Indigenous ideas and spirituality were on full display during Friday morning’s assembly, where Indigenous leaders from around the world spoke about the importance of supporting Indigenous communities and protecting the natural world. Emcees Bob Goulais and Trina Moyan began the event by acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ ancestral claims to Toronto and the impact First Nations have had on the area. Two First Nations children then recited a thanks-giving invocation in their native language, a greatly moving moment lauded by speakers and attendees alike, for its emphasis on intergenerational knowledge and the critical preservation of Indigenous cultures, languages, and lands.
Indigenous advocates reminded attendees that the spiritual values promoted by Indigenous people have greatly influenced our societies, although Indigenous people lack the political representation and rights to participate fully in our societies. For example, Chief Perry Bellegarde mentioned that preserving the planet is a central tenet of Indigenous spirituality and that climate activists can gain a lot from adopting an Indigenous worldview. Chief Sidney Hill emphasized the moral imperative of climate change, stating that, “our mandate as leaders is to make sure that all that we have is still there for the next generations.” Meanwhile, Margaret Lokawua advocated that the international community create more policies that protect Indigenous people in the face of widespread discrimination and violence.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was prominently highlighted during the assembly to both emphasize
Indigenous communities’ resolve and to call attention to flaws in the process. Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild noted that for a process like the Reconciliation Commission to be successful, officials must implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in addition to embracing love and inclusion. Dr. Debra Harry notes that pursuing reconciliation between Indigenous and state governments is difficult – prejudiced beliefs are embedded into the laws of many nations – but it is necessary for a more harmonious relationship between the two entities.
Many speakers emphasized the unique role women can play in revitalizing and advocating on behalf of religious communities. As part of a special panel featuring Indigenous women from Canada, Hawaii, and Nigeria; Naomi Leleto Lanoi described how Maasai women exercise leadership in their communities, and that involvement of her sisters and other Indigenous women in decision-making is critical to stopping problems many Indigenous communities face. Dr. Manulani Meyers, in this same panel, spoke about how significant women are in Indigenous Hawaiian culture, and shares the importance of sisterhood and acknowledging the trauma faced by our communities and transforming them into action-based change.
Attendees were not only exposed to Indigenous voices from around the globe but were also treated to performances from Indigenous artists like Red Sky Ensemble and Lyla June Johnson, representing different First Nations of Canada.
Indigenous communities have much to teach the world about peace and sustainability and Indigenous people must be included in all interfaith efforts to make lasting change. Attendees left this morning’s assembly with a better understanding of the critical work Indigenous communities are leading in the world and an acknowledgment of the ways in which communities of faith must serve as better allies in the critical fight for truth, justice, and reconciliation.
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