Photo of Indigenous panel at GC43
Back row: Mitchell Anderson and Maggie Dieter. Front row (left to right): Norm Seli, Samantha Miller, Kenji Marui, and Michael Redhead Champagne. Missing: Beth Symes. Photo: The United Church of Canada

Being in Covenant with Mother Earth and All My Relations

Sunday, July 22, of the 43rd General was deeply influenced by Indigenous members of The United Church of Canada. After beginning the day with the Edge of the Woods ceremony, the Calls to the Church were enacted in the afternoon, and commissioners and guests were invited to attend an evening panel discussion with Indigenous and non-Indigenous United Church members, as well as a talk from keynote speaker Michael Redhead Champagne.

Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island have worked to see that Canada and The United Church of Canada have tools to provide a pathway to reconciliation: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and now the Calls to the Church. Champagne and the panel discussed: How does the wider, non-Indigenous church live out apologies in covenant with each other and all of creation?

The panel consisted of

  • Mitchell Anderson, a commissioner from Saskatchewan Conference and a Dene man from the English River First Nation
  • Kenji Marui, a commissioner from London Conference
  • Samantha Miller, a young adult leader from Six Nations
  • Norm Seli, a commissioner from Toronto Conference and moderator of the panel discussion
  • Beth Symes, a member of the Comprehensive Review Task Group

Michael Redhead Champagne, a founding member of AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) in Winnipeg’s North End presented the audience with the questions that can no longer be ignored, and posed those that will ensure a brighter future for the youth and young people of today and for generations to come. Entering into a relationship of mutual respect and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples means that sometimes “we have to tell people things they don’t want to hear,” according to Champagne. “We have to ask what is at risk if we leave apologies as pretty words on paper.”

Many non-Indigenous people have approached Champagne in his work to ask, “How can I be an ally?” and the theme of education throughout one’s lifetime was prevalent throughout the evening’s discussion. While Champagne advises people to “do their homework. Learn from documents, experiences, and memories, and listen to achieve a healthy relationship with one another,” he also references AYO’s Meet Me at the Bell Tower events as “intergenerational classrooms, where you learn humility and the only tuition is participation.”

This participation is something that many Indigenous peoples living in urban settings are lacking. There is a connection to your ancestors and to Creator when you participate in traditional ceremony, and some urban Indigenous individuals feel that void. AYO! creates “street ceremony” in the North End of Winnipeg because the option to be on the land is sometimes simply not feasible.

“We believe we can make our neighbourhood land sacred,” says Champagne. “We carry the teachings within us.”

AYO! and the work that Michael Redhead Champagne does is crucial for The United Church of Canada as the Indigenous church is seeking to claim their self-determination and reclaim their traditional ways of being. Creating an open space for Indigenous ceremonies, teachings, and spirituality is a monumental milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and right relations.

Reflecting on Champagne’s teachings, the panelists provided some vital words of wisdom for living into reconciliation within the context of The United Church of Canada:

  • Reconciliation is more than simply acknowledging the land every Sunday morning. We must embrace the teachings of those around us and lift them up in solidarity.
  • If we, as The United Church of Canada, do not engage in reconciliation, then we are not preaching the good news.
  • Reconciliation, while is it a big word that carries a lot of weight, cannot be the end goal. We should be focusing on repentance and reparation, with reconciliation as a by-product of this.
  • We must share truth before we can reconcile. Many Indigenous youth aren’t truthful about the past, even with themselves. We have to ask the questions, “What am I doing for my community, and what are you doing for yours?” You have to begin by thinking within your own world and build from there.

Youth engagement and involvement were topics that appeared during the business session of GC43 earlier in the day and was persistent throughout this panel discussion. Samantha Miller and Champagne made the message abundantly clear: We cannot say that reconciliation will not happen in our lifetimes. It can, and it will, with the untiring work of Indigenous young people advocating for themselves.

As Samantha Miller ended her closing remarks, “Watch out for me, ’cause you ain’t seen nothing yet.”