INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: All the way to the top--CPT Steering Committee endorses UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

27 October 2016
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY: All the way to the top--CPT Steering Committee endorses UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples) 

by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

We have described to you a mountain. We have shown you a path to the top. We call on you to do the climbing-Judge Murray Sinclair (Commissioner for Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

One spring day, CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team climbed a Kurdish mountain. Our partners planned the day and, at the beginning of the path, villagers came out to wave at us as we began the trek. Our vegetarian teammate graciously carried the pot of meat for the barbeque. We thought it made sense to hike partway and then lighten our load by burning the wood to cook the chicken, which we would eat with all the other food we hauled.  Although we thought we knew how to do this, it became apparent that despite our good intentions, we had no idea how the day would go. When we wanted to stop, our Kurdish partners told us to keep going— all the way to the top!

The trail was a goat track with stones and holes in the way. We had to clamber over large rocks in the pathway. It would have been easy to turn an ankle or to fall off the side. Yet our partners told us that our goal was the top ridge, when finally we could rest, put down the burdens of the meat pot, firewood and a huge stack of bread and have a feast together. 

Now CPT is again climbing a mountain—the one described by Judge Murray Sinclair at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Canada through which the world was exposed to the reality and horrors of 150 years of residential schools in Canada. The commission spent six years traveling to different parts of Canada to hear the testimony of approximately six thousand Indigenous people. They heard of children as young as three years taken away from their families and placed in residential schools to assimilate them into European settler society—a policy Justice Sinclair would declare “cultural genocide.” As a response, the commissioners of the TRC laid out ninety-four calls to action that communities and institutions on Indigenous lands can take to work for reconciliation.

Number 48 relates to churches, other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada ( It tells us to read the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to use this to guide our decisions and policies. This Declaration of 46 short articles was written by an international working group of Indigenous rights-bearers and shaped by over twenty years of negotiation with state representatives. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 and finally supported by Canada, and the USA in 2010. 

Recently, the Christian Peacemaker Teams Steering Committee came to consensus to endorse UNDRIP. We acknowledge that CPT works alongside indigenous peoples on Turtle Island (also known as North and Central America). However, there are also indigenous peoples in all the regions we have teams and where we may have teams someday in the future. UNDRIP and our scrutiny of policy, programs and practices through the lens of UNDRIP is integral to building partnerships to transform violence and oppression.

At the same time, we encourage CPT supporters and faith communities to consider what they can do to respond to the TRC’s calls to action and uphold the Declaration in their work for reconciliation.  In Canada, for example, there is a Bill C-262 in Parliament and corresponding campaign to push the federal government to “adopt and implement” UNDRIP. Check it out at: You too can educate and advocate. UNDRIP is a document that everyone should read and to which they should hold their respective governments, communities and organizations accountable. 

 Climbing the mountain is not easy and we must recognize that we will stumble and fall along the way. But it is a path we must walk to live up to our values as a faith-based organization to create relationships that, “transform structures of domination and oppression and embody non-violence and liberating love.”