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Advocacy Issues

Our Position: Drug Policy

Date 7 Sep, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Read our position paper on drug policy to learn more about our stance and calls to action. To join us in creating change, sign your name to our pre-written letter that is being sent to BC Government officials.

Introduction

The toxic drug overdose crisis has reached a point in British Columbia where bold action is necessary to prevent more deaths. To combat the overdose crisis, we need legal regulation of an accessible safe supply with minimal barriers, to decriminalize drugs, and to actively address intersecting challenges such as poverty and homelessness, racism and prejudice, physical health, mental health, and trauma. People with lived and living experience need to be heard and consulted, and their voices need to be prioritized, as they are the ones who are most impacted by this crisis.

For the past decade, the circulation of toxic drugs has been increasing and has had a grave impact on the community. Since BC declared the overdose crisis on April 14, 2016, over 10,000 people have died of overdose in the province. Death from overdose is now the number one cause of unnatural death in the BC.

Our community in the Downtown Eastside is wrought with intersecting challenges, including poverty and homelessness, mental and physical illness, addiction, racism, trauma and oppression. The stigma faced by people who use substances in the Downtown Eastside is mounted and the hardships are compounded. Although people who use drugs come from all different walks of life, those who use substances in our community are often further marginalized and often face harsher stigma and criminalization.

Each of these individuals who have passed leave behind loved ones and each death greatly affects the community. These deaths could have been prevented with better access to safe supply, and the decriminalization of illicit substances.

The steps that the BC government has taken to fight the overdose crisis are insufficient. In 2022, the provincial government received exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the “possession of some illegal drugs for personal use.” But the action taken will not be enough to curb the alarming amount of toxic drug overdoses, and will continue to criminalize the majority of marginalized people who use substances.

The three-year exemption, starting in January 2023, only decriminalizes those who carry a cumulative threshold of 2.5 grams. Research done by local drug advocates (VANDU) indicated that 4.5 grams is closer to the amount carried by people who use drugs. With the majority of substance users carrying over 2.5 grams per individual substance, the small threshold will only ensure that the majority in the community will continue to be stigmatized and criminalized. This limit further puts those who are unhoused at a disadvantage, as they lack a place to store their drugs for future use and are limited to carrying their substances on them at all times.

FIRST UNITED believes in a multi-pronged approach to sensible, compassionate, and evidence-based drug policy that includes safe supply and legal regulation, decriminalization, and a proactive approach of addressing intersecting challenges.

Safe Supply

Access to safe supply with minimal barriers is necessary to prevent overdose from toxic drugs. It was reported by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in 2020 that 91% of opioid-containing samples in BC contained fentanyl, analogue, and other substances. While these substances were commonly found in the unregulated drug supply, survey respondents reported not expecting or unintentionally consuming these substances (confirmed by urine samples). The reports also showed that many other unexpected substances were found in the unregulated drug supply, including novel synthetic opioids, benzodiazepines, and synthetic cannabinoids. This is particularly concerning, because benzodiazepines do not respond to naloxone, which makes it harder to reverse overdoses.

With a regulated safer supply, people who use drugs can know exactly what they are getting in their supply and how much.

Decriminalization

The seizure of drugs and mistreatment of marginalized substance users by police continues to create stigma, shame, fear around substance use, and cycles of poverty and criminalization. The fear of repercussions from law enforcement can create hesitation in marginalized substance users to seek or obtain the help of services that could potentially their lives.

While the BC government states that police will not arrest, fine, or seize drugs from people carry under 2.5 grams, they still tasked the police with referring people to health and social services. The role of police in this context is unnecessary, considering that the government stated this is a health issue and not a criminal one. Qualified social and health service professionals are much better suited to provide referrals.

Intersecting Issues

While safe supply and decriminalization are necessary, it is crucial to address the intersecting challenges often faced by people who use drugs in the community. Members of the community can face poverty and homelessness, a lack of access to resources, mental health, trauma and addiction, physical health challenges and disability, racism, and prejudice. Proper resources need to be allocated to addressing these issues, as they all play a significant role in this crisis. It is also critical to work in partnership with, and take strategic direction from, people with lived and living experience of these issues and to take actions supporting their expertise and autonomy.

