Heinrichs, Steve and Esther Epp-Tiessen, editors. Be it Resolved: Anabaptists & Partner Coalitions Advocate for Indigenous Justice, 1966-2020.

Mennonites are known for their practical service but also for their careful processes in committee work. This book is more about the latter with hopes that it would translate into the former. It demonstrates the revolutionary foresight of some statements as well as the too often failure to translate into any meaningful action on behalf of indigenous justice over the years. The book was published and given to me by my denomination in exchange for my engagement with an online discussion group.

Although I know that it is important work that has to be done, I am not a committee or task force kind of person. Thus, this book full of resolutions and carefully worded statements was a difficult read for me. What it did for me was give me a look at some of the good work being done behind-the-scenes while major controversies make the public news: Elijah Harper and his bringing down of the Meech Lake Accord, Oka, Burnt Church, Grassy Narrows, Ipperwash, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for Indian Residential Schools in 2008, and most recently the Idle No More movement and the Truth and Reconciliation meetings held across Canada. There is always more to it than what we see or read in the news. I have a new appreciation for the work done by tireless advocates for indigenous justice.

Here are a few of many quotes that caught my attention.

“Canada was built on the dispossession of Indigenous lands through the repression of Indigenous law, language, culture, and spirituality.” (From the introduction by Ruth Plett)

“We criticize southern Africa and the racism that is seen there, and yet we have examples at home. The problem they are having in South Africa, is that the descendants of European people are trying to wrestle with how they are going to live with the Indigenous population. In that case, the Indigenous people are the majority, so there’s paranoia in that white race that’s there. But what’s your paranoia? We are the minority here! Why can’t we deal with the problems that we criticize South Africa about? Why can’t Native people have enough land and enough control over their lives that they can have some dignity?” (George Erasmus, Dene, 1987)

“We must be careful not to invoke a double standard, namely, to accept political action as appropriate when undertaken for our advantage, often involving special privileges, but to reject as “political” similar action undertaken to promote justice for others… Mennonites have benefitted much from broken treaties and from the herding of Indians onto small reserves of marginal land.” (MCC Canada “Why Apologize?” 1992)

“According to the United Nations’ Human Development Index, the majority society in Canada benefits from the highest quality-of-life measures of any country in the world. But by this same UN standard, the social conditions facing Aboriginal people in Canada, taken by themselves, would place that population in 63rd place among the nations of the world.” (Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, 2000)

Be it resolved “That Mennonite Church Canada repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent dignity and rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.” (Mennonite Church Canada, 2016) I was happy to be at these meetings and voted in favour of this resolution that was carried unanimously minus one.

King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor, 2013.

I knew of Thomas King’s reputation as a writer with a biting wit and so I thought this work of historical nonfiction might be a good summer read. I was not disappointed. The book was both entertaining and insightful.

A few things were immediately noticeable. King uses the term “Indian” in the title and the body of the book with some sarcasm and mentions “aboriginal, first nations, and native” but it seems the term “indigenous” was not yet in use at the time of writing. The book is unique in that he attempts to tell the story of indigenous people in both United States and Canada. Despite the differences in policy since contact and colonization, the 49th parallel is obviously an artificial boundary that meant nothing to indigenous people. I was a bit disappointed when he says that he does not want to start with Christopher Columbus but then does so anyway. I would have benefitted from some pre-contact stories. An important contribution is that he refers to specific indigenous tribes and nations whereas settlers tend to generalize and treat them all the same. King demonstrates the height of his witty truth-telling when he differentiates between Live Indians, Dead Indians, and Legal Indians. “Dead Indians are dignified, noble, silent, suitably garbed. And dead. Live Indians are invisible, unruly, disappointing. And breathing. One is a romantic reminder of a heroic but fictional past. The other is simply an unpleasant, contemporary surprise…The Legal Indian is a by-product of the treaties signed with Native nations.”

A quote from Andrew Jackson sums up white settler attitudes both then and still today. “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by 12 million happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion.” King makes the reader feel uncomfortable and it is a necessary discomfort; for example, referring to Christianity as a “conquest religion” makes me squirm even if I identify as an Anabaptist, pacifist, anti-establishmentarian Christian. He goes on to say that most religions are similar and he knows of none that might be seen as a “seduction religion where converts are lured in by the beauty of the doctrine and the generosity of the practice.” This made me think of Brian Zahnd’s book, The Beautiful Gospel where he tries to argue that Christianity is indeed a seduction religion! I agree with Zahnd but this does not change the historical record to the contrary. “Missionary work in the New World was war…Christianity [was] a stakeholder in the business of assimilation…or if you want the positive but somewhat callous view, you might wish to describe Christianity as the gateway drug to supply-side capitalism.” This is a history I have to embrace as my own before I can ever hope to convince people of the beauty of Jesus and his message of radical love.

