Giving Life and Spirit to TRC Calls to Action

In June, it will be six years since the formal closing events commemorating the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the release of the 94 Calls to Action. Many thousands of people at the closing event heard the words of TRC Chief Commissioner Murray Sinclair: “If you thought the truth was hard, reconciliation will be harder.” CFSC remains steadfast in our commitment to the TRC’s Calls to Action. In the past year, CFSC has convened and supported a number and variety of initiatives to foster reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

A key step for settlers is listening to Indigenous voices on truth and reconciliation. Throughout the year we promoted our reconciliation video project, which presents several Indigenous individuals’ perspectives on what reconciliation means and how settlers can engage in consequential ways. We look forward to building on this with more voices from Indigenous friends and partners this coming year. We are grateful to those who took time to share their personal reflections and offer suggestions.

The CFSC Reconciliation Fund was established in follow up to the work of the TRC, based on the leading of a CFSC donor. The Fund supports grassroots, community-based efforts of Indigenous people in Canada who are working on culture and language revitalization. This fund goes toward projects of Indigenous individuals or communities, and CFSC accepts applications at any time.

In 2020 the Fund supported an intergenerational workshop for Cowichan (on Vancouver Island) community members on the traditional skill of making fish leather. The leather-making workshop was held at Xpey’ Lelum (Cedar House) and led by a Cowichan Elder, Hul’q’umin’num language teacher, and knowledge keeper, Philomena Williams, with fish leather expert Janey Chang.

Participants had the opportunity to scrape fish skins with a variety of tools, tan and oil the fish skins, and learn more about the history of the practice locally and globally. Some participants were surprised to learn that fish leather is three times stronger than deer hide! Tim Kulchyski, Cowichan Tribes biologist, shared that he was told as a child by a Cowichan elder that the best fishermen wore leather capes made of Chinook salmon skins.

Near the close of 2020, CFSC hosted a virtual evening of songs and stories with our long-time partners, Dan and Mary Lou Smoke. The Smokes generously shared cultural teachings and personal experiences. Dan reminded us that going into winter is the time to gather for stories and sharing. Mary Lou encouraged the virtual audience to sing along with her on Zoom. Since 1991, Mary Lou and Dan have hosted the radio program Smoke Signals (CHRW 94.9 FM Radio Western), which seeks to bridge the gap of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous worldviews. CFSC has supported Smoke Signals for many years, most recently through the Reconciliation Fund.

“CFSC remains steadfast in our commitment to the TRC’s Calls to Action.”

One of CFSC’s core commitments to the TRC’s Calls to Action has involved building relationships with an ecumenical group, the Faith in the Declaration coalition. CFSC hosts the coalition’s website. This coalition of faith partners is working collaboratively to support implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through federal legislation, Bill C-15. This is in direct response to TRC Call to Action #48. There are several initiatives and actions underway, including suggestions for ways to support the legislation—all this and more can be found on the website.

CFSC has recently joined with several others in the coalition to draft a submission to the parliamentary committee working on Bill C-15. Our submission emphasizes: “As peoples of faith, we recognize the systemic injustice that we have been a part of and we are committed to change. We are committed to the deconstruction and transformation of the power structures that have oppressed and continue to oppress Indigenous peoples.” And it concludes, “C-15 provides the federal government with a framework to create the paradigm shift required for a reset; a framework to build trusted working relationships with Indigenous nations and communities that are essential for the path away from colonization.”

In February 2021, Faith in the Declaration hosted a virtual public event with Chief Wilton Littlechild, Kanien’kehá:ka activist Ellen Gabriel, and Professor Sheryl Lightfoot on the importance of Bill C-15. Hosted by Archbishop Mark MacDonald and opened by Elder Mary Fontaine, the event provided much food for thought and was attended by more than 500 people. Videos are available on the website.

The work that CFSC is undertaking with Faith in the Declaration very much compliments the ongoing work we’ve been doing for decades with Indigenous partners in the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The TRC placed a high priority on this work. Indeed, in the ten principles of reconciliation articulated by the TRC, the first names the UN Declaration as “the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.”

Jennifer Preston, Hamilton Meeting, coordinates CFSC’s Indigenous Rights program and serves as CFSC’s General Secretary.