Catholics needed to fight negative reputation from residential schools legacy
By Josh Tng
Some people believe colonization is a relic from Canada’s past, but Stephanie David says it’s still very much with us.
“Colonization is the act of disconnecting aboriginal people from their land, their history, their identity, and their rights so others can benefit,” said David, a Catholic and a graduate studying social work at UBC. “It’s continued on to the present day. We see that through legislation and policy which has been designated to terminate their culture and their rights to their lands.”
David spoke to 50 participants at a Feb. 11 workshop titled Colonization in Canada and the Church’s Call to Action. The event at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre was organized and planned by David and Deacon Rennie Nahanee, the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s First Nations coordinator.
“When I was doing my first year of my Master’s program I started getting more involved in the issue of Aboriginal people,” David said. “During my time travelling with NET Ministries of Canada, I encountered the reality many Aboriginal people face and how little I, and other Catholics, knew about their history with the Church and government and their present day oppression.”
She began to review what the modern Church had done to right the injustices caused by the residential schools. While “it was a step in the right direction,” David found the attempts to form a relationship "and take responsibility for reconciliation" with Aboriginals lacking.
“What I came to in conclusion is that I don’t have to leave it up to the bishop, I don’t have to leave it up to my parish or priest,” said David. “I am a layperson, a member of this Church, and because of that, I have the ability to engage in this issue, and bring awareness and education to my fellow Catholics.”
David began researching the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a mandate which documented the experience of survivors and families of Aboriginals affected by the residential schools. She found Canada’s experience was unique compared to other countries.
“The TRC is actually really special in Canada because when we look at all the other countries in the world who have had TRCs, like South Africa and Rwanda, the Canadian TRC was the only one that started as a result of a law suit against the federal government … instead of an uprising of the local community.”
This translated to a lack of public knowledge of the TRC and its aim, and David realized the best way to change that was to start educating the Church around her.
To the question, “Why should we as Catholics respond to the TRC?” she answers: “It’s actually in our identity as Catholics. When we talk about residential schools, that’s something our Church had a hand in. Colonization began before the residential schools, and it continues to happen today.”
“So when we say we are going to engage in reconciliation, it’s not just about learning about residential schools, which is absolutely part of it; it’s also about learning what the discrimination that is occurring today towards Aboriginal people and taking action against it.”
Deacon Nahanee agreed with David’s realization. “The task of educating people in the Catholic Church and Canadian society in general needs to continue, so that they feel a desire to reconcile with Indigenous people,” he said. “It is necessary for them as Christians and Canadians to understand that they as human beings, have a share today, in whether the history of the colonization of Canada continues or ends.”
He acknowledged those in attendance were taking the first step towards reconciliation with the Aboriginal people by learning the “Indigenous history of Canada” and viewing “the Indigenous people as human beings.”
“We are all God’s children, all created in His image,” said Deacon Nahanee.