Building off the comprehensive House of Prayers report, the BC Humanist Association is releasing Decolonizing Legislative Prayers.
This new supplementary report investigates the use of Indigenous content - words, phrases and concepts - in the prayers said by BC MLAs during the daily prayers in the Legislature between 2003 and 2019.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
We document how legislative prayers were started in the 16th Century to propagate the Anglican faith. They were imported to these lands by European settlers who imposed Christianity on Indigenous peoples as a core element of colonialism.
While it's been claimed that BC's legislative prayers are more interdenominational, and therefore more open to Indigenous voices, we show that the movement in this direction has been slow and piecemeal.
Humanism is about recognizing and empowering the dignity of all peoples, something that cannot occur when the first peoples of these lands are largely excluded from a practice that sits at the heart of our government.
Dr Teale Phelps Bondaroff, lead author and Research Coordinator, BC Humanist Association:
The BC Legislature starting without a territorial acknowledgement is a serious omission. Incorporating a single Indigenous word or reference into a prayer does not give Indigenous peoples the prominence or recognition they deserve. The current practice is in no way a substantive or meaningful move towards reconciliation, nor does it address the need for a meaningful territorial acknowledgement.
Each day the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia opens with a prayer led by a different Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The BC Humanist Association’s House of Prayers study investigated this practice, analyzing the 873 prayers delivered between October 6, 2003 and February 12, 2019. This study identified that a number of MLAs included Indigenous language in their prayers and that several prayers delivered by invited guests were recited entirely in an Indigenous language, typically by an Indigenous Elder. This paper analyzes the Indigenous content within prayers delivered in the BC Legislature during this same time period. Overall, a steady increase in Indigenous content in prayers was identified; however, only 6.0% of prayers contained Indigenous content and the vast majority of this content (85.7%) was restricted to the use of a single word. NDP MLAs were significantly more likely to include Indigenous content than Liberal MLAs (11.7% versus 0.2%). This paper concludes by expanding on the recommendation that legislative prayer be replaced with a territorial acknowledgement.
This report was produced on the traditional territories of the W̱SÁNEĆ and Lkwungen-speaking peoples and on the traditional and unceded territories of the of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples.
Read House of Prayers
Banner credit: British Columbia Parliament Buildings, Victoria (2012) by Another Believer, via Wikimedia