Fast for Indigenous Human Rights

by
Deborah Froese
;
September 7, 2017
;
Mennonite Church Canada
sketch of feet walking
Head and shoulder shot of man with winter trees in background
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Bill C-262 is a big deal. So big, that some are taking up a fast in the days leading up to the bill’s debate in the House of Commons.

One of those people is Steve Heinrichs. As director of  Indigenous Relations for Mennonite Church Canada, Heinrichs will begin a fast on September 13. If the Bill passes, it will change laws that are barriers to the implementation of UNDRIP.

Choosing Sept. 13 to start the fast is no accident. That’s the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the United Nations General Assembly.

Bill C-262 was crafted by Romeo Saganash – a residential school survivor and Member of Parliament (NDP). It is designed to help Canada do what it has publicly committed to do and begin the process of harmonizing Canada’s laws with the Declaration.

Heinrichs says fasting isn’t primarily about giving up food. “It’s about taking action and ‘walking the talk’ about what we believe. It’s about hungering for justice and extending compassion. It’s about restoring covenant.”

He paraphrases Isaiah 58:, “This is the kind of fast I long for!/Loose the bonds of injustice/Let the oppressed go free…”

Others are invited to join the rolling fast, which will continue for 46 days – one day for each article of the Declaration (to sign on to the fast, go to http://pfir.ca/fast-for-indigenous-human-rights/). The fast concludes on October 28th. Around that time, the second reading of Bill C-262 will take place before parliament, followed by a vote.

Although he isn’t sure how long he will fast, Heinrich says he is taking at least two weeks of vacation time to participate. He intends to spend part of each day praying in silence outside the Winnipeg office of his friend, Robert Falcon-Ouellette. Falcon-Ouellette (Red Pheasant First Nation, Sask.) is the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, so his office symbolizes those who have the power to pass Bill C-262.

Heinrichs calls this “a potential kairos moment, an opening for societal change” and says that fasting can be a powerful spiritual act. “It also has profound political capacity as a summons to those in places of authority to take action on behalf of the oppressed."

Heinrichs is a firm believer in taking action.“Our deeds need to catch up to our words and promises around reconciliation. Of course, that call applies not only to the government, but for me personally as well, and the peace church of which I’m a part.”

Whether people are able to fast or not, Heinrichs is urging everyone to take public action in support of Bill C-262. He offers several ideas:

  • Invite friends and co-workers to sign the petition for Bill C-262 at www.adoptandimplement.com
  • Visit your Member of Parliament and ask them to support Bill C-262
  • Organize a creative public witness at your MP’s office (e.g., vigil, sing-in, sit-in or office party).
  • Write a prayer, poem, or song for justice, and share it on social media
  • Create a nonviolent street demonstration for Bill C-262
  • Write articles of the Declaration on busy sidewalks with ‘street chalk’
  • Encourage elected officials to support Bill C-262 by hosting a postcard writing party at your home (and remember, you don’t have to have make any snacks because you’re fasting!) For free postcards supporting Bill C-262, see www.commonword.ca/go/1283
  • Pray. Listen. Pray some more. And the Spirit will give you ideas beyond what you can ask for or imagine.

For more information about the Fast for Indigenous Human Rights, and to join in, see http://pfir.ca/fast-for-indigenous-human-rights/.