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EDITORIAL: Push to rebuild McDougal Church an act of ignorance

If Canadians truly wish to honour the process of Reconciliation we need to listen to Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

Reconciliation— It is a challenging word that we have been unpacking and grappling with since it first entered the Zeitgeist in the early 2000s.

The term has come to encompass the steps Canada as a country needs to take to atone for the sins committed against Indigenous people during the process of colonization.

One need only scratch the surface of Canada’s history to understand the shameful treatment of Indigenous people for more than 150 years.

After settlers first arrived Residential Schools were created to help “civilize” the Indigenous people they came in contact with.

These schools were essentially tantamount to cultural genocide, aggressively stripping Indigenous people of their traditions, history and language.

With a quick Google search, one can uncover the atrocities children faced at these schools— Including mental, physical and sexual abuse.

The last Residential School shut down in the 1990s— But, our country will bear the scars left by these schools for generations.

Residential Schools mark the start of a history built on white supremacy that has drowned out the voices of the disenfranchised.

This makes the push to rebuild the McDougal Church all the more troubling.

A fire destroyed the church in May of 2017 in what an investigation deemed to be arson— Since then the Stoney Mission Society has been pushing to restore the building. The Society received the go-ahead from the province to rebuild after it was determined a signifigant amount of material from the structure was salvagable.

However, the Stoney Nakoda Nation has strongly opposed the rebuilding of the church.

They have said the project is "not an act of reconciliation" and they have sent a formal request to the province to rescind the historic resource designation, citing the church "symbolizes settler colonialism and the church's subjugation of the Stoney Nakoda people."

The Nation has said the church sits on lands illegally taken from Stoney Indian reserves 142, 143 and 144.

"The province of Alberta's statement of significance of the site ... does not include reference to this or any information that captures a painful legacy that for many Stoney Nakoda members is associated with the church," stated a Feb. 11, 2020 letter to the province, signed by all three Stoney Nakoda Chiefs – Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon, Chiniki Chief Aaron Young and Wesley Chief Clifford Poucette.

Several elders from the nation have spoken out against the church because it serves as a reminder of the trauma inflicted on Residential School survivors.

"I know there is a lot of history with the McDougalls, and even though the United Church has apologized, the McDougall Society needs to work on apologizing and hearing the other side," Elder Margaret Rider said at the MD of Bighorn appeal hearing in February.

Despite these protests McDougall Stoney Mission Society president Brenda McQueen has made it clear she is determined to dismiss the concerns of many Stoney Nakoda Nation members.

McQueen maintains the restoration of the church is an act of Reconciliation. She added that the church’s founder, John McDougall died nine years before the residential school was established in Morley.

McQueen has said she supports the efforts of all people to "fight against racism," but noted, "I do not believe that the erasing of painful or negative history is the best way to approach this."

The most challenging part of Reconciliation is stepping back and understanding that colonizers have led the conversation in Canada—Stoney Nakoda Nation members have made it clear that they do not want this church rebuilt.

If Canadians truly wish to honour the process of Reconciliation we need to listen to them.