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Audrey Ferrer Addresses at the Conscience Plenary

Audrey Ferrer addressed the Conscience Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good morning, I’d like to acknowledge we are gathered on the ancestral land and waters of the people of the Council of Three Fires: the Ottawa, the Potawatomi and the Ojibwe nations. We also recognize we are on the shore and waters of Lake Michigan which was a site of trade, travel, gathering, and healing for more than a dozen other indigenous nations including the Menominee, Michigan-Mia, Miami, Kikapu, Hualia, and Ho’Chunk nations. Let us strive to respect the dish with one spoon wampum, that is take only what we need, leave some for the rest, and protect creation. And finally, let us honor and acknowledge the contributions and the enduring presence of all indigenous peoples on Turtle Island.

So I’ve been invited here to share the winning essay for the Global Ethic Essay Contest Award and it’s titled “Engaging Youth in the Global Ethic” and I’m just going to preamble that with this really was meant to be read as text as an essay but you’re going to hear it verbally so just keep that in mind.

As a Catholic high school teacher in the Greater Toronto Area, my heart sometimes breaks when in dialogue with the younger generation. Our students are struggling with post-covid trauma and grief, anxiety about the climate crisis, and systemic discrimination. After graduation, they will face unemployment and the lack of affordable housing. They continue to witness, through media, the growing division and violence between groups. It is no surprise they have lost hope, searching for meaning in their lives. The Global Ethic, with its five directives, can act as a guide for youth to rediscover purpose, spiritual fulfillment, skills development and build a collective conscience. In effect, the Global Ethic can engage and empower youth to make transformative changes that address the urgent needs of our communities, on issues that matter to them.

I would like to share the example of an issue that students have identified is of major importance in Canada: that of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Although I was born in Manila, Philippines, I moved to Canada when I was 2.5 years old. While I know I am not responsible for the historical oppression and cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, I appreciate I am a “settler,” and I still benefit from their land that was taken hundreds of years ago. And although I was not responsible for Indigenous children being stolen away from their families, I know I must be responsible to address the wrong-doing that happened.

To move forward I can try to uphold the Global Ethic in my teaching practice. That is, I can commit to a culture of tolerance and life of truthfulness, highlighting the abuse that happened in residential schools and how 60% of these schools were run by Catholic-affiliated organizations. As a Catholic, this is a painful part of our religious heritage and history but I can challenge my students to critically examine how and why abuse was possible. It was an arrogant sense of righteousness, with no heart to listen and learn from others, that made it possible for individuals to commit crimes against innocent children, and for a nation of bystanders to let it happen. “Beating the Indian out of the child” for spiritual and cultural salvation sprang from a colonial culture of intolerance and ignorance. In short, we must adopt a stance of humility in recognizing that no one religious or cultural group carries the whole truth and there is rich wisdom in learning from each other. If only we had listened from the heart, we would have seen the Global Ethic reflected in Indigenous teachings, and saw their connection to our own faith.

Once learning is embedded in a life of truthfulness and culture of tolerance, it is easier to focus on the other Global Ethic directives. In this case, youth become motivated to move towards reconciliation, supporting Indigenous peoples to effect change. For example, one of the impacts of intergenerational trauma is the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Students understand the importance of commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women. They have advocated for the police and government to address the thousands of girls and women who have been murdered or disappeared these past decades, without pursuit of investigation nor justice.

Another issue that has drawn attention is that of treaty rights and defending land and water. The government and companies gain economic profit destroying sacred territories while Indigenous communities suffer devastating loss. For example, it is heartbreaking to hear the Anishinabek First Nation speak of their lived experiences in Grassy Narrows, a community whose water was contaminated with mercury poisoning, resulting in high incidences of cancer. It is also difficult to believe their community has been on a boiled water advisory for 48 years! To top it all off, the provincial government is planning to begin mining operations in Grassy Narrows traditional lands without even consulting them! They are only one of many Indigenous communities whose lands and lives are being threatened. As a mother and teacher, listening to stories of their youth struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, I cannot imagine how overwhelming it must be – yet I witness the strength, hope, and resilience of Indigenous peoples who continue to fight for the rights and wellbeing of their land and people.

This is where the Global Ethic helps direct the work we can do in a practical and meaningful way. We can take a stand with Indigenous peoples in solidarity, asking for a just economic order, and protesting in a way that is non-violent. In the past, I’ve witnessed youth moved by such issues. They act as co-conspirators, centering Indigenous voices to demand justice for Indigenous communities. By demanding the government meet with First Nations to protect land and resources, youth play a role in helping promote a culture of sustainability and care for the earth, as the Global Ethic directs us to. Youth have found creative and non-violent ways to stand in solidarity, through organizing letter-writing and social media campaigns, building “pipelines of hope” in front of Parliament building, visual arts, music, drama, prayer vigil services, marches, solidarity dinners, etc. In their campaigns, youth have developed a wide array of skills – planning and organization, communication, budgeting, civic engagement, technology, even cooking! The list goes on. Most importantly, they learn they can make a difference and effect positive change.

Thus, using the Global Ethics directives to help guide youth on specific issues can be a helpful and empowering way to provide hope and resolution for problem solving and community building. As the next generation, we must invest in our future. To conclude, I challenge you with this personal and possibly, professional, question for reflection.

How are you providing opportunities for youth to learn about, and live out, the Global Ethics? Let us be very intentional in creating the space and time to do so!

 Thank you.

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