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Indigenous peoples

Truth & reconciliation is possible, but not as it is being popularized

Until recent decades, “victimhood” was definitely not a status that people would deliberately embrace. In fact, many who were actual victims would do their very best to avoid being labeled as such. Instead, they sought to be heard and understood not as members of some “victim class,” but as unique individuals who had suffered injustice, but who were not defined by that suffering.

For example, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his life in his struggle for civil rights for African-Americans, said this in a 1953 radio broadcast:

“We are not responsible for the environment we are born in, neither are we responsible for our hereditary circumstances. But there is a third factor for which we are responsible, namely, the personal response which we make to these circumstances.”

But as the civil rights movement evolved, and with the advent of identity politics, victimhood itself has become a means of attaining power. Many individuals and organizations have turned victimhood into something of an industry, and have sought victim status as a means of gaining influence.

Real sins occurred

Now, there certainly is no shortage of genuine victims in this world – people who have been oppressed, abused, mistreated, excluded from society, persecuted, and even killed simply because of who they are. This cannot and should not be denied. Grave injustices have been committed throughout history in this fallen, sin-stained world.

The question that we face is this: how can these injustices (past and present) be dealt with?

Real guilt isn’t apportioned by skin color, gender

The answer that has predominated over the past generation is that of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which has become the dominant ideology in the “civil rights” arena. Identity politics has taken center stage in public discourse. According to identity politics, people can be divided into two basic classes: the transgressor, and the innocent. Within these two classes are a myriad of sub-classes, understood according to the sociological perspective known as “intersectionality,” an aspect of CRT that has its roots in feminist sociology.

According to the doctrine of intersectionality, all individuals can be categorized according to where they stand on the “victim” scale. On the one end of the scale stands the white, heterosexual, Christian male. This individual is categorized as the transgressor, as a member and representative of the oppressor class. The white heterosexual Christian female can be considered as somewhat less of a transgressor, while on the opposite end of the spectrum stands the person who is the most “marginalized,” the non-cisgender person of color.

The absurdity of this categorization scheme becomes apparent when one considers that a white man who depends on welfare to survive and lives in a run-down shack in the Appalachians of West Virginia is still viewed as a member of the "oppressor" class, while a multi-millionaire African-American whose resume includes an education in elite private schools and Columbia University is still identified as a member of the "innocent" class (as long as his political views are considered to be appropriate).

Real forgiveness isn’t on offer

REAL SINS OCCURRED: This “memory blanket” was displayed at the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in 2015 and included statements from former students’ writings. Several noted that students were given numbers rather than names. Among the messages: “My new name is 7,” “Today I got beaten for speaking Mi’kmaq. It slipped out at the lunch table, as I was asking another girl for some bread. I don’t understand what the problem with…” “Today I saw one of the older girls had a black eye. I tried to ask her about it, but she wouldn’t say,” “This is my last time writing in this book. I’m going to kill myself. Why because I hate it here, the white people are getting worse and worse every day,” “It’s this certain serenity you feel when you know something terrible will happen. My grandfather said you feel this before you die,” “I want to go home.” (Picture credit: Susan G. Enberg / Shutterstock.)

Ultimately, it is impossible for the “transgressor” to either redeem himself or be redeemed, and even members of the transgressor class who sympathize with and identify themselves with those on the opposite end of the spectrum can never truly rid themselves of CRT's version of original sin. In the end, it appears that apologies and reparations and expressions of contrition can have no result until perfection is achieved in this life, and every wrong is righted according to the dominant standard.

When it comes to Indigenous issues in Canada and elsewhere, it is the theory and outworking of Critical Race Theory and identity politics that is currently guiding public policy and shaping public discourse. As mentioned, there is no doubt that grave injustices have occurred since the first contact was made between European explorers and settlers and the indigenous populations of the lands where they settled.

Sadly, but truly, the experience of the native inhabitants of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand is not unique to them. The history of the world is replete with examples of colonization, empire-building, what we would now define as “war crimes,” and even genocide. In fact, yesterday's oppressors often become tomorrow's victims, and vice versa. In all of human history, is there a single ethnic group that can honestly claim to have an unstained record in this regard?

This does not excuse more recent evils, but it does put them in the proper context, and allow us to consider how to answer the question that I posed above: How can these injustices best be dealt with?

