I am sure that many people who have read my blog posts from General Assembly might assume that I was only interested in the part of the discussions that we had around human sexuality. I felt a certain urgency to communicate my feelings about such things, but there were things that overshadowed them in my mind and heart.
Though I know that it is not a contest and there are many things that were extremely important because they deeply affect people’s lives and that is especially true with it comes to those who identify as LGBTQI+, the fact of the matter is that if you were to press me to say what was the most significant moment of Assembly, it wouldn’t have to do with that.
This Assembly contained many moments that were very important to the church’s relationship with its Indigenous ministries and neighbours.
25th Anniversary celebration
The Assembly celebrated the 25thanniversary of the confession of the church to the Indigenous people for our part in the Residential School System. It was a solemn occasion and, as we stood together, the moderator led us, in a spirit of continuing confession, by reading the text that had been approved by the church so many years ago. As our calm, cool and ever so competent moderator read the confession, everyone noticed that her voice broke as she read the words “The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to take the children of Aboriginal peoples…” and for a moment she could not go on. Everyone knew that her heart was breaking in that moment and I suspect many other hearts broke too. That was a significant moment to share, but it was not the most significant.
A Report Released
Even as we met and celebrated the 25thAnniversary, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was being released in Gatineau Quebec. Through its work, this inquiry has exposed a massive and ongoing emergency situation in Canadian society. It is a crisis and it is now thoroughly documented. I encourage everyone to read the documents that can be downloaded at this link:
The document contains many “Calls to Action” – 231 in all. And that struck me because I realized that, at our Assembly, we were still working on implementing some of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commissionof four years previously. Now here were more, and there had always been an urgency to all of it.
In fact, I remembered that I was at the Assembly four years ago when the TRC report came out, mere days before the Assembly met. In my reports from Assembly, I did not mention any calls to action from that report and I was called out on that fact by an Indigenous friend of mine. I tried to explain to her that the Assembly had simply not had the time to say anything of substance because that is not the way we work – it takes time for us to digest something through our committees before we can do anything.
That was my excuse at that time, but it was a hollow one. Honestly, “the way we do things,” is actually what got us into so many messes! So, when I saw the calls to action from the new report, I resolved that my Indigenous friend would not have anything to fault me on. I wrote a motion referring the entire report to the Life and Mission agency and to the Indigenous Ministry Council to review the calls to action and show us ways to implement them. (I did not write the motion exactly that way, but it was helpfully amended on the floor).
You can see part of the motion on the screen behind the Rev. Margaret Mullen.
But that, I felt, was not quite enough. The report contained a series of calls of actions to all Canadians – things that all Canadians can do. I looked at that list and said, “I can do that right now; we can all do that right now.” So I crafted a motion to respond to an emergency situation. We, as commissioners, would resolve and encourage all congregations and presbyteries to resolve to take the following actions (taken verbatim from the report):
Denounce and speak out against violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local area. Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today.
Develop knowledge and read the Final Report. Listen to the truths shared, and acknowledge the burden of these human and Indigenous rights violations, and how they impact Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people today.
Using what you have learned and some of the resources suggested, become a strong ally. Being a strong ally involves more than just tolerance; it means actively working to break down barriers and to support others in every relationship and encounter in which you participate.
Confront and speak out against racism, sexism, ignorance, homophobia, and transphobia, and teach or encourage others to do the same, wherever it occurs: in your home, in your workplace, or in social settings.
Protect, support, and promote the safety of women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people by acknowledging and respecting the value of every person and every community, as well as the right of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people to generate their own, self-determined solutions.
Create time and space for relationships based on respect as human beings, supporting and embracing differences with kindness, love, and respect. Learn about Indigenous principles of relationship specific to those Nations or communities in your local area and work, and put them into practice in all of your relationships with Indigenous Peoples.
Yes, I had to read the whole thing out on the floor and did not do anywhere near as well as our esteemed moderator! I know I was asking a lot of Assembly, but I believe that they were truly willing to do what was being proposed, or at least they would have been if they had had enough time to absorb and understand what it really meant. Unfortunately, other matters and time constraints made that impossible. There was just no possibility to take the time to really absorb it. Nevertheless, I would still encourage my fellow commissioners to take up those challenges personally and in their congregations. I would encourage the whole church to do so.
Indigenous Ministry Council
This whole exercise led to another key significant Assembly moment for me. I was later approached by one of the members Indigenous Ministry Council. She had come to thank me for the action and told me that her mother is counted among the murdered women of the report. We talked about the impact that her mother’s death has had upon her and her family and she gave to me a copy of the poster with her mother’s name and a picture of her mother and sister. She asked me not to share that picture on social media so I will not include it here, but I can promise you that that picture will remain with me and will mean a lot to me for a very long time.
That conversation with Yvonne was an extremely significant moment for me, but it was still not the most significant.
To the sound of a solitary drum beat
No, I actually think that my most significant moment came with the simple passing of a short motion. With a simple vote, the Assembly repudiated a very longstanding doctrine: the Doctrine of Discovery. This is the doctrine that states that the territories that were “discovered” by European explorers and colonists could be claimed by them because they were not inhabited by people who were like us. Of course, it is an odious doctrine that should have been repudiated long ago, but I got to be there when it happened.
The announcement that the motion was carried was not met with applause because we don’t do that kind of thing at Assembly (for some very good reasons). But I did note that the announcement was heralded by a solitary beat on a native drum.
I do not know which of my indigenous siblings beat the drum, but I feel honoured to have heard it.
It was all our heartbeats in that moment.
It was the heartbeat of a church learning new ways to think of its relationship with indigenous communities.
It was a resounding and impelling call to action echoing the calls to action from two important reports.
The echo of that drumbeat faded quickly; may the reverberations of our action linger long.
That, if you were to press me, I’d have to say was the most significant moment of the Assembly.