By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
CCN – The Amazon Synod of Bishops in Rome next month challenges Canada regarding her own relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the environment says Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina.
In Canada, “there’s been a great deal of focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Archbishop Bolen said. “What I’m focusing on these days are the societal indicators of health and well-being.”
“Indigenous peoples are systematically on the losing end of access to health facilities, clean water, and education,” he said. They are on the losing end of “incarceration rates, addiction rates and unemployment rates.”
“We have a problem and it’s not an Indigenous problem, it’s a Canadian problem,” he said. “We need to find a new way of walking together.”
“I’ve come to realize we have much to learn from Indigenous Peoples on living on the land in a healthy and sustainable way,” the archbishop said.
The upcoming synod offers an opportunity for Canadians to consider the relationship between Canada and the pan-Amazonian region, Bolen said in a recent interview.
Archbishop Donald Bolen also addressed the connections between Canada and the Amazon in a keynote address Sept. 14 at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon: “What is happening in the Amazon – both to the environment and to Indigenous People – what is happening to the Amazon rain forest is of vital importance to all of us.”
“How are we affected by the current crisis in the Amazon? That invites us to look at the environmental impact and degradation of one of the big lungs of the earth, as the Amazon is on fire right now.”
It invites Canadians to consider the question, “How are we implicated?” said the Archbishop of Regina, who pointed specifically to Canadian mining companies operating in the Amazon region.
These lead to questions on “what can we do as a church, societally, in our communities, our families, our personal lifestyle,” he said.
In Canada, the boreal forest covers 40 per cent of the country’s land mass and is home to many Indigenous Peoples which have their own economies, Bolen said.
Though no Canadian bishops have been invited to participate in the Amazon synod, Bolen is part of a delegation organized by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States (JCCU) to attend a parallel event in Rome entitled ‘La Tienda de la Casa Comun.’
‘La Tienda de al Casa Comun’ is organized by the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) along with religious congregations, and institutions. It will offer conferences, vigils, prayer, testimonies and artistic presentations as well as chances for participants to interact with the synod fathers from the nine countries encompassing the Amazon region.
Joining Archbishop Bolen from Canada will be Sr. Priscilla Solomon, CSJ, an Ojibway from Sault Ste. Marie and a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Cecila Calvo of the JCCU Office of Justice Ecology will lead the delegation that will also include Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in Rosebud, ND, and Richard Coll, a staff member of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. They will be in Rome from Oct. 15-21.
This will not be Bolen’s first experience with REPAM, a Pan-Amazonian group of church organizations. He had been invited to participate in a conference REPAM organized last March in Washington, D.C. organized by REPAM, that brought together representatives from four or five biomes or ecological areas from around the world.
“The pan-Amazon region is a biome; the Canadian boreal forest is a biome,” Bolen said. There were others from the Congo Basin, from Southeast Asia and others from Europe and North America. Also attending were Indigenous leaders from the Amazon.
Out of that conference, a number of questions surfaced. “What is happening in the Amazon, to the environment and to Indigenous Peoples?”
“We took the lead from Laudato Si’ to listen to the suffering of the earth and the suffering of the poor,” Bolen said, noting the environmental degradation in the region.
“We did hear powerful presentations about the way if deterioration in the Amazon continues at the current pace, it’s going to have a massive impact,” he said. “Scientists are concerned the Amazon is coming to a tipping point, creating conditions so hot and dry, the forests cannot regenerate.”
They also heard presentations from Indigenous peoples who are being marginalized, moved off their land, and experiencing human rights abuses, he said. “New political leaders are not responding to the needs of the people.”
Indigenous communities are affected by the building of dams to generate power for mines that disrupt the flow of rivers, and affect both aquatic and human life, he said. “The region is suffering from the insatiable demand for oil and minerals.”
The conference also asked them to reflect on whether there are parallel challenges in their own biomes. In Rome, Bolen and the JCCU delegation will continue these reflection in the parallel event “La Tienda” to the Amazon synod in October.