World Water Day, March 22. What will you do to make a difference?

Did you know??? In the fall of 2016, 151 drinking water advisories were in effect in First Nations reserves across Canada.
More than 100 water advisories are routinely in effect, with some First Nations reserves living under advisories for nearly 20 years.


March 2017

To The Honourable Carolyn Bennett,
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

As a Canadian Unitarian, I am writing to voice concern regarding access to safe, drinkable water and adequate sanitation in Canada.

Canadians need to see a progress report on your promise to eliminate the need for boil water advisories in First Nations by 2021. Further, I suggest advancing the target to 2018 as being both achievable and consistent with the priority. Canada certainly has the technology, and with a more focused effort and resources, this necessity for clean water can surely be provided for all Canadians.

Our Unitarian Universalist Principles guide us to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and to “respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”. In support of these principles, the Canadian Unitarian Council passed a motion in 2015, that called for all to have the right to clean air, water and soil. Delivering on this right for First Nations is clearly a priority.

A good step towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples would be to ensure clean drinking water is available to all First Nation communities. Clean water is a human right. Unsafe drinking water in First Nations isn’t just an Indigenous issue — it’s also a Canadian issue. How can there be reconciliation in a country where many First Nations experience chronic water issues, while neighbouring municipalities enjoy reliable access to safe, clean drinking water?

Your government’s own expert advisory panel states that in order to ensure water and sanitation in First Nations communities meets the standards enjoyed by other people in Canada, the resource gap in infrastructure and training must be closed. The barrier created by federal policies and procedures for funding must be remodeled or removed if the water needs of First Nations are to be met in a fair and timely way. The advisory panel also called for immediate measures to address the needs of those First Nations communities that have no running water or sewage.

I therefore support the recommendations of the David Suzuki Foundation in asking the federal government to:
• Be transparent about its progress toward ending drinking water advisories in First Nations;
• Simplify the process to ensure bureaucracy does not impede steps toward ending the drinking water crisis; and
• Support a First Nations-led approach to drinking water.

Access to safe drinkable water and adequate sanitation are basic human rights. No one should be denied this right. Further delays are inexcusable.

Canadian Unitarians Commit to Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion

Canadian Unitarians:

  • Put our first and second principles into action by welcoming refugees, participating in marches and looking to find common ground with those we disagree with;
  • Intentionally reach out to and work with other faith groups to combat ignorance;
  • Accept and continue the work when setbacks occur.

We do this because we believe we are stronger together.

Download “Diversity is our strength” and “We are stronger together” posters as pdfs.

Unitarian Universalists are no strangers to struggle. From Selma to Standing Rock, in the US to affirming the right to die with dignity 1973, and affirming abortion rights in 1980 in Canada.

Despite this history, however, the times we live in today often seem particularly challenging. In the months following the 2016 US election, the climate of fear and hate that seems to have arisen in the US has many people wondering “could it happen here?” With the February 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque, some worry it already has.

Canadian Unitarians may be wondering how our faith and our commitment to justice, diversity, and inclusion should inform our response. Here are some ways we can act:

Remember our principles and sources

Our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, while our second calls on us to practice justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Taken together, these principles serve as a powerful reminder that all human lives matter – including people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and many other groups who may feel particularly at risk. By providing welcoming congregations, by offering refugee sponsorship, by participating in the January 2017 Women’s Marches, and through many other initiatives, Canadian Unitarians have and must continue to live out our principles by being on the side of love.

This is difficult and necessary when it comes to those with whom we disagree.  We must strive not to see those who hold opposing views as the enemy, but must maintain the courage of our convictions while keeping an open mind and seeking to find areas of common ground.

Work with other faith groups

Unitarians were active participants in the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington D.C. and in many other cities, but they were far from alone. People from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other backgrounds came together to act for human rights and against bigotry and discrimination.

