On Thursday September 30, National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a day also known in Canada as “Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters” – a day to remember and reflect on the tragedy of Canada’s Residential School history, please join us as we listen to a message from Mr. Andrew Thunder.
Andrew, an Oji-Cree Canadian and proud member of Sachigo Lake First Nation in Treaty 9 Territory, is an advocate for reconciliation for the ministries, non-profits, and businesses within the private sector. He holds a BA from Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatchewan and an MBA from the University of Manitoba. He currently works in the private sector as the Director of Corporate Responsibility at The North West Company - the largest employer of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Andrew’s message is entitled, “Honouring the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation."
Well, hello Tyndale, and thank you for inviting me to be part of this special service today. My name is Andrew Thunder. I'm a business leader and a consultant in the area of Indigenous ministry and reconciliation. I'm an Oji Cree Canadian and a proud member of Sachigo Lake First Nation in treaty nine territory. It's my pleasure to be with you today.
As I'm sure you are aware, this is a very significant day. For the first time in our country's history, we have a day designated specifically to acknowledging and honouring the victims and survivors of residential schools, and those who continue to live with the intergenerational effects today. It's a day for us to pause and think of the little ones who didn't make it home. And a day, where we collectively renew our commitment to reconciliation, to ensure a future where every child is cherished. September brings memories of our children in their first day of school. My wife and I are proud parents of two high energy and overly enthusiastic boys. Around this time last year, I was dropping off my eldest son to kindergarten for the very first time. I was so... Well, I wasn't excited. He was so excited for his first day. All set and ready to go with his new clothes, new shoes, and of course, his brand new Super Mario themed backpack. Like most parents dropping off, our child, for the first time was a bit hard, a bit emotional. But in the end, when it all came down to it, we knew we didn't have to worry about his safety.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for Phyllis Webstad, at the age of six, clothed with her brand new bright orange shirt. When she attended a residential school for the first time, and set foot in through those doors, she was stripped of all her clothing, including a brand new orange t-shirt. This left her obviously sad and confused. She realized, in that moment, that she was in a terrible place, a place where there was a complete disregard for her feelings and emotions. And as she tells her story, she recalls all the children around her crying, and there was no one around to console them.
Today we wear orange, to commemorate her experience and acknowledge the stories of the many residential school survivors and victims, who were abused through a system designed to strip them of their dignity, culture, and identity. Today, as we reflect on the truths that have emerged in our country, including the countless children who are being found in unmarked graves, we look to Christ for his direction, and guidance. What would He have us do in this moment, in response to all these truths that are emerging. Using scripture as our guide, we will reflect on our mandate as believers, and how God exemplifies reconciliation to us.
Let's read Second Corinthians 5, 17 to 20. It says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God we're making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God."
So what is reconciliation? Reconciliation is the process of restoring a broken relationship. Within this passage, Paul formulates the message of the gospel with the concept of reconciliation. A concept that some say was derived from the Greek or Roman political backdrop of his day. As such, Paul, as God's Ambassador, was sent to announce that God was establishing a peace treaty with his enemies. What made this peace treaty possible was Christ's death as a substitution for our sins. What Paul describes is the essence of the message, and a source of hope for all believers. It's also, it also shows us how God exemplified reconciliation for us, and how we can model reconciliation within our relationships with others. It leads us to the question, are we reconciled in our relationships with one another? Are we aware of systemic issues that are damaging specific people groups? And what are we doing to restore all these broken relationships? There are three ways that we can learn from Christ's approach to reconciliation, and how we can apply these with our relationship with Indigenous peoples. The first thing we see from Christ's example, is that He understood us deeply. God went to great lengths to understand us, to the point where He became one of us. He walked among us, ate with us, drank with us, rejoiced with us, and wept with us. Are we as Christians taking the time to understand Indigenous peoples? That's the question today.
When the Kamloops discovery was first announced, there were many perspectives that began to surface online, and many opinion pieces began appearing in news publications across the country, some of which showed a very clear picture of the need for Canadians to be educated on Indigenous history, issues and reconciliation. There are many resources that are publicly available to all Canadians, right now, that are available for us to hear the collective voices of Indigenous peoples. So the question for us is, as believers, are we utilizing these resources effectively? Are we listening intently to the voices and concerns of agendas of Indigenous peoples. Many may not be aware that Canada has a very unique relationship with Indigenous peoples, which was established through the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and through treaties. As Indigenous peoples worked together in harmony with early settlers, and as the settler population began to increase, these treaties were put in place to define a relationship between Indigenous nations and the nation of Canada. The spirit and intent can often be illustrated best by the Two Row Wampum Belt, which commemorated a treaty between the Mohawk and the Dutch.
