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Book Cover: The Church and Indigenous Peoples in the AmericasApril 11, 2019 — A book devoted to reconciliation with indigenous peoples was launched on March 27, at McGill University’s Newman Centre. Our contributor Frédéric Barriault took part in this launch and shares his impressions with us of both the book and the evening.

For a good number of Catholics and Canadians, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had the effect of an electroshock. Several among them then took stock of the toxic and perverse effects of several centuries of colonialism along with the cultural genocide perpetrated in residential schools. Hence the multiplication of requests for apologies made to the Catholic Church in this regard, as well as to the great European colonial powers. Various reconciliation initiatives were also undertaken in the last few years by several religious communities across the country: the Canadian canoe pilgrimage comes to mind in this instance. 

Yet sooner or later, we will need to go one step further, that is to work on the decolonization of our Church and of our country. The requests for apologies and paths to reconciliation must also be accompanied by a deep and radical transformation of the injustices and inequalities operating within the Church but also within Canadian society in general. For, and it must be said, the sequels of colonialism are still very present in Québec and in Canada. "The inequalities which separate indigenous peoples from the rest of the population strongly reflect this situation. First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples remain, if we rely on the most recent and available data, disadvantaged from every point of view in relation to non-indigenous peoples," according to a study published in January 2018 by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socioéconomiques. 

A book to pave the way to reconciliation with indigenous peoples

Stemming from a symposium held in November 2016 at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology of Chicago’s DePaul University, in partnership with the Catholic Theological Union, The Church and the Indigenous Peoples in the Americas paves the way to such decolonization of the relations between the Church and indigenous peoples. Focusing on the entire American continent, this book gives voice to indigenous theologians as well as pastors and pastoral agents practicing their ministry with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The various contributions to this volume reflect the scope of the wounds inflicted upon indigenous peoples by the Church and colonial States over the centuries. Nevertheless, this book offers a horizon of hope, with several indigenous authors "confessing" their attachment to the Christian faith and to the Church, despite these wounds that have yet to heal. The book also contains various reflections attempting to build bridges between the Catholic faith and traditional native spirituality. Other texts invite the Church and Catholics to decolonize their theology and ecclesiastical practices. But also to denounce the racism, injustices and inequalities which continue to plague the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

A launch where the key word is dialogue

The book launch was held at the Newman Centre, McGill University’s Catholic chaplaincy, in the presence of the coordinator of this volume, the Canadian theologian Michel Andraos, of Christine Zachary-Deom, former chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, and of Brian McDonough, lecturer at Concordia University, ex-director of the Social Pastoral Office of the Archdiocese of Montreal and author of a powerful text published in this book on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A talking circle was then led by the Jesuit John Meehan, SJ, first with the three guests, then with the people who took part in the launch, whether they be believers or agnostics, Christians or traditionalists, indigenous peoples or non-indigenous peoples, Canadians by birth or immigrants more recently arrived in the country. Despite their disagreements, the persons in attendance engaged in respectful dialogue, in an atmosphere marked by silence, reverence, listening, openness and care for fraternal reconciliation.

A few highlights from the book

« Racism is systemic in our society, our education, our political system, our immigration system, our churches, our health care, our justice system, and more. What racism does to us as [Indigenous peoples] is extremely violent. It puts us down; it continues to impose the colonial system imposed by the settlers and blames us for not conforming to societal demands regarding living in a settler’s colonial idea of our land » 

– Sr Eva Solomon, CSJ (p. 46)

« Happily, there are signs that the mentality that acquiesced to such spiritual violence is no longer acceptable in Catholic circles. Thus, on the occasion of the 2009 National Day of Recognition, marking the first year of the apology adressed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, participated in the traditional sunrise ceremony with Indigenous elders and leaders » 

– Brian McDonough, p. 65

« Given this history and reality, decolonization must take place within both society and the church. Decolonization is a call to be humble and enter in a new relationship with the Indigenous peoples. It involves letting go of white privilege – and the power that goes with it – as well as our Eurocentric way of behaving » 

– Mgr Sylvain Lavoie, OMI (p.92)

« The healing of memories is not just an issue for victims who carry a history that is still toxic to this day; it is also an issue for the victimizers who must come to name, accept, and examine their complicity in the destruction of Indigenous life ways and move to seek forgiveness from those whom they have harmed. As memories are thus acknowledged and owned, the contours of pursuing justice come into clearer focus » 

– Robert Schreiter, CPPS. (P.211).

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