Unitarians were proud to march with members of other faiths in the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 60s, and it’s equally important that we show up today. Indeed, getting to know members of other faiths better may be the single most important thing we can do to combat ignorance. Many UU congregations already have relationships with local mosques, but for those that don’t, now is the time to establish one. Consider organizing an event, such as a prayer vigil or an intergenerational meal, and invite members of local mosques, synagogues, temples, and churches. It’s also important to reach out to those of no faith or the “spiritual but not religious” to show them the valuable role organized religion can play in working for social justice. Sharing stories of multifaith action on Facebook is a great way to spread the word without seeming to evangelize.

Don’t lose sight of history

While the present era may seem uniquely challenging, it’s important to bear in mind that it is by no means the only time in history when Unitarians – and indeed, humanity – have faced difficult circumstances. We survived World War II and the Cold War, and there’s reason to believe we will prevail again. It’s also worth remembering that the struggles for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and many other causes have rarely gone in a straight line, and setbacks have accompanied every seeming step forward.

The CUC, for instance, passed a resolution in 1978 calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that most provinces began to amend their laws. Few could have predicted then, however, that same-sex marriage would be legalized across the country in 2005, a move Unitarians had worked hard for and which had five Canadian Unitarian youth from Calgary parading on Parliament Hill with a 500-foot rainbow banner.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

We are stronger together.

Written by Kenzie Love for the CUC National Voice Team. Kenzie is a freelance journalist and a member of the Unitarian Church of Calgary. The CUC National Voice Team consists of the President of the CUC Board, the President of the UU Ministers of Canada, and the CUC Executive Director.

Standing With Standing Rock

L to R: Lynn Harrison, Shawn Newton, Danielle Webber, Debra Faulk and Marian Stewart from Lakehead Unitarian Universalist Church located in Kirkland, WA.

L to R: Lynn Harrison, Shawn Newton, Danielle Webber, Debra Faulk and Marian Stewart from Lakehead Unitarian Universalist Church located in Kirkland, WA.

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked members of the clergy to come to Selma, Alabama to bear witness and stand in solidarity with African-Americans whose basic human rights were being denied. A significant number of the clergy who responded to his call were Unitarian Universalist ministers, quite a few from Canada.

As the months rolled by in 2016, another situation was unfolding in North Dakota which demanded witness and solidarity.  This time, of course, the issue was the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, and its potential to not only desecrate land sacred to native people, but to endanger the water supply, health, and human rights of indigenous sovereign nations.  As the situation has unfolded, ministers from many faith traditions have gone to North Dakota to pray, show support, and protest with the water protectors.

As the situation intensified in November, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, again asked clergy to gather for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4th.  Believing that police and others respect the moral witness of clergy members, Chief Looking Horse called for a gathering to support the youth of his nation in protesting the pipeline and calling for a halt to construction, at least along the currently proposed route.

Unitarian ministers in Canada responded with support, prayer, and messages of solidarity.  Rev. Debra Faulk (Calgary), Rev. Shawn Newton (Toronto First), Rev. Lynn Harrison (Toronto First), and Danielle Webber (intern minister at Toronto First) decided that they were called to personally make the trip to Standing Rock. Continue reading

Canadian UUs Marching for Women’s Rights January 21, 2017

Canadian UUs March for Women's Rights: January 21, 2017

On January 21st, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States, well over three million people (Canadian UUs among them!) participated in the Women’s March on Washington, and Sister Marches worldwide. The marches were a grassroots initiative to protect the rights of women and marginalized individuals who have been threatened by the politics of fear, and aggressive, misogynistic rhetoric that came out of this most recent U.S. election.

Canadian Unitarians took part, both travelling to Washington DC and in solidarity marches from coast to coast across Canada. Click through the album of photos above, and read on for some first hand accounts of the experience, below.

