Indigenous peoples: A collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. Often, Aboriginal Peoples also is used. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people — Indians, Métis and Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
Indigenous peoples of the United States are commonly known as Native Americans or American Indians. The term “Indian” originated with Christopher Columbus, who, in his search for India, thought that he had arrived in the East Indies.
The History of Colonization and Assimilation of Indigenous
When the Europeans arrived on the shores of North America they carried with them the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. If the lands were vacant, then they could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty claimed in the name of their sovereign in Europe. Rebuttal of Doctrine of Discovery.
Colonisation (or Colonization) is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and resources. Assimilation is the absorbing of one cultural group into another by policies such as those that created residential schools.
The process of European colonisation and assimilation had devastating and lasting effects on the native population of Canada and the Native American Colonization resulting in the loss of cultural identity, lands, language, customs, traditional and religious celebrations. Eventually, Indigenous People were displaced to smaller plots of land known as reservations.
Nuns Standing with Standing Rock
Words from Therese Martin at her 100th birthday dinner and the commitment of her Lakota Sioux to protect their sacred lands/water assured supporters such as Sister Ann Schoch, SSND, that it was right that they came to be with them.
“To see my people standing up for our rights, makes me so proud,” Therese said. “Whenever I read about the water protectors at the camps, I pray they fight to the bitter end.”
More than 300 flags representing the water protectors – many tribes and peoples of several cultures from the United States, Canada and other countries – encircled the peaceful Oceti Sakowin Camp of around 5,000. The “Nuns Standing with Standing Rock” banner was part of this main camp circle.
Thousands of protestors from around the world, including Sister Ann, traveled to Standing Rock Indian Reservation to stand in opposition to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which would threaten their water and their sacred sites.
“We witnessed hundreds peacefully marching in silence to and from the bridge that blocks off the main highway to the Indian Reservation,” Sister Ann said. “We experienced a peaceful atmosphere, kindness and friendliness our entire time in the camps. We continue to stand with the Water Protectors.”
A New Relationship with Indigenous Peoples of Canada
In 2008, Steven Harper, prime minister of Canada, made a formal apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada for the harm inflicted through the residential school and the practices of assimilation. The apology was followed by the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to inform all Canadians about residential schools and all who had been effected by them. In light of the final report of the TRC, the Government of Canada and its people continue to take steps to true reconciliation and justice for Indigenous People of Canada.
Indigenous Peoples and Relationship with the Land
For countless generations, the First Nations and Inuit people have had unique, respectful and sacred ties to the land that sustained them. They do not claim ownership of the Earth, but rather, declare a sense of stewardship towards the land and all of its creatures. This sense of responsibility towards the land is more than a mental or even emotional obligation; it is tied intrinsically to Spirit. A strong communion with the spirit of all aspects of the earth provides a unique perceptual lens through which all activities of daily life become an expression of Spirit.
What does this have to do with our faith commitment?
Laudato Si’ and Indigenous Peoples
In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis states: “… it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.”
Ministry with Indigenous of Canada
In 2017, the Catholic Missions Association honored S. Mary Jeanne Davidson, SSND, for 15 years of ministry with three Cree communities surrounding Peace River Alberta, Canada. Sister Mary Jeanne discusses her ministry in this YouTube video.
School Sisters of Notre Dame and Associates with the Waterdown Stop Human Trafficking Committee in Canada have joined in solidarity with the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. SSNDs and Associates continue to create awareness of the history of colonisation and its’ effect through the Kairos Blanket Exercise Workshop, which builds understanding about the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.