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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sinixt First Nation Not Extinct

This was the CBC headline on March 27th.  A BC provincial court judge here in Nelson acquitted Richard Desautel of hunting without a license and hunting without being a resident.  The judge ruled that the Sinixt people have not lost connection to Southern BC, and that they have rights to the territory.  (Check out the CBC article at and local news at the Nelson Star.)

I grew up in NW Ontario—Kenora to be precise.  There was a Residential School there run by the Presbyterian Church.  There was (and still is) a great deal of racism in Kenora.  (This is the land of Richard Wagamese of the Ojibway First Nation, FYI, a writer that many of us have come to love.) What I learned from my father, who was active in Kenora working with First Nations people, is how deeply embedded racism and colonialism are in Canada; racism and colonialism are part and parcel of our governmental and societal institutions.  Canada still has a lot to do to live up to the apology made to First Nations peoples by PM Stephen Harper.

My Dad started off in ministry with The United Church of Canada in the late 50’s in the Hazelton area.  He supported local First Nations initiatives at Kispiox and Kitsegukla, and raised concerns within the United Church’s hierarchy about relationships with First Nations people.  While those concerns didn’t quite fall on deaf ears, they fell on ears that weren’t ready to challenge the status quo.

Since the late 50’s the United Church has made strides in working alongside First Nations people within the Church and in society.  In BC Conference of the United Church, First Nations people remained with the Conference; in the rest of the United Church, First Nations ministries formed the All Native Circle Conference.  The United Church has tried to come to terms with its complicity in colonizing First Nations peoples; it has been a sometimes-painful journey that has led to new learning, deep insights and new relationships of integrity and hope.

I celebrate the success of the Sinixt First Nations in BC Provincial Court; and I appreciate the comments of both Richard Desautel as well as Richard's lawyer, Mark Underhill.  There is still work to be done and the journey to make.  My hope, too, is that all of us together will make the journey and the effort to deepen and enhance relationships, reconciliation and new beginnings.

BTW, I was at the General Council (the United Church’s national decision-making body) in Fredericton in 1993 that elected the Rev. Stan MacKay as our Moderator.  Stan is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba and was elected as the first First Nation Moderator.  I had the privilege of meeting Stan on a few occasions; I’ve always appreciated his insight, commitment to justice, and his wisdom.  At the end of an article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, he said, “May the dialogue take place in the spirit of hope and with a courageous commitment to the justice and right relations that (Art Solomon and) many elders have modelled with such integrity for generations yet unborn.  (Go to Stan MacKay speaking his truth.)

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