Four Experiences From Women’s Marches

Women’s March

By Rev. Linda Thomson, CUC Congregational Development

On Friday January 20th, I was so sad, so depressed and so overwhelmed. The day came and went and no one pinched me, to wake me from my bad dream and no one jumped up and yelled “April Fools”. A man who espoused views I found repugnant, who seemed the very picture of opportunism, and who had allied himself with others who sought to undermine rights of so many groups was, in fact, the President of the United States. In the days since the election I’d heard stories of hate crimes in Canada, talked to people who had encountered emboldened and amplified misogyny and racism. What had happened in the US was affecting Canada. The interconnections between countries made what had happened in the US a problem for me, in Canada, and for others around the world.

Several women from the Hamilton congregation were headed to Washington, but my schedule didn’t allow that – so as I learned about regional events I started to pay attention. My daughter and I decided sometime mid-week to attend the local event in Hamilton, Ontario. Going anywhere with a toddler requires some planning, so Kate and I left early, so we could get settled, get fed, and be ready to participate, hopefully in a time frame that would let my grandson, tucked into his baby carrier, nap. He loved the crowd, and eventually fell asleep.

The decision to attend was based in my desire to do something. I felt so restless and disturbed about the inauguration. I determined that the event would be a good time to wear my clerical collar, a message, to any who noticed, that religion was not necessarily connected to the views we were hearing espoused. What I came away with was something I didn’t expect. During the course of the day I was reminded of earlier decades when people protested segregation, war, and misogyny. And yes, part of me nodded at the sign, held high by a women in her 70’s, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh*t”, but I was also reminded that the public resolve, displayed in earlier decades had made a difference. I was also reminded that I believe and often remind myself, “progress is not linear”. Seeing the people gathered outside of Hamilton City Hall, and seeing the pictures in my newsfeed filled me with hope. The day helped me see that these are hard times for progressives, but that people, in large numbers, are saying, “hold on”.

The rally and march were a one day event, but they helped lift me from the funk I had found myself in. I know the work is not done. The issues we face are not connected to one man, to one presidency. There are fear-based winds blowing. But knowing that over a million people took time on Jan. 21st, to put those who would divide us and frighten us, on notice, has made me feel better and stronger AND more determined. I am reminded of the poem, The Low Road, by Marge Piercy

It goes one at a time.
It starts when you care to act.
It starts when you do it again
after they say no.
It starts when you say we
and know who you mean;
and each day you mean
one more.

I am A Canadian: Why I Went to the Women’s March in Washington DC

By Yvette Roberts, Neighbourhood UU Congregation

Background: My name is Yvette Roberts. For the past 10 years or so I have been a Unitarian Universalist attending at Neighbourhood UU Congregation in Toronto. For the past 20 plus years I have been a social worker primarily working with and for vulnerable women. More specifically with young women, adolescent women, who are pregnant or parenting. I am helping them to access resources (food, clothing, housing, lawyers, education, childcare, medical and counselling supports) and to understand and navigate the many systems affecting and controlling their lives (child welfare, landlord & tenant, welfare, employment standards, family law, politics). Helping them to learn to speak for and advocate for themselves and when necessary speaking and advocating on their behalf. For the past 6 years I have been the coordinator of a network in Toronto called Young Parents No Fixed Address.

Leading up to the March: Sometime in mid to late 2016 I was reading a book by Anne Cameron titled The Daughters of Copper Woman and that was stirring things within me and reminding me of the decades, even centuries, of violence towards and patriarchal dismissal of women. How little has changed. How we have, in my opinion, settled and become complacent with things just always being this way. Near the end of that book the native elder who was offering the author her teachings stated words to the effect of: Women from all traditions and cultures and rituals need to join together now, share their teachings and their medicines and their struggles (which are often the same) and remember that they are the healers, the caretakers of this earth and the bringers of life.

Sometime after finishing this book I had a dream and it was simply a dream where I found myself standing amongst a huge crowd of women. Just standing there. I did not know where or why but I recall thinking – the women are gathering.

