Church Leaders Launch Land Claims Petition: Campaign Linked to Three-Year Jubilee Effort

Article excerpt

Ottawa

Archbishop Michael Peers, the Primate, joined other Canadian church leaders on Parliament Hill to help launch a petition campaign in support of aboriginal land rights in Canada.

Amid a backdrop of clashes between Native fishers and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers at Burnt Church, N.B., church leaders called on Ottawa to set up an independent commission with the clout to implement aboriginal, land, treaty and inherent rights.

However, they said at a news conference Sept. 25, the campaign was not triggered by the dispute at Burnt Church but was part of the churches' three-year Jubilee effort that began with a call two years ago for the cancellation of unpayable debts by the world's poorest nations.

The news conference came just before a bold move by Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin, who proposed an immediate moratorium on debt repayment for the most heavily indebted countries and a lightening of conditions attached to debt relief.

Mr. Martin's proposal came during late-September meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Prague. His proposals still fall short of Jubilee's ultimate goals but were welcomed by the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative as "a significant step forward."

At the news conference, Archbishop Peers said, "This year the concern is for land, for a new beginning in an issue that has shown no progress for many years. We want to encourage this initiative afresh as a celebration of the Jubilee."

The petition campaign is being co-ordinated by the church-based Aboriginal Rights Coalition and CEJI. It seeks to right what the groups called the "disfigured" relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Also at the news conference were leaders of the United, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches along with the head of the Canadian Council of Churches.

A seven-page letter endorsed by 12 Canadian church leaders was released asking members of the various congregations for prayerful reflection on justice for aboriginal peoples. …