All of us will have heard of the discovery, by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nations community, of at least 215 children's bodies discovered in unmarked graves in what was once Canada's largest Indigenous Residential School in Kamloops, BC. This is the terrible legacy of the residential school system, and many Indigenous leaders and community members believe that it is only the beginning of an important – but painful – national reckoning.
Indigenous people are weeping over what has happened. For many it's not a shock because the Elders had told them the story years before, but they are horrified at the stark reality of the truth laid bare before us all and that the number is so high. One of our friends recently said, "We are all devastated". Another Indigenous Vineyard friend sent us a post that really comforted her, by poet Abigail Echo Hawk. You can read it here.
Retired senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC), which was established in 2008 to document the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous people in Canada - has written a statement which is important for us to hear. Please note, it contains details that are distressing but it is important for us to engage with the truth: Murray Sinclair Full statement.
For healing and justice to come we must acknowledge and grieve what has happened across Canada. For healing to come nationally it is essential for us to join with Indigenous people in their mourning, to stand in solidarity with them so they are not left to face this alone. It is especially important for us as people who are part of church communities to press in. It is the Church who has perpetrated many of these injustices. We need to continue to stand in the gap as people who love Jesus and be willing to again enter uncomfortable and painful places to become Kingdom bridge builders.
2 Corinthians 1:3 reminds us, "The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Below are several ways we would encourage you and your church communities to respond:
1. SUPPORT FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE
The Indian Residential School Survivor Society's crisis line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of his or her Residential school experience. 1-800-721-0066 or 24hr Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419
KUU-US services are also available for First Nations, by First Nations, and all crisis response personnel are certified and trained in Indigenous cultural safety bringing an understanding of First Nations history and trauma from the residential school to their roles. They can be contacted through the KUU-US Crisis Line (toll-free): 1-800-588-8717.
Please share these resources widely.
2. REACH OUT
It will mean a lot if you reach out to Indigenous people you know and let them know how grieved you are and that you are praying for them – both people in your church and in your wider community.
3. SPEAK TO YOUR CHURCH
We would encourage every Vineyard church to speak overtly to your congregation about the injustices Indigenous people have suffered, and continue to suffer, and to lament with them as this latest atrocity has been revealed.
Please remember to be sensitive to children who are a part of your gatherings (online or in person). They may be traumatized to learn of the 215+ deaths uncovered in Kamloops in your gatherings. Out of respect for parents' need to process this kind of information in age-appropriate ways within their own families find wise ways to speak to your congregations. However, in no way ignore or overlook the necessary lament and justice seeking we are called to as God's people in the face of such atrocity.
4. PRAY COLLECTIVELY
Please find time during your Sunday gatherings to pray for Indigenous people of Canada, to lament, to stand in a posture of repentance, to acknowledge the continued suffering of the First Nations. You are welcome to use an example of written prayers from Strathcona Vineyard for prayer or as a springboard to write your own. You can also find a liturgy from Kelowna Vineyard here that may be helpful for your church to use. We'd also encourage you to organize a specific time(s) of prayer as a church community, in person or on zoom, to specifically pray for Indigenous people of Canada. Epic Vineyard Church posted a public lament, praying out of Psalm 10 and holding silence with people. Whether you pray within your community, or stand in solidarity with Indigenous people in a public way, we hope these examples resource you to pray and speak to this injustice as God's people.
5. WEAR ORANGE
Orange has become synonymous with the call to remember that every Indigenous child matters. For more on the symbolism and purpose of wearing orange click here.
6. JOIN EVENTS
Find out if there are other events that are going on that you can join via zoom or in-person in your community, or nationally.
7. READ THE TRC CALLS TO ACTION
Please take the time to read (or reread) the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. If you've never read them this is an important starting place in seeking justice and transformation. Consider what you can do personally, what your family can do, what your small group can do, and what your whole church can do collectively. And then act upon the steps you feel led to do by of the Holy Spirit.
8. CELEBRATE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE'S DAY (June 21st)
Many of our churches celebrate Indigenous People's Day on the third Sunday of June each year. Andy Wood wrote an amazing prayer you can adapt for where you are in Canada to use in your worship gathering. This would be a good and important beginning step if you've never celebrated this day before. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you other creative ways to celebrate Indigenous people together!
Thank you so much for participating and for praying with Vineyard churches across the country.