Land Claims Settlements -- an Invitation to Dialogue and Healing: Message to Canadian Catholics for Pentecost

Thursday, May 17 2001

Pentecost represents one of our most important and evocative celebrations. Instead of announcing the message of the Risen Christ, the disciples had been fearfully hiding in a locked house behind closed doors. But the Holy Spirit at Pentecost created a distinct change in them. Inspired and transformed by the presence of God, the first disciples found the appropriate words and courage to proclaim and live the Good News, and so to influence others of different faiths and cultural backgrounds.

Today, this same Spirit continues to challenge us to open our hearts to God and heal breakdowns and miscommunication in our own lives and communities!

As we celebrate this great Pentecost moment, I wish to bring your attention to a major breach in our nation’s community: that between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. This breakdown is not only economic and social, although the rates of poverty, suicide, incarceration and infant mortality
among Aboriginal Canadians are many times greater than the national average. The breach also lies in our hesitant inability to communicate our dreams, hopes, aspirations and visions for a better future and so move together to positive action.

My own life has been touched and inspired by many who have striven to share their lives and talents with Aboriginal peoples, as well as by Aboriginal peoples themselves who have immeasurably enriched my own faith experience and blessed all our faith community. For such efforts and witness, surely signs of the transforming presence of God, we all have reason to give thanks.

Renewed actions to heal the relationship with Aboriginal peoples are among the defining signs of the presence of the Spirit in the Church in Canada today. Despite the generous efforts of many of those who had been involved, we recognize more than ever before how colonialism and the residential school system often tragically undermined the dignity and autonomy of Aboriginal individuals, families and communities. Pentecost is a timely reminder of how God continually invites us to make room for and to collaborate with all peoples.

How can we engage even more of our energies in the work of reconciliation, solidarity and communion between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples? Quite concretely, in September of last year, I joined a dozen of Canada’s most senior Church leaders in signing a major statement on Aboriginal land rights.  We realized that the recognition and implementation of those rights is central to restoring the autonomy and dignity of Aboriginal communities and to the healing of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

Although the settling of land claims has also been the message of several important Canadian studies, including that of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, we unfortunately do not see much progress to celebrate. The processes for settling land claims have for the most part produced frustration, failure and breakdown. A gridlock has been created, in large part because a truly independent claims body has yet to be established. This is also the conclusion of the annual report of the Indian Claims Commission, released in late April.

In our September 2000 letter, we as Church leaders expressed support for a petition campaign directed to the Prime Minister, calling for action on a renewed process for recognizing Aboriginal claims and inherent rights, precisely through the establishment of an independent commission. Major Aboriginal leaders, such as National Chief Matthew Coon-Come, have joined us in this initiative.

By supporting this campaign, we invited parishes, schools and other agencies as well as Church members to consider becoming involved in any of four ways:

    • By taking up the land claims cause


    • By studying the issues involved and the available resource materials


    • By dialoguing with others on the issues, especially Aboriginal peoples


  • By praying for a just reconciliation of the rights of all who live in our

As we celebrate at Pentecost the proclamation of the Good News in our own place and time, I reiterate the support of the Bishops of Canada for the land settlement campaign. I urge you also to participate as you see most appropriate in your community. Whether in local parishes, schools, Development and Peace committees, Catholic Women’s League or Knights of Columbus meetings, or groups preparing for World Youth Day 2002, I encourage you to bring this petition forward for signatures. By way of support for this, I also invite the Catholic press and other communications media to highlight creative initiatives. Finally, I especially encourage parishes with substantial Aboriginal populations to show creative leadership in promoting this land rights campaign.

In whatever way each of us may choose to make the land claims issue a moment for celebrating Pentecost healing and transformation, I pray that the Spirit of the Lord be with us all, assisting us in communicating in new ways, repairing breaches that tear our communities apart, and blessing
us with new vision and conviction leading to renewal and hope.

Fraternally in Our Lord,

+ Gerald Wiesner, OMI
Bishop of Prince George
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops