Religion and Reconciliation — Focus of CMHR Lecture

News Story

Several hundred people gathered at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on March 26, 2018, to discuss the relationship between religion and reconciliation with Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Victoria Law School. The event was organized by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as the second instalment of its President’s Lecture Series and was supported by the Manitoba Multifaith Council, of which the local public affairs council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an active member.

Borrows is Anishinaabe and a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation on the shores of Georgian Bay, Ontario. His lecture focused on freedom of religion, Indigenous perspectives, reconciliation and his own spiritual journey as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Borrows commented, “I’ve always appreciated what [former Church] President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) said, which is to keep all the good that you have and then add to it. There’s so much good in Anishinaabe and other Indigenous cultures — and then we can add to it.”

Borrows was joined on stage by Dr. John Young, president and CEO of CMHR and also a Church member, and Dr. Niigaan Sinclair, professor in native studies at the University of Manitoba. Sinclair moderated a question-and-answer session during Borrows’ lecture. Many of the views Borrows shared are contained in his 2016 book titled Freedom and Indigenous Constitutionalism.

Regarding reconciliation, a topic that has been discussed throughout the country, Borrows stated that religion teaches people about forgiveness: “People of faith have to work together to support the challenges we are facing — and there are a lot of challenges because religion has not always interacted well with Indigenous peoples. We can do that better.” Concerning religious freedom, he stated, “Freedom of religion is to encourage agency, freedom and choice of folks as they are affiliating and worshipping.”

Young said he was pleased to welcome Borrows, a respected lawyer who is recognized internationally for his many contributions to jurisprudence. Young commented: “One of the many great points that Dr. Borrows made is that our individual identity is rarely simple — many people have complex identities, drawn from layers of personal experience and from experiences they gain vicariously through the lived experiences of their ancestors. Gaining an appreciation for this richness is fundamental to cultivating the respect and tolerance that reconciliation requires.”

Leaders of the Manitoba Multifaith Council also attended and supported the event. Belle Jarniewski, president of the council, commented: “Religious communities are struggling to find ways to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action. Working together can help them engage more in promoting reconciliation among different faiths and Indigenous peoples. What Dr. Borrows spoke about was that rather than changing the whole system, we could look into Indigenous justice as a way of bringing together two systems of justice that work better for our Canadian population.”

Jarniewski further said, “What is it that we can do? What concrete steps can we take? … I think that many of us have attended various events and are still thinking about the best ways we can respond to these calls to action. This will be ongoing; it’s not something that you do just one day and not the next. This is something that we need to continue working on every single day and every year, and it makes a part of who we are, of our reality as Canadians.”

Borrows and Young clearly articulated throughout the evening the necessity of inclusive dialogue when discussing freedom of cultural expression, freedom of religion and the role of laws and traditions in society.

Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated: “Whether they be Jewish, Islamic, or fellow Christians, whether Hindu, Buddhist, or other, we can live together with mutual admiration and respect, without forsaking our religious convictions. Things we have in common are greater than are our differences. Peace is a prime priority that pleads for our pursuit” (“Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” Oct. 2002 general conference).

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