Conclusion

All levels of government need to take quick, decisive, and bold action to stem the tide of deaths by overdose. But the existing approach to drug policy fails to address the issues and experiences of those who are being impacted by this crisis the most. A fully accessible safe supply is needed to combat the toxic drugs in circulation. Along with decriminalization, legal regulation and safe supply, the government also needs to listen to people with lived and living experience. They need to adequately address intersecting challenges faced by marginalized people who use substances, which include racism, mental and physical health challenges, poverty, and homelessness.

Demand drug policy changes to save lives

Date 10 Aug, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Let your MLA know that we need bigger and bolder changes for decriminalization and legal regulation to be effective, and to stop drug overdose deaths.

The Government of British Columbia’s approach to drug policy is flawed and set up to fail. The province needs to take bolder action—immediately—to end the overdose crisis.

Over 10,000 lives have been lost since BC declared the overdose crisis in April 2016. Today, an average of 6.3 people die per day from overdoses*; the majority of these are due to toxic or poisoned drugs

While the province announced that it will decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use, the threshold of 2.5 grams per person is almost half of what is needed by people who use drugs. This small limit means that many who use substances will remain criminalized, stigmatized and vulnerable to toxic drug overdose.

Will you use your voice and join FIRST UNITED in demanding more from the government? Let your MLA know that we need bigger and bolder changes for decriminalization and legal regulation to be effective, and to stop drug overdose deaths.

If you don’t see the form to submit your letter below, please refresh your browser page to try again.

*Based on the number of drug toxicity deaths in May 2022

Eviction Survey

Date 24 Jun, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

Help tell the story of eviction in British Columbia. 

Have you been evicted or forced to move? Share your story and the impact it’s had on you. We want to use this information to help make tenant protections stronger in B.C.

 

This project is being run by the Legal Advocacy program at First United in Vancouver, BC, that gives legal help to tenants.  We want to document and understand evictions and forced moves of tenants in British Columbia.

We want to learn:
-where evictions and forced moves are happening in our communities,
-who is affected by them, and
-what the impacts are.

The information you provide may be included in a general map, and by participating, you agree that we can use your information on a general map (without identifying you).  An example of this would be placing a dot on the map to show the approximate location of your eviction.

You do not need to give your name in this survey, and you may choose not to give your email or phone number.

We will never share any identifying information about you (such as your email or phone number) without your consent. 

Identifying information will be visible only to the Staff Lawyer and designated staff within the Advocacy program.

Read First United’s privacy policy for more information.

GETTING LEGAL HELP

If you need legal help for an eviction, please contact one of the following:
TRAC BC: https://tenants.bc.ca/ or 1-800-665-1185
First United Advocacy: [email protected] or 604.251.3323
Access Pro Bono Residential Tenancy Program: [email protected] or 1-877-762-6664 ext. 1500

This project takes places on the traditional and unceded lands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish),  səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), QayQayt, Kwantlen, q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), Semiahmoo, and Tsawwassen
First Nations, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), and Stó:lō Nation.  We continue to learn and work toward respectful relations with the land and its people.

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Ministry

Advent Awakening Series: Part 3 (PEACE)

Date 1 Dec, 2022

Category Ministry

The following liturgy video and podcast episode are part of FIRST UNITED’s Spiritual Care ministry’s Advent Awakening series.

Advent Series – PEACE

Listen to the latest episode from An Uncomfortable Advent podcast series by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain, and Pastor Peter Sanders, Ordained Clergy with Presbyterian Church USA:

Peace, Peace-making, Peace-keeping

 

Watch the Advent Awakening PEACE video by Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Interim Spiritual Care Director:


On this Advent Sunday of PEACE we are to “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near. We are to “Prepare the Way.”

Peace! Where’s the peace in this time of truth and reconciliation?

What about the extensive list of sins against us settlers? How do we listen to those hard truths? How do we name and own our culpability and collusion with the colonial mindset and way of being?

Our history and traditions hold the horrors and the highlights that we have inherited. This is the received tradition that we were born into and grew up with.

What about the issues still at work today? Racism, addiction, poverty, mental illness, homelessness,

embedded systemic and structural discrimination, cultural appropriation and more?

What about Canadian supremacy and our elitist attitude toward “those people” whether they be Indigenous, “From Away” or have yellow, off white, brown, or Black skin? What story do we tell ourselves?

