"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Canada and the churches need to take responsibility for the growing unrest in indigenous communities Featured

File picture from a vigil in memory of the Indigenous children whose unmarked graves were discovered at the site of a residential school in Kamloops. File picture from a vigil in memory of the Indigenous children whose unmarked graves were discovered at the site of a residential school in Kamloops.

 

Gurpreet Singh 

When I first visited Germany back in 2018, I expected to be greeted by memorials of Adolf Hitler. 

Call it my ignorance or stupidity, I didn’t see even one, leave aside the question of stumbling upon his grave.  

That’s what I learnt from the country that was once ruled by Nazis and had witnessed the Jewish holocaust. The mainstream has erased the memory of those who committed genocide and rightfully so.  

However, here in Canada, in spite of tall claims of diversity and tolerance we continue to celebrate the bigots who were responsible for the killings of Indigenous peoples of this land. That is one reason why so many indigenous activists have taken it upon themselves to spray paint or topple their busts.  

In retaliation, a Totem pole was burnt on Vancouver Island.  

Had Canada learnt from Germany and understood the anger which these political figures bring to the hearts of the First Nations, the issue could have been settled much earlier.  

The tears and apologies for the historical wrongs was never enough. The concrete action that was needed remained missing.  

Rare politicians, such as New Westminster City Councillor Chuck Puchmayar, did make a beginning by getting the statue of controversial judge Justice Mathew Begbie removed in 2019. Begbie was responsible for the wrongful execution of five Indigenous Chiefs in 1864.  

This should have forced the Canadian authorities to do some reflection and remove the statues of other problematic icons. But apparently, they continued to wait until the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of indigenous children who were killed by the racist residential school system.  

To add insult to injury, Pope Francis has refused to make an apology for the injustices committed by residential schools that were run by the Catholic church.  

No charges have been laid for the burning down and vandalism of churches in several provinces. But these acts are widely believed to be related to the pent-up anger in the indigenous communities. Both the Canadian establishment and the Churches need to take responsibility for the situation.  

That said, the attacks on churches cannot be justified. These are going to give legitimacy to anti-Christian violence in countries where Christians are in minority and being persecuted with impunity. India, where the right-wing Hindu nationalists are in power, is one example. They have already been accusing Christian missionaries of converting Hindus, and have been involved in violence against them. In 1999, they burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons.  

It is not surprising to see a section of Indian media owing allegiance to the Hindu Right having fun about what has happened in BC during the past several days. It has become important to measure our words before we try to defend the burning down of churches. Trying to speak for the First Nations might have consequences. When the residential school survivors themselves denounce such actions, why should anyone try to rationalize them? This will ignite more trouble for Christians in a place like India, where the Hindu supremacists are pressing for draconian anti-conversion laws.  

This is not to suggest that Germany is perfect, or that fixing the historical wrongs alone is the solution. Of course, these steps matter, but we need to go beyond and examine if we are giving respect to First Nations. The ongoing systemic racism against them needs to be challenged and stopped. Above all, the leadership of the Indigenous peoples, which was stripped through the doctrine of discovery and papal bulls, and then by the residential school system, needs to be restored. Under the current circumstances, when we are dealing with the climate emergency, we need to listen to the Indigenous peoples who are closely connected with nature and the earth, and have the key to fix the problem.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2021 16:12
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