Treaty Day 2018
On Oct. 1, Bishop Brian Dunn and Archbishop Anthony Mancini, Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth concelebrated Treaty Day Mass at St. Mary's Basilica, Halifax, NS. During Mass was a Rite of Forgiveness, where both Archbishop Mancini and Bishop Dunn knelt before the assembled worshippers: "On this day, we personally and in our roles as leaders of the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia, kneel before the representatives of the Mi’kmaq nation to express our regret, sorrow and apology."
Treaty Day has become a significant day for Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq and for non-aboriginals, as we come together; to recall the past and to recommit to a positive future, in the spirit of the original treaties which hoped for peace and friendship.
When this day was first proposed by Grand Chief Donald Marshall, he wanted this day to specifically commemorate the key role of treaties in the relationship between Nova Scotian Mi’kmaq and the Crown. He hoped that this day would affirm and reaffirm the historic presence of the Mi’kmaq who had occupied the land under our feet for thousands of years. He hoped that this day would carry the vision and intention of the treaties of peace and friendship into the future. This hope is what gathers us together and I am honoured to be part of the commemorative service.
In fact, this particular Treaty Day Mass gives us all the opportunity to not only reach into the history of the Mi’kmaq, to recall the treaties of the 18th century but also the occasion to recall the Mi’kmaq’s long standing relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. This relationship goes back over more than 400 years, to the moment when Chief Membertou accepted Baptism into the Christian faith, at the hands of Jesuit father, Jesse Fleche. On that occasion the Grand Council wanted their Chief to stipulate a binding accord between their Nation and the Holy See. That covenant was another treaty of singular importance, for it was and remains an international treaty, still valid today and certainly valid for the Catholic Church of Nova Scotia which has been entrusted to me and Bishop Dunn.
The Treaty of which I speak is the agreement between Grand Chief Membertou, the Mi’kmaq districts of the time and the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Paul V in 1610 and represented in the Wampum belt produced on that occasion and preserved in the Vatican.
As I researched the significance of the 1610 treaty with the Church, I was struck by its content and vision. The symbols used to commemorate the meaning of the treaty, are very relevant to our present circumstances, when we are trying to find effective ways forward that will take us beyond our failures and hurts. Rediscovering the significance of those symbols and their implications for our present circumstances, will greatly help us on the journey of truth and reconciliation. In fact, truth is always necessary, for reconciliation to take place and only truth is capable of setting us free for a new covenant and a new future.
Because human beings are human in every way, what was intended by that first treaty, over time fell by the wayside, was forgotten or deliberately ignored in the pursuit of less noble ideas – for all of those failures, we now seek forgiveness. However, in the very act of seeking forgiveness, there must also be the intention and the effort to reclaim the original spirit, intent and mission of the original treaties. This must be reflected in newfound respect; an acknowledgement of the facts and in visible concrete actions of peace and friendship, adequate to the times in which we live.
The treaty with Rome, established in 1610, was a statement of mutual recognition as equal partners. The Mi’kmaq were seen, understood and accepted as a nation of free people who freely entered into a relationship of friendship with foreigners and a promise of protection with those who came to this land from Europe. Had it not been for the welcome received, the Europeans would not have survived, reminding us that peace and friendship at any time is lived and experienced through care and hospitality. For that welcome and protection, for the support given that allowed Europeans to survive, we who are non-natives of this land, must be eternally grateful and say thank you. Because of that original spirit of friendship, the Treaty of 1610 with the Church went beyond anything the Roman authorities conceded anywhere else at that time, when the Holy See recognized that the Mi’kmaq people could celebrate their newly accepted faith and its rituals, particularly the mass in their own language. This did not happen for most of the Roman Catholic Church until the 20th century.
The relevancy of the agreements we honour today, is that they underpin the rightful aspiration of the Mi’kmaq to their own autonomy, to a recognition that they are at home here, on their own unceded land and that they, with their language, culture, traditions and spirituality, all need to be respected. Furthermore, our gathering expresses a desire for a renewed positive future, all of which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for from the residents of Canada.
The fact that all treaties, whether signed in 1610, 1752 or at any other time, were not faithfully honoured, is a major source of strained relationships, misunderstanding and failed efforts that now cry out for change and improvement.
In Nova Scotia, some of our religious predecessors have expressed regret for the past. We wish to offer, once again personally and on behalf of the Catholic Church entrusted to our pastoral care, sincere apologies to all and any of the Mi’kmaq who have been mistreated and hurt by the residential school experience, by misguided official policies, in which Church members participated knowingly or unknowingly and for any other failures of our past.
We wish to publically acknowledge and recognize that the Mi’kmaq people freely entered into a relationship 400 years ago, expecting to be treated as brothers and sisters of Christ, and as sons and daughters of God. To the extent that this covenant was not honoured, we ask for your forgiveness and pray that we can find the courage to not only revisit the past, but learn from it, how to go forward in a renewed relationship between the Mi’kmaq , the Catholic Church, the Christian faith, as well as with all levels of government. We would now like to ask for your forgiveness and express an apology for all that has hurt the relationship between the Mi’kmaq and our Church over the past decades.
During this request for forgiveness, I invite the assembly to stand and remain standing, while Bishop Dunn and I kneel before you.
Archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth
Rite of Forgiveness
Archbishop Mancini and Bishop Dunn
Brothers and Sisters, Mi’kmaq and non-aboriginals, as we gather today to commemorate Treaty Day, we also assemble in the name of Jesus Christ, to celebrate our faith in him, to thank him for the vision of life, the truth of the gospel and the way to reconciliation and peace.
As leaders of the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia, it is important and necessary to seek pardon for our errors, to acknowledge our faults and failures and to confess our sins.
On this day, we personally and in our roles as leaders of the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia, kneel before the representatives of the Mi’kmaq nation to express our regret, sorrow and apology for the hurts, violence and abuse experienced in the Residential School of Shubenacadie. Lord have mercy.
For the participation of the Church in the promotion of misguided policies of assimilation and for our involvement in undermining aboriginal culture, language and spirituality. Christ have mercy.
For directly or indirectly supporting racist practices, for the involvement of this country’s many citizens, including Church members, in maintaining inhuman and inadequate life conditions for our Mi’kmaq neighbours, and for the indifference of so many to the plight of our Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters. Lord have mercy.
We ask all of you gathered here today, to grant us personally and everyone involved from our Church, the forgiveness which we need, if reconciliation is to take place, and pray that God speak through you in granting all of us the new beginning which we seek.
All assembled in the Cathedral are invited to respond:
May almighty God have mercy on these servants,
may God forgive the Church’s sins of commission and omission, and with God’s grace bring all of God’s family, Mi’kmaq and others, to a place of truth, reconciliation and peace.