King addresses the various ways that Europeans have attempted to deal with the “Indian problem” from extermination to assimilation to education in residential schools. These policies may have officially ceased but the past is still the present and to say, “Forget about the past. Today is a new day. Let’s enjoy it together” is a ridiculous sentiment that King debunks. So then, “What do Indians want?” King climaxes the book with two chapters (8 and 9) answering this question. “If you understand nothing else about the history of Indians in North America, you need to understand that the question that really matters is the question of land. Land has always been a defining element of Aboriginal culture…For non-Natives, land is primarily a commodity.” In this light, his retelling of the Oka crisis in 1990 was very important for me to read. It was very different from what I read and heard about in the news at that time.

I don’t blame King for his cynicism when he jokes about trying to come up with a “happy ever after” ending to the book. There is lots of sad evidence about how unkindly Canada treats its original residents to this day. But I am of the western mind, I also like happy endings; and, even in the sinking ship of human degradation I am buoyed by a hopeful eschatology. One of the “happy” stories he writes about in his concluding chapter is the formation of Nunavut in 1999. The announcement a few days ago of Mary Simon becoming the first indigenous (Inuit) Governor General in Canada is a fitting update to the Nunavut story that ends the book. Good news indeed but I hope she makes us uncomfortable a few times.

Barman, Jean, edited by Margery Fee. On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia. Harbour Publishing, 2020.

I had never heard of the word “unceded” when I moved to British Columbia from the prairies in 2000. This means that there were never any treaties signed here between Indigenous nations and the new settler nation of Canada, as there are in regions on the other side of the Rockies. “Unseated” is what settler government policies did for Indigenous communities both here and elsewhere. The fact that there are no treaties does complicate relationships between Indigenous and settler people in British Columbia.

British Columbia is a unique province in many ways. “The rivers run the other way here,” I remarked when we first moved here. “‘The west beyond the west,’ as Barman calls British Columbia… is geographically, socially, and historically distinctive…The early history of the province features San Francisco, Honolulu, and Canton (Guangzhou) rather than Ottawa, New York, London, or Paris. Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city amidst one of the world’s last frontiers. The Indigenous peoples in British Columbia are the most linguistically and culturally diverse in any province.” One thing that is the same across North America is the decimation of Indigenous life. “Between contact in 1770 and the 1830s, diseases [introduced by Europeans] killed between 60 and 90 percent of the Indigenous population in British Columbia.” And of course, later government policies involving residential schools caused cultural genocide for those who remained.

In this collection, the most jarring essays for me were the first two about erasing Indigenous space and indigeneity in Vancouver. Kitsilano and today’s Stanley Park were reserve lands that were “unsettled” of Indigenous people to make way for white settlement. Maybe it was because I’ve enjoyed the beautiful parks at both locations that caused the dissonance. The erasure of Indigenous land and people was based on racism and greed. I’m sad, ashamed, and angry. I don’t know what to do about it but I now visit those places with a new perspective, realizing that settlements thousands of years old were razed to the ground and people chased out to make way for parks and developments. The totems in Stanley Park almost seem like an insulting token.

The middle two sections about women and families contained various interesting social histories and fascinating stories of creative, courageous women who beat the odds to survive and thrive. Chapters touched on Chinese, Hawaiian, Indigenous, and mixed race families. I knew some things about Chinese history on the west coast but I did not know about Hawaiian settlements. I have hiked at Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge and did not realize that “Kanaka” was a name for Hawaiian people who had a settlement in the area. The theme that runs throughout these chapters is that “almost all white newcomers accepted the notion of a hierarchy of the races, which conveniently put themselves at the top. Indigenous people were doubly disparaged, being darker in complexion and non-Christian, and thus ‘uncivilized.’” One unique chapter, “Island Sanctuaries” was about the settlement of mixed race families on some of the coastal islands where they had more autonomy and less racism.

The last section on schooling was especially poignant in light of the recent discovery of more than 1,000 and counting unmarked graves on the lands of former Indian Residential Schools. A lengthy quote from Fee’s introduction to the essay, “Schooled for Inequality” does a good job of summarizing the essays in this section.

“Declared to be educating Indigenous children to assimilate into the mainstream society as equals, residential schools succeeded only in marginalizing them, destroying their cultures and languages, damaging their family relationships, and undermining their confidence. The system governing the schools was fundamentally flawed in ways that led to marked inequality in the treatment of white and Indigenous children. Four themes stand out: First, all Indigenous people were seen as the same, no matter what their culture or history. Second, although expected to complete the same curriculum as white children, Indigenous children spent far less time in the classroom because their labour was required to keep the schools running. Third, since the main goal of the religious denominations that ran the schools was Christian indoctrination, teachers were usually volunteers rather than professionals, and therefore generally untrained and of low quality. Finally, federal funding of both residential and day schools for Indigenous children quickly fell below provincial funding for public education. Indigenous pupils were excluded from public schooling where they could have done better and been closer to their families.”

