They were touted as the “final solution to the Indian problem”. In the best of cases children were forced to relocate and assimilate through Western-style education in an underfunded boarding school. In the worst of cases these children were sexually abused, sterilized, psychologically wounded…many even died at the schools.
Being a Settler-Canadian, a Catholic, and a Development Studies student, learning about the IRS system shook me to my very core and caused be to reflect upon everything I believe in. It has made me wiser, bolder, more compassionate, and increasingly curious. And I am learning how to share my amazing faith tradition in a way that is sensitive and upholds the immense dignity of every human person.
II The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples became a part of International Law when the UN General Assembly adopted it by a majority vote on September 13, 2007. Canada was one of only four states that refused to sign the Declaration, which took over twenty years to negotiate, until November 12, 2010. The other countries were Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
The Declaration is a big deal because it is the only human rights enforcement tool for Indigenous Peoples around the world which was created with the engagement of the people themselves. The Declaration affirms the dignity that should be accorded to First Nations Peoples in Canada—and to all people everywhere—which has for so long been denied to them.
To learn more about Aboriginal issues in Canada, and listen to some voices that have long been silenced, check out these links:
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- An amazing narrative of hope! Woooo!
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart. Amen.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people. Amen.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy. Amen.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.