What narratives are at work in our worldview and way of being? Whose story do we tell? Whose story IS IT to tell?

What is the truth of it all? What difference does it make? Why is truth telling so important?

Because there can be no peace without justice. And justice making requires truth telling. Truth telling is a critical part of reconciliation, peace, and justice.

Truth telling takes times, effort, and requires willing storytellers and active listeners. We need to make space for Truth telling and time to hear the stories.

Peace.

“May quietness and tranquility fill you with a sense of everlasting safety and security…”

And he will be their peace” Micah 5:5

Peace is the feeling that comes when you feel untroubled and secure. You sense peace when your relationships and circumstances are going well. But God’s peace is deeper still.

Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” “John 14: 27

Peace? At First United, how do we respond with hope and peace? With Prayers and presence and with charity and with justice.

With food, clothing, shelter, housing, mail services, tax services, advocacy and more. We serve and support the community.

You are invited to be the hope and be the peace with your actions! Put your peace on the line and support the work.

 

Lighting the Candle of Peace
Leader:
Advent is the season of preparation and waiting.
All: We have prayerful work to do.
Leader: As we light these candles of Hope and Peace, we join with many others around the earth, proclaiming our faith and our prayerful intentions to be prepared and to do the work.
All: We wait expectantly. We wait with hope. We pray and act for Peace. A peace that is for all peoples. A light of peace that shines for all.
Leader: Be the hope. Be the peace.
All: We will be the hope and the peace with Creator God being our helper.
Prayer of Peace for the People
Leader: With upset and unrest, we enter into the Holy presence.
Oh God, the people are angry. So much rage and aggression repeatedly released. People fighting and waging war in cities and towns the world over and right down the street!
Is there peace on these streets where the gangs compete and the powerful plague the weak?
Oh God, can there be peace within? Can there be peace on earth?
All: Forgive us our hurtful and harmful trespasses as we forgive those who hurtfully and harmfully trespass against us.
Shine and ignite the light of peace upon us and within us. Ground us in the glory of the great creation and the peaceful presence that passes all understanding. Empower our potential for peace making and peace keeping. Ignite our peaceful actions to help create the peaceable kingdom on earth. Amen.

Advent Awakening Series: Part 2 (HOPE)

Date 25 Nov, 2022

Category Ministry

The following liturgy video and podcast episode are part of FIRST UNITED’s Spiritual Care ministry’s Advent Awakening series. 

Over the coming weeks we’re sharing two different forms of Advent content:

  • “Advent Awakening” video series by Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Interim Spiritual Care Director, and some accompanying text.
  • “An Uncomfortable Advent” podcast series by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain, and Pastor Peter Sanders, Ordained Clergy with Presbyterian Church USA.

 

Advent Series – HOPE

Listen to the latest episode from An Uncomfortable Advent podcast:

Hope Is An Action

 

Watch the Advent Awakening video below: HOPE

Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy

First Sunday of Advent

HOPE
On this Advent Sunday of Hope we are to “Keep Watch and Be Ready”

Ready to see and hear the signs of Hope. Ready to hear the truth of HOPE WITH US and what that looks like in our ministry and service. “Hope lives here” is what we say at First and we faithfully and prayerfully continue to respond with hope to the ever-present needs in our community. Hope lives here.
Hope.

“May all your dreams be based on the belief that they can be reached.

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 4& 13)

Lighting the Candle of Hope

Leader: Advent is the season of preparation and waiting.
All: We have prayerful work to do.
Leader: As we light this candle, we join with many others around the earth, proclaiming our faith and our prayerful intentions to be prepared and to do the work.
All: We wait expectantly. We wait with hope. A hope that is for all people. A light of hope that shines for all.
Leader: Be the hope.
All: We will be the hope with Creator God being our helper.

Prayer of Hope for the People
Leader: With heartache and heartbreak, we enter into the Holy presence.
They cry out. Hear us! See Us! Help us! Heal us!
The people live in tents and lay dying on the streets.
The pandemic, the poverty, the pathetic state of affairs. Will this always be with us?
We despair and deny. We doubt that anything will change.
All: Forgive us our hopeless doubts and trespasses as we forgive those who hopelessly doubt and trespass against us.

