Doctrine of Discovery and Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Journey to Healing and Reconciliation in Canada

Unitarians from Ottawa congregations with their banners at THR walk

Unitarians from the Ottawa, Ontario, congregations who joined in the May 2015 Walk for Reconciliation.

Canadian Unitarian Council: Joining a National Process of Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established by the federal government in 2008. Its mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools, documenting the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the Indian Residential School experience. The Commission’s website states: “The TRC hopes to guide and inspire Aboriginal peoples and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.” After hearing witness testimony, the commission held seven national events in different regions of Canada to “engage the Canadian public and provide education about the history of the residential schools system, the experience of former students and their families and the ongoing legacies of the institutions within communities.” The national events also offered opportunities to celebrate regional diversity and honor those touched by residential schools. The Commission held a closing event May 31- June 3, 2015 in Ottawa and released their 94 Calls to Action, and concluded its work in December 2015 with their final report.

Crowd walking the Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Walk in Ottawa

Walk for Reconciliation in Ottawa

May 31, 2015

The CUC has been working on Aboriginal issues since 1964 through a variety of resolutions and actions. In early 2014, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) Board and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada (UUMOC) endorsed an Expression of Truth and Reconciliation that was presented to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the national event in Edmonton, Alberta. Gary Groot, then CUC president, and Rev. Margaret (Meg) Roberts, UUMOC representative, made this presentation on March 29, 2014. The statement stated the ways in which Unitarian Universalist principles were transgressed in the Canadian Indian Residential School System and by government legislation. Many CUC congregations read the statement at a Sunday service, in recognition of this event.

Unitarians holding umbrellas at the Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver.

Unitarians for Reconciliation in Vancouver

On September 22, 2013, communities and individuals from across British Columbia braved the heavy rain to express determination to rebuild the relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. The Walk for Reconciliation was attended by 70,000 people.

Canadian Unitarians joined in solidarity in two Walks for Reconciliation:

  • in Vancouver 50,000 people walked on September 22, 2013; and
  • 10,000 people in Ottawa on May 31, 2015.

These events demonstrated a national commitment by Canadians to undertake the long journey of healing and reconciliation ahead.

As part of the Expression of Truth and Reconciliation, the CUC has directed its Board of Trustees and staff, and encouraged its member congregations, to take these specific steps to advance the journey towards truth, healing and reconciliation between Canadian Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal peoples within congregations and in society at large:

  1. Provide educational opportunities regarding the history and impact of the Indian Residential School system; and
  2. Provide educational opportunities about racial equity and intercultural competency.
  3. Provide opportunities to learn more about the richness of Aboriginal spirituality and cultures, working hand-in-hand with Aboriginal peoples to advance the struggle towards justice and reconciliation.

Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists across Canada are working individually and collectively to fulfill the commitments they have made. Here are some of the ways:

Kairos Canada Blanket Exercise

Many have taken part in the Blanket Exercise led by Kairos Canada, a Christian ecumenical organization teaching and taking action for justice and peace. The blanket exercise helps participants “unlearn” the story of Canada they have been taught and learn about the experiences, perspectives, and resistance of Canada’s First Nation people to the process of colonization. Learn more about this effective teaching tool through educator Sara Anderson’s May 2015 post, “Unlearning Canada’s History: The Blanket Exercise,” on the Kairos Canada website. If your congregation is interested, adaptations of the Blanket Exercise are currently in progress that would be applicable to the US context.

Sharing Our Faith Program

Each year, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) encourages all congregations to hold a Sharing Our Faith service, which emphasizes connections among the member congregations and groups and focuses on issues of common concern to all Canadian Unitarians. Each participating congregation takes a special collection, which is given directly back in the form of grants to congregations for ministry, growth, and outreach projects they may otherwise not afford to undertake.

The 2016 Sharing Our Faith theme is Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation. Congregations can make use of an extensive package of worship, study, and action materials, some of which are adaptable to a non-Canadian context.

Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation Reflection Guides for All Ages

With the financial support of the CUC and of Unitarians across the country, Rev. Samaya Oakley and Rev. Meg Roberts, along with a Task Force, are developing and will be piloting faith development materials about Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing for younger elementary children, older elementary children, youth, young adults, and adults. When published, the guides will offer formats for one-session and for longer programs, as well as other resources adaptable for a variety of formats and contexts. The purpose of the THR Reflection Guide is to begin discussion in the following areas:

  1. Engagement: What social identities do each of us have, and what culture(s) do we come from? How do we relate inter-culturally? How do we relate to the land we call home? Use individual storytelling for engagement.
  2. Understanding: Learn about the process of colonization, in particular the Indian Residential School System and its impacts on our history and present day life.
  3. Connection: Update our understanding of Aboriginal societies, and learn about current issues. Making connections with local Aboriginal leaders.
  4. Healing and Reconciliation: What does healing and reconciliation mean to you, to the group? What are the next steps for building connections and making commitments?

Find out more about the progress of the Reflection Guides.

etched glass chalice made by Wade Stephen Baker, Kwakiutl Artist.

Chalice made by Wade Stephen Baker, Kwakiutl Artist. The chalice, a symbol of Unitarianism, was offered as a gift when CUC leaders and ministers offered An Expression of Truth and Reconciliation. Their statement said, May it light our way to truth, offer its warmth in our healing, and may its fire strengthen our commitment to the process of reconciliation."

Read an Expression of Truth and Reconciliation (PDF, 2 pages)