We are Filipino-Canadian peacebuilders and human rights advocates working among indigenous peoples in Mindanao, Philippines. We support Bill C-262. We support indigenous human rights in our beloved Canada. We urge the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to reconciliation by supporting the passage of this important bill through the Senate. Looking through our missionary lenses, we see it as a model of international human rights; and, we see it as an added credential for us as Canadian peace-and-reconciliation workers among IPs in the Philippines.

We are involved in peace and reconciliation ministries among the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Here, the multicultural staff at the Davao City office celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. 09 August 2018. PBCI Photo.

Steve Heinrichs’ Facebook post of 10 April prompted us to get updated with Bill C-262: An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Conservatives,” Steve’s post said, “are filibustering to prevent the Indigenous Rights Act from going to committee.” He encouraged his readers to email Senator Don Plett (Opposition Whip) to “demand that Conservative Senators back down from blocking due process.”

Understanding the status of Bill C-262

So, we checked on Manitoba Senator Don Plett’s online statements. He denied Conservative senators were delaying Bill C-262. We also noticed his reply to those who emailed him that were posted as comments in Steve’s post. Senator Plett pointed out that “if supporters of this bill are looking for someone to blame for its slow progress, they should be looking at the Liberal government. If the government was truly committed to this legislation,” he averred, “they could have either introduced it as government legislation or taken the steps necessary to ensure that this bill was given the priority of government legislation.” The Manitoba Tory senator insisted that C-262 could have been guaranteed much quicker passage if the bill was a government legislation rather than a Private Member’s Bill (PMB).

Then we checked on what the Liberals are saying. We found a CBC article by J.P. Tasker quoting Attorney General David Lametti and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett demanding the Conservative leader in the Senate “to put an end to procedural manoeuvres… that threaten to derail legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canada.” Lametti and Bennett were quoted saying that “stall tactics” were employed by Conservative senators. Those tactics included ‘adjourning debate’ — a tool used to punt a vote or delay further discussion. This is how the Tories are blocking Bill C-262 from getting a timely study at the Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee, according to this report.

We’re beginning to understand the debate. And we can’t help but look at this issue from our perspective as a Filipino-Canadian missionary unit working among the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the Philippines.

Our missionary lenses

The first set of lenses through which we look at Bill C-262 is The First and Greatest Commandment — to love the Great Creator and our neighbors as we love our being. “Never forget that justice,” Cornel West pointed out, “is what love looks like in public.” We love the Great Creator. We seek to love the IPs the way we love our own beings. Advocating justice for the IPs — in Canada, in the Philippines and all over this beautiful planet — is an expression of love in the public arena.

Our second lens through which we look at Bill C-262 is the Vision Statement of Mennonite Church Canada: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” We were sent by Mennonite Church Canada to the PeaceBuilders Community in the Philippines. At PeaceBuilders Community, we seek to be a funnel of the Great Creator’s “healing and hope” by living a life of “grace, joy and peace.” By demonstrating and articulating the Gospel through our ministries of peace and reconciliation, we seek God’s peace locally and globally. Standing in solidarity with the IPs in Canada is one effective demonstration of the Creator’s unconditional love incarnated in the life of Jesus. We seek to demonstrate this love by joining the global movement to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. We also demonstrate this love by working with various government and non-government organizations to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Philippine government is a signatory to the UNDRIP but we still need to work on its implementation. We pray that Canada would be a signatory too, harmonize it with Canadian laws, implement it sincerely, and genuinely reconcile with the Indigenous Peoples in this great land, and thereby be a model of peace and reconciliation in this conflicted world.

A model for upholding international human rights

Last month, Victoria-Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was quoted by Financial Times that there is a “silent war being waged on Philippine indigenous communities.” The Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines have been suffering from the oppressive presence of armed groups in the Philippines who are at war with each other for the control of the rich natural resources within their ancestral domains.

Lumad (IPs in Mindanao) evacuated their villages due to militarization and armed conflict affecting their homes. July 2018. PBCI file photo.

Joji and I are involved in human rights advocacy through a wide-coalition of civil society organizations called the Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties. We are seeking global support and models to effectively address the challenges we’re facing in the field.

It was an encouragement for us when this Bill C-262 was passed by the House of Commons last 30 May 2018. Because we live in a “glo-cal world” — where the global events affect local situations, we started following the development of this bill.

In an article by Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, he mentioned that “Bill C-262 is a model for reconciliation, upholding international human rights.” He laid down his appreciation of Canada as an active player and having a “central role in the drafting and adoption of many of the key instruments that make up the international human rights system.” He also presented three positive and innovative approaches offered by Bill C-262:

  1. The bill would require the federal government to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to develop a plan of action for implementation of the UN Declaration.
  2. The bill specifically requires the federal government to review domestic laws and policies to bring them into line with the requirements of the Declaration.
  3. The bill requires regular reporting to Parliament on the progress that has been made.

Neve emphasized that “these are all crucial tools for closing the implementation gap.” He urged Canadians to move ahead with concrete implementation of UNDRIP as the correction of the “grave human rights violations that have been inflicted on Indigenous peoples throughout Canadian history.”

An added credential for us as peace and reconciliation workers

In 2006, a datu (local chieftain) in an IP community politely asked me: “So, Dann, you’re a Canadian missionary helping the Indigenous Peoples?”

“Yes, Datu, with my wife here, Joji,” I answered.

“And what kind of help are you bringing with you?” he further inquired.

I took out my iPad and shared our Peace and Reconciliation advocacy based on a peace theology. He was very skeptic yet very gentle in his responses. He mentioned about Christian missionaries who have Christianized many IP communities and ended up devastating their indigenous cultures, their way of life, and their environment.

Throughout the years of our friendship, this local chieftain shared with me, through stories, their indigenous worldview — that is, what to them is Final Reality. Having a glimpse of understanding of their worldview helped me appreciate their value system — that is, what to them are important. Getting educated, through his stories, about their worldview and value system helped me get a better understanding of their behavior patterns — that is, what to them are right and proper.

Last month, I shared with him that I’m planning to visit Canada for the whole month of June until the second week of July.

“Ah. You’re going to visit that great land,” he responded. Then he asked me, “What do you understand of my fellow IP’s struggles in Canada?”

I looked at him without an immediate answer.

He smiled. Then touched my shoulders with much assurance, saying: “When you come back from Canada in July, tell me stories of my indigenous sisters and brothers in that great land.”

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We are sent by Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with our international community.