Shine and ignite the light of hope upon us and within us. Ground us in the glory of the great creation and the power, possibility and potentiality that is flowing through the universe. Ignite our hopeful actions that help to make the kingdom come. Amen.


If you’d like us to send you video or text files, we would be pleased to send you an mp4 video file and/or a Microsoft Word document directly. Please send any requests to [email protected]

Advent Awakening Series: Part 1 (Intro)

Date 23 Nov, 2022

Category Ministry

FIRST UNITED’s Spiritual Care ministry has put together a few resources for the Advent season. 

Over the coming weeks we’ll also be sharing two different forms of Advent content:

  • “Advent Awakening” video series by Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Interim Spiritual Care Director, and some accompanying text. 
  • “An Uncomfortable Advent” podcast series by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain, and Pastor Peter Sanders, Ordained Clergy with Presbyterian Church USA.

Following this Intro, there will be both a new video and new podcast episode, every week. They’ll cover Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christmas.

We hope you’ll use these in your services or groups, and that it will be an opportunity for discussion and reflection. Sign up for our e-newsletters and follow us on social media for all the latest updates about Advent, FIRST UNITED, and the Downtown Eastside.

 

Advent Series Intros

Listen to the first An Uncomfortable Advent podcast episode:

Advent and Anticipation

 

Watch the first Advent Awakening video below: Remembering and Retelling The Story

Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy

Remembering and retelling the story

Welcome to the season of Advent. Welcome to a time of Re-membering and retelling the story
Orange Shirt Day, Truth and Reconciliation Day, National Day of Action for MMIWC, National Red Dress Day. These are just a few of the special days of re-membering scattered throughout the year.
These are days of honouring the dead, of allyship with the survivors, of learning, unlearning and re-membering what we thought we knew about our history, our traditions, and our current actions and attitudes.

We hear a lot about Truth and Reconciliation. What about the lies and separation? Ask your Indigenous colleagues and friends what they think about Truth and reconciliation? There are many perspectives. Many “lived experiences” of the TRUTH of cultural genocide and the deep racism embedded in Canada and the world.

What is truth? Who’s truth? Who gets to tell their story? Who needs to listen? And what difference does it all make?

The Spiritual Care department of First United has committed to “Truth-Telling” as our interpretive lens for the next few years in the life, times, and evolution of First United.

The path of truth, reconciliation and right relationship is strewn with good intentions, broken promises, and failed relationships.

For over 100 years First United has been trying to be in right relationship with the downtown eastside community. Hard and holy service in a hard part of town. We keep trying to respond. This is our work. To keep trying to be in right relationship. To keep practicing the presence through prayer and action as we keep serving and seeking justice and right relationship here and now.

Key steps in the movement from wrong relationship to right relationship are truth telling and confession (“I was wrong”), apology (“I am sorry”) and asking for forgiveness (“Please forgive me”).

Have you ever said these words aloud? Few were taught and not many learned how to admit their wrongdoing and all the ways they missed the mark. Aka sin. Even less have learned to apologize well. And forgiveness seems like an unreachable dream that is more aspirational than achievable.

Are you practicing “right relationship” with yourself, your family, friends, and colleagues? Are you living into right relationship with your neighbour and the local Indigenous people? Are you even trying?
Many of us are in living in wrong relationship with ourselves and our world. The evidence of wrong relationship is everywhere.

And so it is and here we are. Do we despair? No! For HOPE LIVES HERE.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

When we learn and can practice THE WAY, from wrong relationship to right relationship, we are able to return to that steady state of equilibrium within ourselves and in relationship with others. And in that steady state of being, hope lives, no matter what the external state of negativity, upset and unrest may be.

Our Advent awakening is to prepare the way and to wait expectantly upon the delivery of the great good news. “For unto us a child is born.” Hope incarnate! Let us be open to THE WAY, the truth and the life that liberates and sets us free.

Be prepared to LISTEN even if you are uncomfortable with what you may hear? Be prepared to be silent in the presence of hard and painful truths being spoken. Be open to being transformed by the power of the spirit of truth flowing through the storyteller and the story. What truth is the living word speaking to you? Listen for the truth it holds.

Truth Telling requires speakers and listeners. During the season of Advent you are invited to listen and respond to the truth telling you hear.

PREPARE THE WAY! Let us join together to listen, re-member, and re-activate our prayerful acts and actions of HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. Let us do our part and help to make the KINDOM come here and now.

