Tools for Acknowledging Indigenous Territory, Language, Treaties

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I recently came across this incredible website called ‘Native Land’ that maps out traditional lands of Indigenous peoples in North America and Australia. You can easily look up the traditional territory, languages, and treaties that cover almost every part of the US and Canada. All you have to do is enter your address in the search bar.

In Canada, the CRC has made a commitment to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In particular, the church has made commitments to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a framework for reconciliation. Territory acknowledgement is a way that you and your church community can begin to act on these commitments by bringing awareness of Indigenous history and land rights to your congregation and to your neighbourhood.

Acknowledging territory is an important step for us to take in Indigenous - Settler reconciliation. It helps us understand our history and legacy of colonialism. But it can easily become a token practice with little meaningful action. How can we as Christians live out this ministry of reconciliation?

The Canadian ministries of the CRC has been equipping local congregations with the tools take these steps. From worship materials, to small group studies, to advocacy materials, to speakers and workshops, there is something for everyone in the journey of reconciliation. Visit the CRC Aboriginal Justice webpage to get started.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. - Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. - 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NIV)

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Community Builder

Adopting UNDRIP really means (read UNDRIP for yourself) present owners of real estate in Canada and the US need to give title to their real property to ... well someone else, even if it is not at all clear who given that indigenous people conquered other indigenous peoples over thousands of years such that "day one ownership" is impossible to determine.  Even if "day one ownership" is possible, the approach of UNDRIP is still remarkably -- even breathtakingly -- unrealistic.  

Lets get concrete.  I quite sure that CRCNA real estate in Grand Rapids (and Toronto?) are "indigenous territories."  Is there anyone who would favor deeding that real estate away?  Doing just that would comply with (even be required by) the language if UNDRIP, after all. 

Or is the CRCNA all talk and no action?

Guide

Hi Doug, the document that Cam linked to re: the commitments of the CRC in Canada shares these goals: 

"In the spirit of these sacred commitments, in reliance on God our Creator, and in relationships with our Indigenous neighbours, the Christian Reformed Church will:

-engage with our congregations in a process of learning and dialogue on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a framework for reconciliation;

-engage in continuing discernment on the implications of the Declaration for the way we practice mission and social justice in concert with our ongoing discussions on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery;

-and engage in education and advocacy efforts to honour Indigenous self-determination, diversity, and rights."

Efforts to live into these commitments, made by the BOT (now the COD) in Canada are ongoing, including a prayer campaign calling the churches in Canada into prayer and reflection for Lent, which will be released soon.  I would encourage you to read more widely about the responses that Indigenous people are calling for as part of responding to the Declaration. There are no simple answers, but there are plenty of great proposals for next steps made by thoughtful and principled people. I would also point out to you that these are commitments of the CRC in Canada, not of the CRC as a whole.  Nevertheless, I would be happy to correspond more with you about these questions, if you're willing to first listen to the perspectives of Indigenous people in Canada on the subject. There are plenty of resources available online, and if you're looking for sources, I would be happy to direct you to ones that I've found helpful.

Community Builder

Danielle.  Thanks for the response, but Cam also says, "In particular, the church has made commitments to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a framework for reconciliation," which I take to mean what it clearly says.  In turn, UNDRIP calls for, among other things, "Indigenous peoples [to] have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired." (Article 26), not just in Canada but worldwide (including the US of course).

I certainly understand the biblical mandate to do justice to and respect all people.  What I cringe at is our hooking up with one or more sides of a political fight that is engaged quite outside the church.  The CRCNA adopting UNDRIP is doing just that.

It is quite possible to respond biblically to injustices done (whether to indigenous peoples or otherwise) without joining forces with a broader, outside-the-CRCNA, political faction.  You are correct when you say "there are no simple answers," but UNDRIP certainly seem to agree.  So why have we adopted it and why do we advocate for what is says?

As to your suggestion "that these are the commitments of the CRC in Canada, not of the CRC as a whole," I don't quite understand.  The CRCNA is one institutional church.  I generally decline to opine about matters that Canadian congregations or classes take up, but this adoption of UNDRIP (which pronounces about the US as well as Canada) is being done, as I understand the reporting in this post, by a denominational agency.

I don't doubt that you and I would agree on many questions/answers relating to how we might regard indigenous peoples and their particular history.  But I remain puzzled by our inclination to adopt a UN declaration like UNDRIP to address those questions/answers.  That seems unnecessary at best, unconstructive for the CRCNA at worst.