United Church Supports M’ikmaq Treaty Rights
October 22, 2020
Grace and peace, in Jesus’ name.In the church, we are familiar with covenants as agreements we make with each other and with God to live together in harmony. We understand the importance of keeping covenants, and, when they are broken, seeking ways of healing the relationships that have been damaged.
The Peace and Friendship Treaties of the Maritimes and Gaspé were covenants between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, designed that both peoples might live together in peaceful co-existence on the same territory. The Treaty of 1752 between the Crown and the Mi’kmaq of Eastern Nova Scotia states that the Mi’kmaq “shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing as usual.”
The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed this right in the 1999 Marshall decision. In doing this, the court was not granting new rights to the Mi’kmaq; it was naming those rights as already existing, and that they were rights that Canada must honour. Likewise, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reminds non-Indigenous people of their responsibility to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights to livelihood, to lands and resources, to decision-making, and to be free from discrimination.
Currently, the Mi’kmaq of Sipekne’katik First Nation, asserting their treaty right to a fishery in Saulnierville, NS, are confronted with destruction of property, lobster traps, and their catch; intimidation and physical violence; bias in the media; and racism from non-Indigenous peoples. As a church that has repudiated colonial doctrines and committed itself to Indigenous rights, to the ongoing work of building right relations, and to opposing racism in all of its forms, we cannot remain silent. We believe it is the responsibility of non-Indigenous people to turn away from racism and violence, and to honour the Treaties made in their names. We acknowledge that we still have work to do on this in our own church, but have learned from the work already done that there is no other moral or ethical choice.
We believe it is the responsibility of the Canadian government, on a nation-to-nation basis, to ensure that Treaty rights and the rights enumerated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are implemented and respected, and we call on them to take appropriate action to ensure these rights.
On Friday, October 23, a small group of faith leaders will meet with Mi’kmaq people and supporters at Saulnierville to offer prayerful support as we seek to do our part to honour the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752. As they do so,…we are asking you to join with Region 15 in pausing and praying the prayer they have offered.
In Peace and Friendship, we seek to live together with our relatives and neighbours in Mi’kmaki.
The Right Reverend Dr. Richard Bott (Moderator of the United Church of Canada)
The Reverend Murray Pruden (Executive Minister, Indigenous Ministries and Justice)
Creator God, Holy Mystery, Source of Life and Love
Thank you for the gift of life, all life.
Thank you for the endless ways we are reminded that we are connected―all peoples, all the creatures, all plants, all lands, all waters, and the air around us. When one part suffers, the pain ripples out.
Our hearts ache today with the pain felt by our Mi’kmaq relatives, who have suffered violence, vandalism, threats, racial discrimination, and broken trusts as they try peacefully to exercise their right to fish. May they be surrounded with healing and strength. May they feel solidarity and support. May they be kept safe from further harm.
We pray for our non-Mi’kmaq relatives. May there be healing for the pain, fear, or anger that has driven some to harmful words and actions, and others to silence. We pray for openness to the righting of relationships.
We pray for our leaders at every level. May they be guided by wisdom and humility. May they use their voices and their power to build systems that uphold safety, dignity, and respect for all.
Finally, we pray for ourselves, that our hearts and our minds remain open to understanding our responsibilities toward living into Peace and Friendship, knowing that we are all still Treaty people.
“Knowing that you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God.”*
*Closing words from daily prayer from the Centre for Action and Contemplation. Copyright © 2018 by CAC. Used by permission of CAC. All rights reserved worldwide. (Source: United Church of Canada website)