CBWC votes to adopt UNDRIP, signalling commitment to participate in the (re)conciliation with Indigenous people

Shamen Worshipping Jesus by Ovide Bighetty, 2007; (c) Indian Metis Christian Fellowship

Last week almost 300 pastors and delegates from CBWC churches gathered in Calgary for a biannual assembly. Among the shared meals, times of worship and preaching, some significant business was conducted. As is custom, CBWC Board and partners brought reports to the assembled delegates, and various motions were presented for a vote. One motion in particular is historic.

In 2015 Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 calls to action to various stakeholders. The specific actions are meant to continue the process of healing and reconciliation, which the truth telling at the TRC began.

Faith groups were requested to “formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.” On Saturday, May 27, 2017, the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada voted to do just that.

(If you’re not familiar, see below for an overview of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)

What does this mean for CBWC churches?

UNDRIP is a document that lays out what the rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide ought to be. The rights are things like: the right to liberty and security of person (7.1); the right to not be subjected to genocide or other violence, including the forcible removal of their children (7.2); the right to not be subjected to forced assimilation (8.1); the right not to be forcibly removed from their land, but to have free, prior and informed consent (10); and, the right to practice their spirituality with the full protection of freedom of religion (12.1).

For CBWC churches to adopt these rights as a framework for reconciliation means that we agree these rights ought to be realized by the Indigenous peoples in our regions. As CBWC churches throughout western Canada engage with our Indigenous neighbours, we commit to acknowledge and support these rights.

The UNDRIP framework guides us to respect inherent rights that have heretofore been denied. It encourages us to subvert and reverse the suppression of Indigenous culture (that’s been Canada’s strategy for so long) by supporting Indigenous communities’ efforts to be strengthened and healed.

The U.N. Declaration is a state to state document; it was not written with churches in mind. Yet the Indigenous peoples of Canada have asked, through representatives, that the church participate in its implementation.

Jodi Spargur, a CBWC pastor who led the motion to adopt UNDRIP, has focused her ministry on listening to Indigenous people and asking how the church can participate in conciliation. She recounted a conversation with Chief Robert Joseph:

“He asked me, ‘Jodi, how is the Baptist church going to respond? Government knows they need to come to the table. Education knows. All these sectors know, but I want to know if the church knows? If the church doesn’t show up, I have no hope for this process of reconciliation. Because it is primarily a spiritual task.’”

The particular details of what this adoption means for CBWC churches will be worked out as each church goes forward with the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as their guide.

Mike Deihl, the delegate from Willowlake Baptist Church in Winnipeg addressed the Assembly as the motion was deliberated. He said:

“I am part of the privileged. One of the privileges I have is that I am unaware of the extent of my privilege: the system is set up to work for me, for my success, for my comfort. The principles in the UN Declaration already apply to us, the privileged. Yet I sense fear, uncertainty, and doubt from many about what this motion means to the CBWC, to our member churches, and to us personally.

“If you feel uncomfortable about this motion, it probably means you are part of the privileged, that our society is set up for your comfort and success. So think about people who try to live in a society that marginalizes and devalues, and dehumanizes them—now, and for many generations past.

“Yet, Indigenous peoples are reaching out to us, and inviting us to participate in this conciliation process. We have a long history of telling indigenous people what they should do, what is good for them. … Let’s break that and let them guide us.

“In two years at the next Gathering, I hope and pray that we will hear many stories of God’s work that arises out of this commitment we make today.”

What does compliance with UNDRIP look like?
Here are some examples where churches have respected rights of Indigenous peoples in the going about of church activities and ministry:

  • A new church plant on the Musqueam reserve was initiated by asking permission from the Musqueam band leaders. “Is it okay that we’re here?” If support was not given, the church plant would not go ahead.
  • Pastors Erwin and Coral Buchholz in Battle Lake, AB were invited to bring communion to an elderly woman who could not travel to church. Each month they bring communion and sing hymns, she sings in Cree, they in English. In this way and others, they affirm and support Indigenous culture and practices.
  • New Life Community Church in Duncan, BC have a ministry with children that came out of a consulative process with the neighbouring reserve where the church asked how they could serve the community.
  • A number of other denominations have already adopted UNDRIP as a framework for reconciliation, so watch what they do for some positive examples. (The Canadian chapters of: Anglicans, Catholics, Quakers, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutherans, Presbyterians, The Salvation Army, the United Church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.)

What can I and my church do to learn more?

  • For more information about how your church can healthily approach conciliation, Healing at the Wounded Placeis a ministry out of Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver that seeks to equip and help churches in this task. They host conferences on exactly this topic, and have helpful resources in their website. Get in touch with Jodi Spargur for opportunties to learn at Jodi@redclover.ca.
  • If you haven’t already done so, read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to actionand the 46 articles in the UN Declaration.
  • There’s also a project underway to translate the state-to-state language of the Declaration into statements more relevant for churches. Have a look at that project at Healing at the Wounded Place resources pagewhere it will be posted as it becomes available.
  • Study groups are a great way to talk through issues and learn more. The magazine Wrongs to Rightsis a recommended guide. If you want to be connected to others who are interested in learning, contact Jodi Spargur  at Jodi@redclover.ca


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 with a mandate to hear the stories of Indigenous people affected by the Indian Residential School program. The Commission was an opportunity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to share and hear each other’s stories.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (often referred to as UNDRIP) is a document detailing specific rights Indigenous people worldwide should have. The declaration was written by Indigenous delegates over 30+ years of discussion and negotiation. It represents a major achievement in Indigenous global politics. It was presented to and ratified by the United Nations member countries in 2007 with the exception of Canada, United States, Australia, and New Zealand—each of which, not incidentally, were settler colonial states. Canada has since ratified, but has made clear that UNDRIP does not have legal power in Canada.