Through the Truth Telling of Advent and Christmas, may you experience the Holy presence of The Great Creator.


 

If you’d like us to send you video or text files, we would be pleased to send you an mp4 video file and/or a Microsoft Word document directly. Please send any requests to [email protected]

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Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks: October 2022

Date 31 Oct, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

In our October 2022 edition of Toast Talks, Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares some updates, including some brief updates on the status of the redevelopment of our building. Staff Lawyer Sarah Marsden also joined us to share about all about our new eviction mapping project. 

Watch the recording below!

We’ve also included the digital version of the fall edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

First United Fall 2022 Newsletter

Toast Talks: June 2022

Date 5 Jul, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

In our June 2022 edition of Toast Talks, Acting Executive Director Amanda Burrows shared the latest updates on the building redevelopment, including how we said goodbye to the 320 East Hastings building. She also shared an exciting update on our Executive Director, the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne’s nomination for Moderator of the United Church of Canada. We also heard from Didi Dufresne, First United Advocacy Manager, on some updates from our Advocacy program.

Watch the recording below!

We’ve also included the digital version of the summer edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

First United Summer 2022 Newsletter

Toast Talks: March 2022

Date 21 Mar, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

On March 17th, almost one year to day since our first Toast Talks, we virtually gathered to look back on our 2020-2021 fiscal year! Executive Director Camren Lansdowne walked attendees through highlights and accomplishments of the latest Annual Report, and we heard from long-time First United Case Planner Stephanie Kallstrom about what working the frontlines in the Downtown Eastside is like.

Plus, we were able to share a few big pieces of news including our Imagine Canada accreditation and information about staff changes. Watch the recording below!

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Reconciliation in Action

On Residential Schools

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

Take a moment to read a poem by Dr. Cheryl Bear, First United’s Director of Community Ministry. Cheryl wrote the poem in response to the bodies of 215 children discovered in May 2021 at Kamloops Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory.

CW: residential schools, trauma, grief

take your time take days sit with the grief of these daunting days sit with her and let her weep let her crawl into bed way too early and out of bed way too late let her cancel all the shopping trips all the plans and just sit with her stroke her hair and tell her, reassure her that things will get, no are getting better even if they are only won in court battles or through shaming the government into action (shame, shame on them) all of this work was not in vain every lecture every slide every chart exposed the truth and now everyone can see it took all of us to get here, to heal to change now it will take all of us again to get there to heal to change so our grandbabies can truly be free and can have better days and lives and deaths

…words spoken on a tear soaked day, still reeling from the news and praying for our courageous and powerful Elders, our Residential School Survivors – for my late mom, my Aunties and Uncles, grandparents, for all our relations.

Sunday May 30, 2021

In peace, Cheryl (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry, First United

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

September 30 is Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a day we honour the lost children, the 150,000+ children who attended residential schools and those who have died since.

September 30 is a now federal statutory holiday and the leadership at FIRST decided to recognize it as well, to enable staff to have time to reflect, learn and deepen their own understanding.

Although the stories of unmarked graves are no longer making headlines, we recognize there are now confirmations of well over 6,000 graves across the country – surely with many more thousands to come.

Wear Orange

On Orange Shirt Day, which also takes place today, we remember those children who were taken from their families and recognize the impact it’s still having today.

Orange Shirt Day is based on the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who arrived on her first day of residential school dressed in a new orange shirt.

Her orange shirt was taken away from her and has become a symbol of how freedom, culture and self-esteem were systemically taken away from our Indigenous children and their families over generations.

On September 29, we held a community engagement event and handed out free orange shirts to community members – designed by one of our staff, Joseph Robertson (Haisla First Nation) – so that anyone in our community who wanted to wear an orange shirt today had access to one.

Our truth and reconciliation priorities

So where do we go from here? We see today as a rallying cry to focus on changing priorities and encouraging our leaders to take action.

FIRST is working toward reconciliation in action, and an important part of that is acknowledging the histories of colonization, systemic racism and the impacts of residential schools, the 60’s Scoop, and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in non-Indigenous foster care.

We advocate for the enactment of all 94 of the TRC Calls to Action and the 423 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the implementation of 231 ‘imperative changes’ called for by the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

We have signed on to an open letter to the BC Government with other members of the MMIWG2S+ Coalition calling for more protection for Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.

