ustice is one of the attributes of our Creator. The very one whose Word is the foundation of our lives. Do we truly believe in justice? Because if justice is one of God’s own attributes, an intricate part of the being of God, then it’s kind of a big deal.
The injustice and abuse that occurred at Canada’s residential schools between the late 1800s and the early 1990s is widely known in our nation. In fact, elementary and high school students across Canada are now learning about this dark part of our history. When the truth was uncovered, many Canadians felt despair because they didn’t know about these schools. And it’s true. Most Canadians were not aware. Some lived near First Nations communities, had Indigenous friends and wondered where they went to school. But most folks were blissfully ignorant.
Today, many Canadians are outraged that the Canadian government withheld this information from them. They are appalled to learn of the atrocities perpetrated on Indigenous children in residential schools.
As an Indigenous person, I live with first-hand experience of the ongoing inter-generational damage, which is the legacy of these residential schools.
That’s why I cannot write about justice without thinking about all the ways that injustice has been perpetrated on Indigenous peoples in Canada. As such, there is another legacy that needs owning up to – the Doctrine of Discovery.
Beginning in 1452 through a series of papal bulls, edicts issued by Pope Nicholas V, Christian monarchs and their explorers were granted the right to “conquer Saracens and pagans and consign them to perpetual servitude.” One of the terms used in these edicts is Terra Nullius (“nobody’s land”). This essentially meant that if explorers found land but did not find a recognized monarch, they could consider the land empty.
This ideology is part of the Canadian DNA. The Canadian government has yet to renounce this racist doctrine and adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It would not be prudent for me to write about justice in Canada without talking about Colten Boushie who was shot in the back of the head by a white farmer who did not even get charged with wrongful discharge of a weapon. He walked away completely unscathed, while Colten’s family stands around his grave with many unanswered, legitimate questions – along with the grief and injustice that now permeate their lives.
Then there is the case of Tina Fontaine. A 15-year-old Indigenous girl who was found in Winnipeg’s Red River. Murdered. The person who killed her, again, walked away.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls noted that the deaths of many Indigenous women are ruled, “unsuspicious.” No one hears about this except the families. This does not get national press.
I heard the findings of the inquiry shortly after reading a news report about a young Indigenous woman who was found naked in a ditch an hour outside of her northern community. Her death was ruled unsuspicious. How can that be unsuspicious? Even more outrageous, the inquiry noted there was a young woman whose death was reported unsuspicious even though she had been shot in the back.
Closer to home, a friend of mine recently sent me a message about an incident involving her son. He was in an altercation and ended up fighting for his life. The person who put him in the intensive care unit (ICU) was later released from custody. Horrifically, the brother of the man in the ICU, who was a witness to the crime, was immediately arrested and put in jail – for being “Indian on a sunny day,” as we say.
Are you beginning to feel some of the injustice Indigenous peoples in Canada live with every day?
When I share these truths, I get pushback. People don’t want to hear the truth about Canada because it messes with our national identity of right-ness and good-ness. We smugly say, “Well, at least we’re not as bad as the U.S.”
My friends, it’s not enough to learn about the residential schools and say, “Phew, thank God the Prime Minister apologized for that.” An apology is only worthy if it is followed by changed behaviour.
Let’s acknowledge that there is much more that needs to be done.
If we believe in a God of justice, what do we need to change? We begin by asking Indigenous leaders, scholars and Elders. Therein lies the way of justice.
The more we push the truth away, the more we push our very Creator away.
Cheryl Bear of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation is CBM’s Indigenous Relations Specialist. Based in Vancouver, she is also an award-wining singer/songwriter and educator who inspires churches to seek reconciliation with Indigenous communities.