A Gospel of Reconciliation

There is no downside to justice

Adult Education at Cedar Park for Lent 2017

Illustration above by Matt Veith from Wrongs to Rights: How Churches can Engage the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


What does it mean to be a Jesus-follower here in Ladner, British Columbia, Canada, in 2017? What does it mean to be committed to a gospel of truth, justice, right relations and restoration in a country that is still struggling to acknowledge and respond to the colonization of this land and its original peoples? 

Gathering together during the season of Lent, we are going to take advantage of our privileged opportunity to learn. For six weeks we are going to read and listen and learn about the beliefs that have enabled unhealthy and destructive relationships between Indigenous peoples in Canada and settlers. Our activities in the adult education classes are directly in response to both the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada report (TRC), as well as the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), by which Christians, and all people of faith, are called to repudiate the doctrines that underly the extinguishment and impoverishment of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As it states in the TRC Calls to Action #49:

We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

The process of exploring these doctrines, the impact they’ve had, and our response will be difficult, emotional, and time-consuming, but we believe, as is said by Indigenous leader Art Manuel, “There is no downside to justice.”

During our classes there will be multiple leaders/organizers preparing material, and they will each have their own set of priorities and methods. We are grateful that we can draw on a wide range of strengths in this area. We are also grateful that there are many resources and individuals available to us so that we are able to learn from those who have lead the way.

There is an overall arc in these classes moving from basic issues of language and history to the legacy of colonialism and possible responses. We believe that the best place to begin is to start with some self-education and self-examination. Before we can talk about what we should do, we need to learn about the very sad history of colonialism in Canada, and we need to take time to express and examine our initial emotional responses. Over the course of six weeks we will touch on local history, as well as examples of creative responses from other places, and finish with opportunities to plan for our own way forward.

Drawing on the significant and excellent work already being done in this area, we will be using a book produced by Mennonite Church Canada via their Intotemak press. Yours, mine, ours: unravelling the doctrine of discovery was edited by Cheryl Woelk & Steve Heinrichs and contains material from a wide range of contributors, both Indigenous and settler. Copies can be purchased from Matt Balcarras for $11 or from Common Word.

If you would like a book or have any questions or comments, please email Matt.

This is the most important thing you need to know: 

These classes are an opportunity for us to learn together and from each other. You should come prepared to contribute humbly and with vulnerability.  We will take time each week to listen to each other, and to share both what we know about the issues at hand, but also how these issues make us feel. It is important that we identify the feelings that drive our outward responses, such as feelings of anxiety, shame, anger, and defensiveness so that we can address these feelings and the reasons for their presence in our lives. The more you prepare for these classes, the more you will benefit. Please read as much as you can, and take time to think about what you have read. Look at the questions listed for each week and jot down some answers that you can bring with you. Everyone benefits from great personal investment.


The adult education classes will take place over the six Sundays of Lent, beginning March 5 and ending April 9. All classes will run from 9am to 10:15am in the young adult room upstairs at Cedar Park. More detail about the content of each week’s study will be added as we go, so please keep checking this page for the latest updates.

Week 1


Sunday, March 5: Organizer and Leader – Matt Balcarras

Focus: What are we talking about? Who are we talking about? In order to begin properly we must do some groundwork and learn the about the relevant issues. We need to know something about the current realities of Indigenous life in Canada, and we need to know something about how things got to be this way. The issue of healthy relationships between Indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada is not an issue of history, it is not a question of ‘how far back do we go in order to deal with the wrongs of the past’. If there is to be hope for a future that reflects God’s desire for Shalom in all creation and between all people, the this is an issue that begins with understanding 1) how things are currently, 2) how they got to be this way.

Necessary Reading Material:

Yours, Mine, Ours, especially the following articles:

  1. page 6, “Pulling the threads of Discovery”
  2. page 26, “Dates of Discovery & Dispossession”
  3. page 28, “Still Questioning”
  4. page 31, “The sweet fiction of owning land”

Indigenous Writes, Chelsea Vowell, (I will have photocopies available)

page 7, “Just don’t call us late for supper: names for Indigenous people”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Executive Summary


Meeting notes: I have attached the notes I prepared for the class. These notes are not minutes but the text that I prepared in order to structure and guide the class. If you missed the class you may find these helpful. They explain a bit about the format and goals of the group. Lent 2017 – week 1

Questions for change:

  1. What is the current state of Indigenous peoples in Canada? What, on average, is their quality of life like?
  2. What are some of the historic injustices experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada?
  3. Do you have a personal connection to the experience of Indigenous peoples?
  4. How does it feel to talk about these issues?
  5. Do you think that you have an obligation to do something personally about the Indigenous & settler relations where you live?

