As more and more examples of unmarked graves at the sites of former Indian Residential Schools across the country come to light, our hearts are with the Indigenous peoples and communities across the country again mourn the deaths of children whose lives were taken from them by the residential school system. We know that these are not new discoveries, but rather confirmations, 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 call to action for our RJCC community members:
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. · Explore how to be a better ally: 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. · Commit to learning: 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). · Create a reconciliation team/ committee: 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) · Support survivors: 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 TRC Calls to Action: 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 clean drinking water on First Nations reserves: 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.