Decorative image
William F. Hertha; used under Creative Commons license

How the decolonization working group supports the GCE

Did you know that since September 2022, the General Council Executive (GCE) continues to work to intentionally decolonize its structure, format, and decision-making processes. It is inspired, in part from its commitment to deepen relationships with the National Indigenous Council and a desire to live into the Caretakers’ Calls to the Church from the Caretakers of our Indigenous Circle. The decolonization work, however, is much broader than a singular focus on Indigenous Peoples alone, and so the decolonization work is also rooted in the church’s commitment to becoming an anti-racism church, and understanding decolonization from a broad and diverse perspective of colonization.

The GCE has been working on three different but inter-related processes: decolonizing the work of the GCE including its decision-making processes; engagement with education on equity, diversity and anti-oppression, and equity support at meetings.

Decolonization is long-term and sustained work that has implications for how the GCE does its work: how it makes decisions, and even how and where it meets. The decolonization working group guides the work:

  • Teresa Burnett-Cole
  • Kit Loewen
  • Samuel Dansokho
  • Murray Pruden (as staff)
  • Adele Halliday (as staff lead)

“Decolonization is faithful work that we are called to do, and we do this work inspired by the Spirit,” says Halliday. “We frame it this way: decolonization is about examining how colonial systems might manifest themselves in GCE’s work, and then trying to change those.”

The working group initially started with a focus on colonization as it relates to Indigenous peoples, but recognized decolonizing needed to encompass a much broader mandate – paying close attention to colonization as it affects those who experience from countries around the world who have also experienced colonization.

Still, there is no quick fix when it comes to dismantling colonizing structures that have been in place for centuries, says Rev. Dr. Teresa Burnett-Cole.

“Decolonization in and of itself does not undo the effects of colonization,” she says. “We talk about decolonization a lot, but we haven’t made much headway in dismantling the church structures and policies that will demonstrate to the wider church that change is happening.”

As such, ongoing work on colonialism and decolonization must also have an action component, Halliday says, adding actions may involve reparations. Because it has individual and collective components, decolonization involves examining ourselves – spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally – and our relationship with the land.

The United Church's National Anti-Racism Action Plan, in the section on "Education and Awareness”, also highlights the importance of decolonization of church structures.

So, what does this look like in the quarterly GCE meetings? Here are a few practical ways that the principles of decolonization are lived out by the Executive (note that implementing these without also doing the education and learning about the reach of colonization is only scratching the surface of decolonizing church structures):

  • Diverse identities are affirmed in language and format, and through keeping the Equity Aspirations (About Anti-Racism > Downloads) front and centre for the whole meeting.
  • An Equity Support Team member listens to the language used during the meeting and notes if redirection may be needed. The team member reports to the Executive at the end of every meeting with the goal of constant reflection on decolonization.
  • Decisions are made more by consensus, using blue and orange cards to indicate warmth or coolness to an idea or statement. There is thoughtful consideration into which decisions are made and the process used to make them.

These resources can help you engage in decolonizing with your church board or congregation:

Equity aspirations

Our Home on Treaty Land: Raymond C. Aldred and Matthew R. Anderson

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Bob Joseph

KAIROS Blanket Exercise

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview: A Decolonized Approach to Christian Doctrine: Randy S. Woodley

Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization: ed. Steve Heinrichs