We encourage you in your learning journey and to educate your children in the TRC Calls to Action.

We’re committed to deepening our practice of reconciliation and the pursuit of justice, today and every day. Let’s do this together, as a community and as a nation.

Truth and Reconciliation, a Living History

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

This op-ed was originally published in The Tyee on June 14, 2021. You can find the op-ed on The Tyee’s website.

By the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne (Heiltsuk First Nation) Executive Director; Dr. Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry; and Lauren Sanders (Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo Nation of Kansas) Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain.

 

Reconciliation has been a buzzword since the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Everyone wants to know how to “walk in reconciliation” but doesn’t often want to hear the answer. Many of our Indigenous Chiefs and leaders have said Canada uses those words to distract us while they are busy carrying on with business as usual behind the scenes.

The phrase “truth and reconciliation” was chosen by residential school survivors based on the South African model. They could have just asked for truth, but instead the victims of some of the most horrendous crimes in Canada asked for reconciliation.

One of our Grand Chiefs said that everything we as Indigenous people have today, we won in the court. It’s not reconciliation if it had to be won through the courts.

The news of the 215 unmarked graves of children in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory did not surprise any Indigenous people. We all knew because we listened to the stories of the residential school survivors, and we believed them. Sadly, many in Canada did not. Now there is proof. And there will be more proof.

We also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

We are all deeply grieving. One Elder we know, a residential school survivor, ended up in the hospital with chest pains after hearing this daunting news. It has brought up memories of the trauma we have all experienced as Indigenous people directly connected to these schools.

We have been leaning into ceremony, gathering, trying our best to grieve these children — our lost babies. We need prayer, yes. But we also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

The late May confirmation of the mass grave has shocked us back into a state of realization that truth and reconciliation is not just a question of a dead history whose remains have been forgotten. There is important work that needs doing. As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in that work.

As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in the work of deconstructing the myth of “dead history” and engage with truth and reconciliation as a living history. All Canadians must listen to the truth-telling of residential school survivors and accept that the trauma of residential schools is ongoing and continues to impact Indigenous communities.

All Canadians must ask themselves who benefits from seeing residential schools as a “dead history,” and who benefits from the understanding that residential schools and truth and reconciliation is a living history.

Truth-telling is not an Indigenous-only practice. Truth-telling requires non-Indigenous people to accept the truths being told with respect, to apologize and to accept responsibility. These 215 babies now have the chance to tell the truth. The grief of Indigenous peoples helps them tell it.

For non-Indigenous people, the bodies of 215 children were unearthed from a dead history. For Indigenous people, this history was never dead — a history that all Indigenous people are currently, and have never stopped, living.

Now it is the turn of non-Indigenous people. The framework has been given. The protocol from the TRC has to be followed. Acceptance of the truth, apology and taking ownership of responsibility are the steps.

Call to Action number 58 is for “the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of Indigenous peoples. To date, the Anglican Church and the United Church have issued apologies and have both committed to the full adoption of the TRC Calls to Action, making structural and staffing changes in order to continue the work of the truth and reconciliation journey.

While the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has again issued a statement of “deep sorrow,” they continue to uphold the 2018 position of the Vatican not to offer an apology when it was requested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017.

Repentance is a core value of the Christian faith commonly understood as an expression of remorse or regret. In this sense, we believe the statement of deep sorrow from our Roman Catholic brothers in leadership. Another faithful biblical interpretation of repentance is the act of turning around in a return to right relationship — right relationships with the Creator, with each other, with the whole of creation. It is all our responsibility to continuously pursue repentance in our relationships with God and all that God has created; otherwise, absolution would be unnecessary.

As Indigenous women who are in ministry leadership, we pray that the discovery of the bodies of these children remind everyone that their legacy lives on. We pray the Pope chooses to hear the cries of the spirits of these 215 babies, change the Vatican’s previous decision, and make the apology requested by the survivors of Canadian residential schools.

 

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Recent Updates

1 Dec, 2022
Advent Awakening Series: Part 3 (PEACE)
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25 Nov, 2022
Advent Awakening Series: Part 2 (HOPE)
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23 Nov, 2022
Advent Awakening Series: Part 1 (Intro)
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