Week 2


Sunday, March 12: Organizer and Leader – Matt Balcarras

Focus: There is much evidence that the relations between Indigenous peoples and newcomers to Canada have not always been respectful, healthy, and honest. And despite what some versions of history might claim, history is not over. The current lived reality of Indigenous people in Canada is still one that demonstrates both the legacy of a painful past, but also the effects of ongoing discrimination and racism. The American civil rights leader, James Baldwin once said that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed without being faced.” We face the wrongs of the past, and the wrongs of the present so that we might live together in a future that is good for everyone. One of the wrongs that must be faced is the role of the church and Christian doctrine on the attitudes, beliefs, and laws that continue to play a role in the colonialist suppression of Indigenous peoples. Both the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, call on churches to repudiate (to reject and eliminate) doctrines and beliefs that support claims of European superiority. One of these doctrines is called the ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ and it is this one specifically that is the focus of our book and our discussion.

Necessary reading material:

Yours, Mine, Ours, especially the following articles:

  1. page 42, “Treaty Promises and Settlement”
  2. page 52, “My Car”
  3. page 56, “Reconciling the Nation-to-Nation Relationship”
  4. page 67, “Ceremonies of belief”
  5. page 70, “From both ends of the pipe: a conversation”

Questions for change:

  1. Is it fair to characterize the relationship between settlers (and the government) and Indigenous peoples as having significant elements of ‘illegality and immorality?’
  2. What has justified our treatment of Indigenous peoples in terms of occupation and land settlement?
  3. Do you think that your behaviour (or anyone else’s) is often (or ever) influenced by internalized beliefs? Or do you think that when you (or other people) are acting you always know why you are acting?
  4. Do you think that the church has supported and spread ideas about other people that have been damaging?
  5. How does it make you feel to hear about the current state of Indigenous peoples?
  6. How does it make you feel to think that church-sponsored beliefs have played a role in the oppression of Indigenous people?

Notes for week 2: these are my preparation notes and include the introductory comments and the material discussed in class Lent 2017 – week 2

Week 3


Sunday, March 19: Organizer and Leader – Matt Balcarras

Focus: Treaties are powerful documents and a majority of Canadians live on land that has a historic treaty relationship between Indigenous people and settlers. However few people know anything about the historic agreement made between signatories or how these treaties still affect lives today. In the prairies, where most of the land is covered by the so-called “numbered treaties”, there is a push by many groups to draw people’s attention to the ongoing relationship produced by treaties by encouraging the use of the phrase “We are all treaty people.” Everyone lives, whether they know it or not, on one side of the treaty relationship or the other. What does it mean to be treaty people? This question was taken seriously by many people living in the Stony Knoll/Laird Saskatchewan area, people who live on both sides of the treaty, and the outcome of their commitment to answering the question is shown in the documentary ‘Reserve 107,’ which will be the main focus of our discussion today. The film is free to be screened from their website: https://www.reserve107thefilm.com/

Necessary reading material:

Yours, Mine, Ours, especially the following articles:

  1. page 42, “Treaty Promises and Settlement”
  2. page 108, “Planting trees in exile”
  3. page 133, “Making words real”
  4. page 151, “Share the gifts: honour the treaties”

Questions for change:

  1. Why were treaties made and have they been honoured?
  2. Have all parties of treaties benefitted equally?
  3. What are some people doing to honour the treaty that covers where they live?
  4. Do you live in treaty territory? Have you? Do you know anything about the treaty agreements of where you live or have lived?

Week 4


Sunday, March 26: Organizer and Leader – Frank Sawatsky

Focus: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)   “In the history of colonialism, even to our own time, that verse from the Sermon on the Mount hasn’t received the attention it deserves.  It doesn’t say, “Blessed are the conquerors,” or “Blessed are the Settler colonists.”  It says, “Blessed are the humble ones, those whose wills are surrendered to God.  The world belongs to such as these”. (Gordon Matties)

The readings this week help us in part to understand our history in Ladner.  As settler colonists, we have had most of the power over land use and ownership through most of our history.  Until very recently the Tsawwassen First Nation had little control over their lives and land.  Our home that we love has been formed in part by values that directly contradict the teachings of Jesus.  This week we will discuss those historical values that have shaped the Fraser River delta for the last 150 years.  We will discuss the history of the TFN and some of the challenges that we all face in our community at the present time.  How do we apply the voice of Jesus to these challenges and to our relationship with our indigenous neighbors?

