June 2, 2021
The Reform Jewish Community of Canada Calls for Action on the Discovery of the Unmarked Graves of Indigenous Children at The Kamloops Indian Residential School
Our hearts are with the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and Indigenous peoples and communities across the country as they mourn once again the deaths of 215 children found to be buried in a mass grave on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. We know that this was not a discovery, but a confirmation, and we know that silence is not a solution to the continuing pain and injustice experienced by Indigenous communities.
We stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples to address the historic and ongoing effects of colonialism to ensure a rich heritage, legacy, and future for your children and your children’s children. Our tradition teaches that the loss of even one life is the loss of a whole world. This particular loss is unfathomable.
We bear witness to the truth and call on our governments to follow through on commitments made to ensure meaningful reconciliation, including following through on articles 71-76 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action outlining crucial steps related to missing children and burials. We further acknowledge that the injustices inflicted upon Indigenous peoples in Canada are not limited to historic events like abuse that occurred through the Residential School System. Rather, there continue to be pressing issues facing Indigenous communities, and it is our responsibility to work together to address them. As our tradition further teaches us, while it may not be upon us to complete the work, we are not free to desist from it.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Letter to Reform Congregations:
Many of us or our forebears came to Canada as immigrants or refugees seeking a better life and the freedom to be able to live as Jews. We acknowledge that, as such, we are settlers on this land and that we have a responsibility to take action to address the ongoing legacy of colonialism and the injustices faced by Indigenous peoples.
Sadly, through the Shoah, we know too well the trauma of unmarked graves, of generations lost to genocide. At the 2013 Union for the Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial, the CCRJ’s National Social Action Committee (as it then was) presented a Resolution on First Nations, calling on the URJ to, among other things, “support efforts toward greater self-determination by Canada's First Nations community” and “encourage our Canadian congregations to continue to develop and strengthen relationships with the First Nations community”. This resolution passed with great support. It noted how “we have known the pain of being denied the opportunity to express our culture and faith and the corresponding collective trauma that occurs and persists even over generations.” It emphasized that “we continue to bear the moral responsibility to shed light on injustice and stand with those working to right historic wrongs.”
As well, six years ago, on June 1, 2015, the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism (as it then was), Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto, the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, the Toronto Board of Rabbis, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and Ve’ahavta (Canadian Jewish social action charitable organization), joined together to draft and promote a statement of solidarity and action in advance of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission taking place in Ottawa. In the Statement we pledged to commit to action, support, and education to foster closer ties and stronger understanding between the Indigenous communities Canada and the Jewish community.
That said, many community members may not know how to help, or where to start.
Together, with the support of the RJCC Tikkun Olam Steering Committee, we are compiling resources to support Reform Jewish congregations in establishing and/or strengthening relationships with local Indigenous communities and taking meaningful steps on the road to true reconciliation.
Many of our Indigenous neighbours and contacts and colleagues and friends and family are grieving right now. Reach out to Indigenous partners and colleagues and community members and friends - this is personal. Explore how to be a better ally.
As a start, we ask our RJCC communities to take responsibility for our own learning about local treaty responsibilities about the First Nations communities who are the traditional caretakers of the Land on which our communities are hosted. Places to start: https://reconciliationcanada.ca/, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
If you haven’t already, consider building a reconciliation team or committee at your synagogue to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action that apply to faith communities (i.e. 48, 49, and 60)
Join an upcoming virtual gathering on reconciliation in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found in Kamloops: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)
Make a donation in support of reconciliation to the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society: Donate — Indian Residential School Survivors Society (irsss.ca)
Call on all levels of government to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, particularly recommendations 71-76 regarding “Missing Children and Burial Information.” Specifically, action number 74 states: We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.
Advocate for passage of federal Bill C-5, to implement a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as well as federal Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Call on the federal government to ensure that promises made to provide clean drinking water on First Nations reserves with boil water advisories are implemented as soon as possible.
Advocate for equitable spending on education for Indigenous youth.
Support the recommendations in Women for Reform Judaism’s March 2021 Resolution titled “Addressing a Legacy of Reproductive and Gender-Based Violence Against Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color in North America.”
Community members can find the contact information for their local Member of Parliament here: https://www.ourcommons.ca/members/en, and provincial and municipal legislatures have similar sites to access members’ contact information.
Finally, the Tikkun Olam Steering Committee of the Reform Jewish Community (RJCC) is building a Canada-wide working group on Indigenous reconciliation. Contact us through Lori Miller Pike, our Canadian Director, to get involved. We need you!
Our tradition teaches that real teshuvah, real reconciliation, is an ongoing process. It takes time and commitment. It is upon us, aleinu, to do our part. As mentioned above, while it may not be upon us to complete the work, we cannot desist from it.
Together may we build a better future.
Tikkun Olam Steering Committee
Reform Jewish Community of Canada – Len Bates and Lori Miller Pike
About the Reform Jewish Community of Canada (RJCC)
Our mission is to strengthen and grow the Canadian Reform Jewish movement by supporting our 25 Reform congregations, Camp George, and our affiliates.
We are a Jewish Community grounded in Torah, Jewish wisdom and Jewish practices, and engaged in the pursuit of the sacred, acts of kindness and social responsibility. A Community where everyone is accepted and respected for who they are, who they love; and respects individual expression of their love of Israel and the meaning and purpose they bring to Judaism.
We are a partner of the Union for Reform Judaism, the North American Reform movement.
About the Reform Rabbis of Canada
The Reform Rabbis of Canada brings together the spiritual leaders of the Canadian Reform community. They are the rabbinic leaders within the synagogues affiliated with the RJCC and are the voice of the Canadian Reform community.
About the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
The URJ builds community at every level—from the way we collaborate with congregations, organizations, and individuals to how we make connections across North America to advance contemporary and inclusive Jewish life. Providing vision and voice to transform the way people connect to Judaism, we help congregations stay relevant and innovative, motivate more young Jews to embrace Jewish living, agitate for a more progressive society, and foster meaningful connections to Israel.
Founded in 1873, URJ has grown into the largest and most powerful force in North American Jewish life, with nearly 850 member congregations and work that inspires, connects, and educates millions of people. Our legacy, reach, leadership, and vision mean that we can unite thousands of years of tradition with a modern, evolving Judaism to strengthen Jewish communities today and for future generations.
Visit us at therjcc.ca and URJ.org to learn about our social justice initiatives, camps and programs for young Jews, services for congregations and communities, and how you can work with us to create a more just, whole, and compassionate world. Enjoy related content at ReformJudaism.org and connect with URJ on Twitter and Facebook.