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Devon Dick| Canadian Baptists apologise to Indigenous Peoples

Published:Thursday | July 14, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Canadian Baptists apologised to the indigenous peoples of Canada during the recently held Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Annual Gathering in Vancouver, Canada, from July 4-9. Baptists have been part of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's apology to First Nations communities and are actively pursuing several opportunities to see a healthy, ongoing reconciliation with these indigenous peoples. This apology comes on the heels of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which began its work some seven years ago and which climaxed this year. It was admitted that the indigenous peoples suffered from germ warfare. It was acknowledged that there was the deliberate policy to remove the children of indigenous peoples from their families and place them in boarding schools with the intention to convert them from the lifestyle of the native Canadians to the culture of the dominant immigrant population.

The Canadian Baptists, in hosting a reception for the delegates of the BWA convention, used the opportunity not only to apologise and present a plaque to an indigenous person, but had as the main performer, Cheryl Bear, a Christian gospel singer and an indigenous person, along with her two sons. She reminded the audience that indigenous persons were spiritual. Their dominant personality was being reserved. They wait to be asked rather than initiate service.

There are nine different Baptist groupings in Canada. Baptists have greater influence on Canada compared to its numbers. The Baptists are part of the National Council of Churches and, surprisingly, the Roman Catholics are members similar to Jamaica but dissimilar to most parts of the world. There are many communities of indigenous peoples - some 600 in North America. They have many different names. They have their own way of doing things and their own religious outlook.

There seems to be a religious renewal in Canada with new Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau re-affirming his commitment to the Christian faith. Hopefully, Trudeau will implement benefits for the indigenous peoples. John Diefenbaker, who served as Canadian prime minister from 1957 to 1963, was one of the first Commonwealth prime ministers to speak against South African apartheid. He also placed the first woman in the federal Cabinet, the first indigenous man in the Senate, guaranteed the federal vote in 1960 for Canadian indigenous peoples, and penned the first Canadian Bill of Rights and Freedoms. Trudeau has a hard act to follow.

 

AT GREAT RISK

 

Jeremy Bell, executive minister of Canadian Baptists of Western Australia, stated in his paper, Building on a Remarkable Legacy, that some of the highest teenage suicide rates in the First World occur in Canada's indigenous communities. With extreme poverty, lack of access to safe water, shrinking control over habitat that would ensure their cultural and economic survival, high instances of domestic violence, and multiple reasons for lack of opportunity, indigenous Canadians find themselves at great risk.

There are 1.5 million indigenous people in Canada. They are to be found in many denominations with the Roman Catholics having the largest number while 17,000 are Baptists. Canadian Baptists have accepted the challenge and opportunity to find ways of supporting educational and economic opportunities, infrastructure development around safe water, assistance in equitable land-claim negotiations, and an appreciation of the religious and cultural practices of these indigenous peoples.

Last year, the BWA held its congress in South Africa and a feature of the congress was a focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; the struggles, the challenges and the way forward.

Jamaica needs a similar focus and attitude toward our inner cities and garrison communities and perhaps we could start with an apology, using the Tivoli Report as a starting point.

- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.