Necessary reading material:

TFN History and Timeline


Yours, Mine, Ours, especially the following articles:

  1. page 88, “A Long History of “Discovery”
  2. page 92, “Locus Dei”
  3. page 94, “Rediscovering Lost values

The Conquest: God’s Dark Side?  Joshua 1-11 (Ted Grimsrud)


Sawatsky compiled history of Ladner and the Tsawwassen First Nation


Questions for change:

  1. What are some the important dates in the history of local indigenous-settler relations?
  2. Are you aware of all (some) of the dates considered important by the Tsawwassen?
  3. How does knowledge or lack of knowledge about local history affect current relations?
  4. Would a better understanding of local history from the perspective of the Tsawwassen people contribute to a future that is better than the past?

Week 5


Week 5, Sunday, April 2: Organizer and Leader – Bridget Findlay, MCC BC Indigenous Neighbours

Bridget Findlay is the local representative of the Mennonite Central Committee Indigenous Neighbours program. You can read about this program here: https://mcccanada.ca/learn/what/categories/indigenous-neighbours

Bridget works with churches like Cedar Park to help guide them in their journey to have healthy relationships with their Indigenous neighbours. This week Bridget is bringing a local Tsawwassen elder, Ruth Adams, to our group. This is an opportunity for us to listen and learn. To best prepare for this gathering, please consider the following points that come from a document on native protocol. Bridget would like us to read over these in order to host our guest as best as we can.

  • Our issues with the dominant society/settlers generally began with historical atrocities against our peoples and even though you personally have not participated in that, you still enjoy the benefits today, generations later, while we not only don’t enjoy any benefits, rather we still suffer, in multiple-complex ways, the harms and violations.
  • Also, those who get to enjoy these historical and ongoing benefits don’t always recognize when issues of dominant society/settler privilege and entitlement come into play for us.  We see it and react, sometimes by getting angry, sometimes by withdrawing.   Pay attention to that because it may be the only chance you will have to invite us back into the circle.
  • Please don’t bombard us with questions, especially about our culture.  We realize that many of you have a genuine and sincere interest.  Perhaps what many don’t realize is that many of us are in the process of relearning about our culture ourselves and sometimes shame and embarrassment about the fact that we don’t have all your answers can prevent us from participating further.

There is further reading available in this .pdf 2015 01 Native Protocol


Week 6, Sunday, April 9: Organizer and Leader – Matt Balcarras

In our final week we will take time to reflect on what has (and hasn’t) been covered over our six weeks gathering together. There will be an opportunity to discuss ideas for personal and corporate responses and plans for next steps.

Next Steps. There are many things that we can do next, both as individuals and as a group. A few ideas for group responses were mentioned in our last class, and I list them here along with any others that people might send in. Lee mention a walk from Victoria to Burnaby in support of climate justice and indigenous rights http://walk4salishsea.ca/. There are multiple ways we can be involved with this walk. Contact Lee for more information. Bridget Findlay mentioned another walk, this one in Fort Langley and it calls people to physically respond to the spirit of reconciliation. https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/walk-in-the-spirit-of-reconciliation-tickets-32644412316 In addition to both these walks, Bridget has offered to lead us in other activities, such as a Kairos Blanket exercise. She is more than happy to provide us with resources and support as we decide what steps we would like to take.

For our larger community at Cedar Park, there is going to be an opportunity to share what we have learned and experienced during these Lenten classes. Reflecting the hope of the Easter season we are now in, we want to share with others in the spirit of reconciliation and resurrection brief stories of our personal transformation through this Sunday School class. If you would like to participate in this, please let Matt know, otherwise he will contact people directly asking for volunteers.

Finally, as Matt mentioned in the last class, he is writing a piece for the MB Herald on the experience of our Lenten classes. If you would like to share some of your notes, or some of your experience with him for that article please let him know. Matt’s email

Further reading. This is a list of some of the books I have read recently and informed much of my thinking in these classes. If you have a book or other material you feel would be helpful for the group, please email me and I will post it here.

  1. King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian
  2. Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within
  3. Manuel, Arthur & Grand Chief Ronald M Derrickson. Unsettling Canada
  4. Saul, John Ralston. The Comeback
  5. Woelk, Cheryl & Steve Heinrichs. Yours, Mine, Ours: Unravelling the Doctrine of Discovery
  6. Woelk, Cheryl & Steve Heinrichs. Wrongs to Rights: How churches can engage the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  7. Vowel, Chelsea. Indigenous Writes
  8. Maracle, Lee. I am woman
  9. Simpson, Leanne & Kiera L. Ladner eds. This is an honour song: Twenty years since the blockades

Next Steps