The Wampum Belt was a physical belt woven together with vivid illustrations that had deep meaning. The Two Row Wampum Belt depicted two vessels, a canoe and a ship, travel, travelling down parallel water streams, never crossing one another, never harming one another. Just as the vessels would not cross the belt, symbolized a treaty where two people groups were in agreement, that one would not affect the path of the other. Both people groups, would live in peace and harmony, and these treaties were not temporary. They are to last as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the river flows.
So I'll admit talking about treaties, and perhaps government policies is not a common topic the vast majority of churches and ministry groups typically would be in conversation about, and so this is a this is actually a barrier that we need to make sure that we're overcoming. But it's very important for us to understand that this is a critical way for us to listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples. I invite you to see this right now as a challenge that needs to be addressed. So as Christians and Canadian citizens, we must do our part to know about Indigenous peoples and their relationship to Canada. And the question for us is, are we taking the time to understand Indigenous peoples. The second thing that we see from Christ's example is that he prayed with compassion. The book of Matthew provides an account of Jesus going through various villages and communities to preach and, and heal the sick. He takes a moment to look at the crowd and is driven by compassion while instructing his disciples to pray. Matthew 6:36 says, "when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field."
Jesus had compassion, and deeply understood the oppression the crowds were facing by the Roman Empire. He understood the many issues each individual is facing and the lack of spiritual leadership. His compassion was a driving force for his ministry, and ultimately for reconciliation. Our deep knowledge of Indigenous peoples should generate a response of prayer, motivated by compassion. When we see news headlines and hear about statistics on Indigenous health, economic infrastructure, or social issues, it's very easy to come to an opinion on what the problem is and how to address it. But it's important that our opinions are informed by the facts. And the truth should motivate us to compassion. As believers, and Canadian citizens, are we aware of the broken relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples? Are we aware that the approach to treaties has implications for all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples? In the 1800s, as Canada's settler population increased, the spirit of harmony between nations gave way to European domination. The interpretation of treaties changed and policies were put in place to benefit Europeans over Indigenous peoples. Lands rich in resources and minerals were taken away from Indigenous peoples as they were seen as impediments to progress. Further acts of legislation have caused terrible harm in the relationship with Indigenous peoples, and this was clearly seen with the residential school system, oppressive policies from the Indian act laws that created economic disparity, poverty. Residential Schools were created to eradicate Indigenous cultures, traditions, spirituality, and ways of life from Canada. Young children were forcibly removed from their parents to attend these schools, and one of the largest schools was in Kamloops, BC where the 215 unmarked graves were discovered. Like Jesus, do we see those who are oppressed, and harassed? Are our prayers driven by compassion?
The third thing that we see from Christ's approach to reconciliation, is that He took action. God, knowing the relationship was broken between God and humanity, took action and humbled himself to the death on the cross, which was the only way humanity could be reconciled with God. Are we taking action to further reconciliation with Indigenous peoples? There are many practical steps that we can take to further reconciliation on this national day of truth and reconciliation. Here are a few practical things that we can consider together. Firstly, to listen to the voices of indigenous peoples, we can consider reading the TRC report and the RCAP report, could learn about indigenous issues such as limited access to drink, drinkable water in Indigenous communities, or boil water advisories, housing issues, and socio-economic issues. Take this into consideration when you're talking with your local MP, or when voting. Pray for spiritual issues, and specifically the barriers that exist for Indigenous peoples to clearly see the gospel message and respond to it.
In conclusion, I want to say thank you for allowing me to be part of this service today, and I hope that the scriptures that we reflected on will help guide you as you consider your next steps in this journey of reconciliation. I look forward to the bright days ahead, as we learn together, heal together and become stronger citizens of this country and citizens of the kingdom of God. I'm hopeful and believe that we will see the gospel message and reconciliation advance in our country in the days to come. So let's pray.
Lord, thank you for the ways in which you've exemplified your love and grace, through the work of reconciliation between yourself and humanity. We ask that you empower us to reflect on your love to those around us. On this national day of Truth and Reconciliation, help us, help us to see and understand the unique role we have for repairing a broken relationship with Indigenous peoples of this country. Impart your wisdom on us as we seek to live out your message of the gospel and humbly walk this journey of reconciliation. Amen.
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