First Nations and the Church – Journeying Together in the New Millennium

Tuesday, November 25 1997

Vatican City (CCCB) — Chief Harry Lafond, of the Muskeg Lake Band in Saskatchewan, told the Synod of Bishops’ Special Assembly for America “the new millennium provides us with an opportunity to reconcile historical hurts and begin a new journey.”

In an intervention that received the rare applause of Pope John Paul II and the rest of the Special Assembly, he said “the relationship between the Christian Churches and the Aboriginal Peoples of America has been marred by many things.” “In simple language,” he continued, “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, despite the grace it brought, was not given to the First Nations People of the Americas in all its purity.” The Cree chief stated that “linked as the Gospel was to an unconscious European imperialism, the end result was that, by contact with the Church and Christian culture, the Aboriginal Peoples suffered many losses in terms of their languages, their culture and family lives, and their own spiritual traditions.”

Chief Lafond was responding to Nos. 13, 14 and 59 of the Instrumentum Laboris, dealing specifically with the Gospel and indigenous cultures, and the challenge of the Gospel. “This relationship (between Church and First Nations) needs to be radically reassessed,” he continued. “The new millennium offers an opportunity for a journey of partnership which must be charted on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and marked by mutual education, open dialogue and a mutual solidarity for justice.” Chief Lafond concluded by saying that the journey “must take some religious risks, especially in terms of marrying Native spirituality with Christianity and in terms of Church organization and rites — dialogue about the place of the elders, the ordination of elders, and the place of Native ceremonies and rites within the Church.”

Chief Lafond greeted the Pope in his intervention as “Grandfather” and remarked that during the papal visit to Canada in 1984 and 1985, “You became for us kitchi katayino, our spiritual Elder, in the truest sense.”