Those who adhere to the tenets of Critical Race Theory believe that all change must be accomplished using a top-down approach. It is the State that must right previous wrongs, and the State that must enforce “reconciliation.” The populace must be trained to think correctly about the issues at play. This training is being done at every level of the educational system through the Indigenization of curricula, in which an “Indigenous” worldview must be included in every subject. It is reinforced through special events and days of commemoration, like the Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

And finally, the message is inserted into everyday life by means of repetitive “liturgical” acts, such as the repeated land acknowledgements which have become an essential element of many public events. Through these techniques, the “transgressors” are constantly reminded of their ongoing guilt and responsibility, and the “innocent” are encouraged to remain in a perpetual state of victimhood. It seems that there is nothing that either the transgressor or the innocent can do to rectify this state of affairs; this rectification must be accomplished by the State.

Real repentance comes from the right heart

How should we, as Christians, think about what can only be described as the massive cultural shift that is happening all around us?

First of all, we must recognize Critical Race Theory and identity politics for what they are: ideologies that have highjacked certain Christian concepts (like justice, reconciliation, transgression, and innocence) and turned them into radical distortions of the truth of Scripture. According to God's Word, all of us are transgressors. There is only One who was truly innocent, our Lord Jesus Christ. True justice is connected with righteousness, and absolute justice will never be accomplished in this world, try as we might. Heaven will never be created on earth, and apart from the redeeming work of Christ, true reconciliation between God and man, and between human beings themselves, cannot happen. All attempts to implement a utopian vision of society are doomed to fail, because they begin, as CRT and identity politics begin, with false beliefs about the nature of the world and about human nature itself.

Neither can true reconciliation and justice be implemented from the top down. It is very possible for the State to convince the entire population to recite what it deems to be the appropriate words and avoid expressing (at least publicly) “inappropriate views.” But the State cannot change the human heart, and neither can it legislate love, which is vital to reconciliation and the redressing of wrongs. Love must be expressed on a personal level, in the context of interpersonal relationships, and cannot be implemented through impersonal programs and activities imposed from above. We are called to love our neighbor, regardless of his or her ethnicity. As Christians, we are called to show that love, the love of Christ, through our own actions, in a very personal way.

Real repentance might be costly

This is a costly attitude. It will take us out of our comfort zone. It requires sacrifice. It doesn't offer any kind of “quick fix,” nor does it imagine that it will solve all of the world's problems once and for all. But it is genuine, and the outworking of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. Institutional programs and policies are impersonal, often completely ineffective or even counter-productive, and history shows that they do not accomplish the goals that they set out to achieve. They allow individuals to pass on responsibility to others while perhaps saying the right things and expressing virtuous opinions, but in the end they can neither bring about genuine reconciliation nor bring about lasting, positive change. This is something that can only be done through the hard work of getting to know our neighbors – whatever their ethnicity – and building living relationships with them. In this way, beginning with the first great commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart, we will put into practice the second: to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is one of several articles we’ve published about Canada’s history with its Indigenous peoples, with the sum of the whole being even greater than the parts. That's why we'd encourage you to read the rest, available together in the March/April 2003 issue. You can listen to Rev. Jim Witteveen’s podcast on his website. His latest book, “How in the world did we get here?” is available there and at

History, Indigenous peoples, News

Residential schools: what worldview is to blame?

We’ve seen at least ten Canadian churches burnt down and others damaged by fire since unmarked graves at two former residential schools became front page news in June. Many children who attended these schools did not live to return to their families, and it’s not a leap to think the arsonists are blaming the churches for their deaths. That’s the direction Prime Minister Trudeau took too, when he called on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for their involvement. There is blame to be directed at individuals and organizations. However, to learn the right lesson here we need to look beyond just the people, and find out what worldview was the root cause. We can point to people who professed to be Christian as perpetrators, and the State was overseeing it all. So was the problem that people were acting like Christians, or that they were acting like agents of a secular State? Was this tragedy caused by too much Christianity or too little? To answer, let’s compare and contrast the worldviews that were involved: Christianity, and the secular worldview that has long been prevalent in government. Secularism is godless and consequently holds that the State is the highest authority, since it is the mightiest (if there is no God, then why wouldn’t might make right?). The only limits on its power are self-imposed. The State gives rights and therefore can also take them away. Thus parents have only as much authority as the State grants them, and the State can take away that authority whenever it wishes. Under this worldview education is a State responsibility, if it so decides. Christianity acknowledges that God is the highest authority, and that He’s allotted limited authority to not only the State, but also to parents. God is the source of our rights via His commandments so, for example, His prohibitions against stealing and murder give us rights to property and life. While the State does often violate those rights, it can never take them away. God has given parents the primary role in the education of their children (Deut. 4:9, 6:7, 11: 19, Josh. 24:15, Prov. 1:8, 3:1, 15:5, Eph. 6:6, Heb. 12:7-8, etc.). When the Canadian government took these children away from their parents, it was acting as godless governments have always done, and in a manner consistent with secular conviction: without restraint, and as if might makes right. However, when professed Christian individuals and groups aided in these abductions they were acting in opposition to the Truth they professed, against principles God spells out in His Word. We need to understand then that the horrors perpetuated at these residential schools were not caused by Christianity, but by its lack. Today our government continues using schooling to indoctrinate children against the values of their parents. In the State's public system the abduction is no longer physical, but still mental and spiritual, with children taught the government’s secular perspective on God, the unborn, sexuality, rights, gender, and more. As our country continues to look at what happened in these residential schools, God’s people need to help their friends and neighbors unpack why it went so horribly wrong. It was wrong, but not according to the secular worldview – that the State disregarded parents is completely in keeping with our current Prime Minister's secular worldview. The only reason these abductions were wrong is because God is in fact King. They were wrong because He has granted parents the responsibility to care for and educate their children, and the State has no authority to take our children away. The lesson Canada needs to learn is to reject godless governance, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Photo by Blake Elliot/