And then one morning soon after that I came across the first mention of a Woman’s March on Washington. I instantly knew that was it. That is what I dreamt or visioned. And I knew I had to be there! Even after finding out there would be marches right here in Toronto I still knew I had to be in Washington. Then I found out about the Canadian contingent and that there was a bus (actually 5 buses) leaving Toronto heading to Washington the night before the march. And I got on board!! Along with 2 other members of NUUC.

January 21, 2017: After our overnight bus ride to DC I awoke just as we approached the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium parking lots. From the road above we saw miles of buses. We were told about 1200 buses would be parked there. The enormity of the March was hitting me.

We walked to the Eastern market area where a Saturday market is held and it did not seem like anything significant was happening that day in town. Then we walked along heading towards Independence Ave and the more we walked the larger the crowds grew, along with the excitement. Along the way people came out on their porches and lawns to say hello and wave and some kids were selling beverages. Men in cars honked their horns in support. At one corner where crowds were forming, a woman with her son and daughter stood against a light pole. And for the first of many times that day I said “Good morning Sister – Your Canadian Sisters are here for you.” One of my fellow Canadian marchers then said to me – “oh my gosh, you made her cry.” That was only the first of many times we saw tears (and got hugs) from our American sisters who could not believe we would come all that way to show them our support. And I will never forget the times when in some of those women’s eyes I saw not only sadness but fear. And it shocked me, it angered me, it scared me. Because – If it can happen there it can happen here.

And that is really why I went to the Women’s March on Washington – because if it can happen there it CAN Happen Here!! So we must Gather. We must Unite. We must Demand. We must vote.

And we must not, we cannot be silent or patient, or polite any longer.

My Experience at the Women’s March in Vancouver

Theresa Marion, Unitarian Church of Vancouver

There was a group of us from the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, and Yvonne Marcus brought the church’s banner. Our Facebook page announced where we would be gathered in Vancouver during the rally. There were maybe a dozen or so of us gathered under the banner as we listened to the moving speeches before the march began.

When it started, we marched behind the banner. The crowd was so large, it was a challenge to keep up with the banner, and my daughter and I eventually ended up on our own. The march took us past the Trump Tower on Georgia Street, where many people stopped and took photos, raised their voices, raised their banners. It was there that I met up with my son and his girlfriend.

We marched in solidarity with all women, of all races, religions, gender identities, and all oppressed, in Vancouver, in Canada, in the US, and around the world. I’ve said the March was a continuation of a fight, a fight for equality. And a fight that we will follow up on. I painted the umbrella (pictured) when I woke up to rain Saturday morning. However, open umbrellas and marches don’t mix, so I kept it closed most of the morning.

The Rainbow flag beside a sign “Love Trumps Hate” in front of Trump Tower, was poignant for me. For me, the purpose of marching was as a show of solidarity, as a show of love and compassion for my fellow human beings, rather than a show of hatred.

I’m glad to be a member of the Unitarian Church, where I know I can gather with other like-minded people, and we can mount campaigns to change the world, and we can make a difference.

Thank you.

A Second Litany in Time of War

Poem by Helen Iacovino, Toronto First

friends, this is war,
it’s a protest for our times,
a war that does not fight anyone,
a war that embraces everyone,
for only ideas are at war.

it’s not easy to learn again
how to dream the world into being.
civilization starts in small ways,
& we will return it to corporate corners
where it has withered.

we will resurrect it
like any resurrection, speak to
what has died, in the world
or inside of us,
we will charm it back
into communing with us,
charm it into community,
charm it into returning to us.

we speak in the name
of centuries of freedom fighters
A Second Litany in Time of War
who were burned at the stake,
we will create the about-face
to set it on its proper path,
to move civilization
forward not backwards,
to have it sit next to us
where it belongs.

we must go into gardens,
we must peek over fences,
we must approach it line by line,
approach it in a wavy line,
beseech it to return.

we are the holders of tomorrow,
the keepers of dreams
in this war of ideas
which needs to reclaim
the spot where we used to stand.

friends, this is war,
& in this our big tent
for all the world’s people
we will dream slowly,
but dream we will.