Mennonite Church Canada logo
News » Releases » Church should lead on Aboriginal justice issues

Church should lead on Aboriginal justice issues


The Grand River Territory, granted to the Six Nations of the Grand River by the Haldimand Proclamation in October, 1784, is marked by the heavy line. The small shaded area (lower middle) representing about 5% of the total, is what the Six Nations people occupy today.

View or download full sized image.


June 8, 2007
- Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. - Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada invited all Canadians and corporations to a day of peaceful action on June 29, 2007, as a response to years of government inaction.

As of this writing, the outcome remains to be seen. The Assembly continues to insist that Canada's leaders respond to various crises in First Nations communities. Many do not have infrastructure for safe drinking water, sewage disposal, adequate housing, employment, and education. Poverty is rampant. Patience among First Nations people continues to deteriorate.

News reports about Aboriginal protestors resorting to summer rail and possibly road blockades and other actions in support of justice for Aboriginal communities across Canada are generating fears of interruptions to services most Canadians take for granted. Such protests, if they were to take place, could delay and inconvenience Mennonites who choose to drive to the Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Abbotsford, B.C., this summer (July 3-6).

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine told CTV's Canada AM on May 16, 2007, "I still believe diplomacy is the most effective way of bringing about change and that is how we will continue to press our case ... But I also should point out I understand the deep frustration felt by many of our leaders and I share their concerns, I share their frustration, and I want to assure them we will continue to work with them, we will continue to work together to build the kind of future our people, especially our young people, deserve."

Many non-Aboriginals are not aware of just how deep the justice issues cut, said Neill von Gunten, Native Ministry worker for Mennonite Church Canada.

"Most Canadians rely on government and news media to learn what is going on around us. Too often these sources confirm our stereotypes. Nor do we hear the full story on the news. Stories are powerful ways of learning to know each other and bring a human face to a situation."

Many members of Mennonite Church Canada congregations live near Aboriginal communities. Some even worship on or otherwise occupy original treaty lands. For example, there are twenty-three MC Canada congregations that worship within the disputed Grand River Territory in Southern Ontario, and there are even more congregations within a 30-mile radius of that territory.

"What does it mean to be a Mennonite, Anabaptist peace church in the midst of conflict in our own country and communities? Just talking about the need for peace has not worked. We need to become pro-active and take advantage of the opportunities around us for meeting and getting to know one another," said von Gunten. "Our Mennonite peace stance not only defines who we are within the larger Christian world, but it also prompts us to take Jesus' message seriously and be peacemakers within our own communities and beyond."

Von Gunten cites the Stoney Knoll experience as an example of what can help. In August 2006 near Laird, Saskatchewan, local residents gathered with the Young Chippewayan band in an act of reconciliation and acknowledgement of tensions that began over a century ago.

In 1876, thirty square miles of prime agricultural land surrounding Stoney Knoll was given to the Young Chippewayan band as reservation #107 in return for their signing on to Treaty 6. In 1897, the Canadian government unilaterally, and possibly illegally, took back the land and in 1898 made the land part of a larger area reserved for Mennonite settlement. Eventually the land was settled largely by Mennonites and German-speaking Lutherans.

Wilmer Froese, a participant at the Stoney Knoll gathering offered these words at the event: "In life, there is always the opportunity to build bridges or walls ... we come here today to build bridges ... we come to seek peace and harmony, to extend our hand of friendship, to learn from each other, and to hear each others' stories ... we choose today to be a voice for peace and reconciliation ... today may only be a small step, but we have so much to gain in peace, and so much to lose in hostility."

Von Gunten asks what could happen in Canadian communities "if together we chose to find ways to hear each other's stories, if non-Aboriginals tried to understand the issues more fully, and if we chose to walk together to find just resolutions."

Von Gunten firmly believes that individuals and the church can make a difference. "We are God's representatives, hands, feet and spokespersons, to the world around us," he added.