History, Indigenous peoples, News

Residential schools and the devastation of State-perpetrated family breakup

For the past several months, Canada has been convulsed by the heartbreaking rediscovery of hundreds—and likely thousands—of child graves outside residential schools where Indigenous children were placed (incarcerated is probably a better word) by the Canadian government to “kill the Indian in the child.” The history of residential schools is one of the blackest in Canadian history, and anyone who has read even portions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report (I did research on forced abortions in residential schools several years ago) must conclude that this was a systematic crime committed against entire peoples. As Terry Glavin wrote in the National Post: "Imprisoned in chronically underfunded institutions that were incubation chambers for epidemic diseases, the children died in droves. Enfeebled by homesickness, brutal and sadistic punishments and wholly inadequate nutrition, they died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, the Spanish influenza and measles, among any number of proximate causes. At the Old Sun boarding school in Alberta, there were years when children were dying at 10 times the rate of children in the settler population… "The TRC report chronicles barbaric punishments, duly recorded by federal bureaucrats and officials with the churches that ran the schools. Students shackled to one another, placed in handcuffs and leg irons, beaten with sticks and chains, sent to solitary confinement cells for days on end — and schools that knowingly hired convicted “child molesters.” Only a few dozen individuals have ever been prosecuted and convicted for the abuse those children endured." In much of the debate over the nuances of these re-emerging stories, I think an opportunity for appropriate empathy is sometimes lost. Yes, it is true that not all of the children were abused. Yes, it is true that healthcare standards during that time meant that diseases were far more deadly. Yes, some students remain ambivalent about their experiences to this day. But none of this changes the central fact of the matter: Children were forcibly removed by the state from their families for the express purpose of destroying their family bonds and eradicating their language and culture. If they'd come for our kids... I hail from the Dutch diaspora in Canada, and like many immigrant groups in our multicultural patchwork, our communities have remained largely culturally homogenous. Imagine if the Canadian government had decided, at some point, that Dutch-Canadian (or Sikh or Ukrainian or Jewish) culture needed to be destroyed for the good of the children in those communities, who needed to be better assimilated. Then, imagine if the government forcibly removed children as young as three years old from the parental home – state-sanctioned kidnapping. At school, they were deprived of their grandparents, parents, siblings, language, and culture—and told that their homes were bad for them. At the end of the experience, if the child survived disease, abuse, bullying, and loneliness, he or she would have been remade in the image of the state – and community bonds would have been severed and many relationships irrevocably destroyed. The children who died of disease were often buried on school grounds. That means many children were taken by the government – and their families simply never saw them again. Imagine, for just a moment, if that was your family. If you were removed from your family. If your children were removed from you. How might you feel about Canada if her government had, for generations, attempted to destroy everything precious to you? It is a question worth reflecting on. Over the past decade, as religious liberty has been steadily eroded by Western governments, many Christians have wondered, fearfully, whether the authorities will eventually interfere with how they raise their children. Christian parents have been presented as a threat to their own children because of their “hateful” Christian values. When considering the residential schools, Christians should realize that what happened to Indigenous people in Canada is their own worst nightmare. This happened to real children and real families within living memory. Those families have not yet recovered. That devastation cannot be undone – it can only be survived. The intergenerational damage from these state-inflicted wounds ripples forward in time – and social conservatives, of all people, should be able to understand the fallout from family breakup. Except in this case, the families were