Canada can learn from Amazon Synod’s teaching on environment and indigenous people

18 September 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

The upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon will challenge Canada regarding its own relationship with Indigenous peoples and the environment, said Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina.

“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.

Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen

A major focus of the Oct. 6-27 Amazon synod will be recasting the mission of the Church in a vast region that wrestles with complex political, cultural, ecological and pastoral issues, and where Indigenous people must cope with historical injustice and ongoing threats to their way of life.

Many of the themes relate directly to Canada in terms of respecting the natural environment and native cultures, forging new relationships founded on dignity and respect and bringing the sacraments to remote regions.

Although no Canadian bishops have been invited to participate in the synod, Bolen will attend a parallel conference on the Amazon being held Oct. 15-21 in Rome organized by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States (JCCU).

He’ll be joined by Sr. Priscilla Solomon, an Ojibway from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“The synod offers an opportunity for Canadians to consider the relationship between Canada and the pan-Amazonian region,” Bolen said.

“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.”

The synod will invite Canadians to consider the question, “How are we implicated?” he said, pointing to Canadian mining companies operating in the Amazon region. That will lead to questions on “what can we do as a Church, societally, in our communities, our families, our personal lifestyle,” he said.

Many of the issues confronting some 400 distinct Indigenous groups in the vast Amazon basin are similar to problems discussed by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Indigenous peoples are systematically on the losing end of access to health facilities, clean water and education,” Bolen 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.

In March, Bolen attended a conference in Washington that brought together representatives from several of the world’s large ecological areas, called biomes.

The pan-Amazon region is a biome, as is Canada’s boreal forest, which covers 40 per cent of the country’s land mass and is home to many Indigenous peoples.

Although the conference was focused on threats to the cultures and environment of the Amazon, delegates were asked to reflect on parallel challenges in their own biomes.

“We heard powerful presentations about the way if deterioration in the Amazon continues at the current pace, it’s going to have a massive impact,” Bolen said. “Scientists are concerned the Amazon is coming to a tipping point, creating conditions so hot and dry, the forests cannot regenerate.”

Delegates 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.”