forcibly broken up, against their will. As a father and member of large families, I cannot fathom the helplessness, despair, and rage that those who saw their family members stolen from them must have felt. Imagine losing your three-year-old son or daughter to the government, with no recourse for getting your child back. Imagine never seeing that child again. Hatred is absolutely never the answer. But I can certainly understand it. Why minimize this crime? If it had been my child stolen from me, who then died from disease years later and was never returned, I can imagine how I would feel if the response from people was: “Well, lots of people died from disease.” Or: “Many of the educators tried their best.” Or: “It wasn’t feasible to send the bodies of the stolen children home.” I can imagine how I would feel if I heard that in response to raw pain and grief at state-perpetrated injustice. I would feel as if people weren’t listening; didn’t care; and were simply, once again, making excuses. There are times when injustice must be faced in the raw, and the intricacies of healthcare in the early part of the last century can be discussed some other time. Over the past several weeks, residential school survivors have come forward anew to detail their experiences. Many of them struggled with substance abuse as a result of what they endured; many of the issues with alcohol and drugs on some Indigenous reserves today stem from the state-perpetrated breakup of their families. It is easy for those looking at reserves from the outside in to criticize without realizing the context for the state of many families, which would likely still be whole if the Canadian government had not intentionally destroyed them. This is not to say that people bear no responsibilities for their actions. It is to say that we should consider how we would think if the government had perpetrated this on our own communities. Christians know how important families are For several generations, social conservative and Christian scholars have been warning that family breakup is at the root of many of our social ills. Largescale family breakup results in crime, risky behavior, substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD, and other traumas and anti-social behavior. Fatherlessness is one of the greatest disadvantages a boy can face. In the case of our society at large, family breakup was largely facilitated by the Sexual Revolution (and in many communities, wealth has cushioned the blow and masked the damage). In Indigenous communities, family breakup was inflicted by the state, and the consequences they have suffered as a result have been devastating. Social conservatives should be able to intuitively understand this. I’ve said many times that I believe the real “privilege” in our society is not primarily racial, as progressives claim – but the blessing of growing up in a two-parent home where a mother and father love their children. This is a tremendous social advantage, and it was denied to generations of Indigenous children by the government, who felt they would be better off without the love and influence of their parents and grandparents. In her recent book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, Mary Eberstadt explored how family breakup inhibits the passing down of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Again, this is a key part of the puzzle that social conservatives should instinctively recognize. During university, I toured an abandoned residential school in British Columbia with several other students. Our guide was a survivor who told us about the children who had died there and the abuse they had suffered. I remember the cold, damp chill of a dark tunnel in the basement as he told us how he and others had been locked there in the blackness for using their own language. His voice was heavy with pain, and it struck me again that these things are not history – they are still memory. There are thousand of Indigenous Canadians still living with the effects of these government policies, and their anger is well-warranted. We should listen to them and remember once again the horrors that unfold when the government wields power over families for the so-called good of the children. Jonathon Van Maren is an author and pro-life activist who blogs at from where this is reprinted with permission. Jonathon was the guest on a recent edition of the Real Talk podcast. Photo is "All Saints Indian Residential School, Cree students at their desks with their teacher in a classroom, Lac La Ronge, March 1945" and is cropped from the original in the Library and Archives Canada collection....

Christian education, Indigenous peoples

No other gods

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #64 is a challenge to Christian churches and schools… and the First Commandment **** Last year Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published its final report as well an accompanying document with 94 “calls to action.” The TRC report resulted from over seven years of hearing abuse allegations from aboriginal Canadians who had been students in the country’s Indian residential schools (which operated from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996). The exact extent of the abuse that took place may never be known because the Commission heard complaints but had no power to compel testimony. That meant abuse claims could be heard, but not fully investigated – the accused individuals were never brought forward to either answer for or defend their actions. When the TRC released their 94 calls to action the Liberal Party quickly promised to implement every one of them, and reaffirmed this promise after forming the government of Canada. Promoting truth and reconciliation sounds noble, but the conclusions of this report are radical, promoting one culture and religion over all others. This article will limit its focus to a key recommendation that pertain directly to Christian churches and schools. Requiring native spirituality at school Because some of the abuse occurred at Christian residential schools, some of the report’s calls to action were directed towards Christian schools and the churches associated with them today. Call to action #64 states: "We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal elders." By “denominational” schools, the report is likely targeting all religious schools, regardless of their formal connection to specific church denominations. Forcing religious schools to promote aboriginal spirituality, even if such spirituality violates the Christian faith, flows from a consistent message in the TRC report that requires churches and religious institutions to “affirm Indigenous spirituality in its own right.” These institutions are being called on to “formally recognize Indigenous spirituality as a valid form of worship that is equal to their own.” Freedom of religion should mean being free from State coercion If someone were to ask me, or the Christian school I’m a member of, to teach that aboriginal spiritual beliefs are equal to my own Reformed Christian faith, I would respectfully point out to them that they are wrong and there is no way I will comply. Doing so violates the first commandment – it is idolatry. Pagan aboriginal spirituality has little in common with the gospel of Jesus Christ and I’m not going to confuse my children by claiming that the competing faith claims are the same. But Natives are free to try to convince me otherwise, just as I will encourage my neighbors to consider the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. But it is a different matter altogether when the TRC demand that the State compels its citizens to undermine their beliefs by forcing the indoctrination of pagan spirituality. And when the Liberal government promises to follow through, then our fundamental freedoms are at risk. Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists the fundamental freedoms that all Canadian possess and that must be protected from any actions by the State. They include freedom of conscience, religion, and association. All three are involved here - when Christians come together to form churches and schools, they do so protected by the freedom to associate, and the freedom to live according to their religion. When the State forces these churches and schools to promote a religion that undermines their own, these constitutional rights are violated. Natives don’t want to be treated this way Even aboriginal Canadians should speak up against this assault on freedom. In fact, the very same TRC calls to action includes the demand that all faith groups commit to: "...respecting Indigenous people’s right to self-determination in spiritual matters, including the right to practice, develop, and teach their own spiritual traditions, customs, and ceremonies…" So all faith groups may not interfere in indigenous spirituality, but the TRC report, supported by Canada’s government, demands that interference into the religious teachings of all other faith groups. It is a one-way street. This is the very reason why we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms – to protect citizens from the State including when the State thinks it can tell people what to believe! Conclusion The politicization of the residential schools has made it difficult to get a firm handle of what really happened in these schools. It is indisputable and unjustifiable that abuse occurred. It is also completely inappropriate for the State to require the removal of children from their homes to be placed in institutional care, except in extreme circumstances. Where wrong was done, justice must be served, also when churches or governments are responsible. But we also know that the residential schools were well-intentioned and went a long way towards helping disadvantaged people with education, nutrition, skills, and medical care. When good was done, that too must be acknowledged. Canada’s federal government is not helping anybody, especially Canada’s aboriginal peoples, by endorsing all of the demands from the TRC....

Indigenous peoples, Politics

Looking at two more of the TRC’s Calls to Action

The goal of Canada's Indian Residential Schools – which were run by churches along with the government – was to educate, but also convert and civilize Native children, replacing their culture with a Western one. Starting in 1884, school became compulsory for Native children under 16, and when a local school wasn’t available Native children would often be forcibly taken from their families and sent to these boarding schools. In other instances families were threatened with fines or prison if they didn’t send their children. This practice left the children on their own, away from any family or trusted adults they could turn to for help. That left them especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse. For six years, a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC) traveled across Canada to hear from former students of the schools. More than 6,500 were heard, and their testimony collected. The Commission also issued 94 calls to action, all of which the Liberal government agreed to. But not all of these recommendations were of the same quality. In his article "No other gods," Mark Penninga highlights how #64 would require Christian schools to promote native spirituality. That isn't the only one that's got problems. But lest readers think they are all problematic, I wanted to list one more bad one, but also highlight one that could be great. The bad: #6 Of the Commission’s 94 recommendations some are simply wrong. For example, #6: "We call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada." This is the section that specifically grants parents a defense when they use “reasonable force to discipline a child” – this is a legal recognition of parents’ right to spank their children. The reason the Commission is calling for an end to spanking is likely because of the physical abuse some Native children suffered in the schools. But in making this recommendation they are overlooking the vast gulf that exists between beating up a child and spanking one. The good: #81 One of the best recommendations might be #81, to make a monument to remember the evil done to these children and their families. "We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities." We want our country and especially our legislators to be continually confronted with the horror that the government committed in stealing children from their parents to teach them values their parents opposed. In Ontario right now the government is pushing forward on their proposed and hotly opposed Sex-Ed curriculum. Those in power are still eager to force their worldview on other people’s children. So let’s build a monument, make it huge, and place it somewhere in Ottawa that legislators will walk past every day. Stealing and indoctrinating children remains a temptation for lawmakers, so they need to be reminded of past wrongs in the hope that this memory will restrain them from committing future evils....