And one more quote from Barman gives some insight into how we might respond today. I have heard talk about court cases for teachers and administrators who committed abuse. There is also pressure on the Vatican to provide an official apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church that ran many of the schools (the other churches involved have already offered such apologies). These are necessary but this quote points the finger elsewhere and if Barman is correct then that would leave none of us off the hook! “The reasons for the failure [of the residential schools] had less to do with the actions of individual teachers or administrators than with a federal policy that legitimized and even compelled children to be schooled not for assimilation but for inequality. While teachers and administrators of goodwill were able to ameliorate the worst aspects of the system for their pupils, all of the individual goodwill in the world could not have rescued a system that was fundamentally flawed.” For this, all of us must take responsibility. We are the government and so we, the people of Canada, must pay the costs of the damage that federal policies have done in the past. The pittance that the federal government gives to Indigenous nations—and that many settler Canadians complain about being too much—is barely a penny in the pail of what we owe.

This year I am not celebrating Canada Day along with Victoria, BC and other people across the country. The terrible history of residential schools and the oppression of indigenous peoples has always been there but we have finally become more publicly aware in the past few months. This is not a time to celebrate. Yes, I am privileged and thankful to be living in this country with all its natural splendor, cultural diversity, and economic opportunity. But I am ashamed that my privilege has been on the backs of indigenous children and their families. In light of this it will be a day of reflection and solidarity with our indigenous neighbours in their suffering.

As an educator, I am pledging myself to learn more about this history in my reading this summer. I have already read the TRC report that came out a number of years ago and almost everything there is to read about Louis Riel, so I am adding On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space, and Race in the Colonization of BC by Jean Barman, The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, and Be It Resolved: Anabaptist & Partner Coalitions Advocate for Indigenous Justice, 1966-2020. I will offer some reviews and reflections of these during the summer.

The following statement comes from the latter collection of resolutions, letters, and public statements. It was written in 1970 in the year of Manitoba’s centennial by the late Menno Wiebe, anthropologist and executive secretary of the Mennonite Mission Board. It is a preamble to a litany of confession that seems ahead of its time in light of the Vatican’s refusal to offer a confession 51 years later. I have changed a few words to connect it to Canada Day 2021.

Celebration of [Canada Day], it must be remembered, is basically an insult to the people of [indigenous] ancestry whose history and “nationhood” was not begun but terminated with the formation of European states in the Americas. It was the intention of the Mission Board to do some pioneering in repentance. Our fast moving society and the success and activity oriented church programs simply haven’t ever taken time for remorse or felt the need for repentance. [Today] we feel otherwise.

And a few lines from the litany itself that still ring very true:

Leader: We have, by our silence, sided with the powerful forces of government and industry when they invaded your rights, discounted your modest protest, and exploited your resources.

ALL: Forgive us, Lord!

Leader: We are guilty of tracing America’s history back no further than 1492. Canada, for us, is only [154] years old. The accounts of your own history, your stories, your dreams and your visions have meant nothing to us. We have wanted your furs, your wild rice, your skill in the woods, but we didn’t want you.

ALL: Forgive us, Lord!

Yesterday we heard about the remains of another 751 children buried in unmarked graves on a former residential school property in Saskatchewan. What else can we feel but guilt, shame, and remorse? I weep with all indigenous people who are reminded of their families torn apart by government policy and church compliance.

Where do we start in the work of truth and reconciliation with our indigenous neighbours? For Christians, one small beginning is to tell the truth about this in our worship gatherings. “Land acknowledgements” have become common practice to open civic events and at the same time controversial in regards to whether this is mere tokenism or an important ritual of recognition. Using land acknowledgements as part of church worship adds another layer to civic ceremonies. I personally think that we should incorporate land acknowledegments into Christian worship. Here are three reasons why.

Our word “worship” comes from the Old English WEORTHSCIPE, meaning “to ascribe worth”. To worship is to state what is most important and most valuable, i.e. what is of ultimate value to us. When Christians worship we are “ascribing worth” to the God of the Universe who created all things, sustains all things, and redeemed all things through Jesus Christ. It is appropriate then that our church developed a land acknowledgement statement to be used in our worship gatherings. Our church’s land acknowledgement statement is a deep act of worship because it is acknowledging that God is the creator of everything and owns everything and we are but stewards. To acknowledge God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of everything is central to worship.

Secondly, such a statement also acknowledges that the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reconciliation that includes reconciliation with God, with our neighbours, and with all creation. The beginning of reconciliation is confession and apology. This too is a basic Christian practice. This is something all the church bodies that were directly involved in the residential school system have done and we await and urge the pope to now do so on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. One thing that our own church’s statement does not do but should do is confess our sin of racism and cultural genocide that our ancestors were complicit in and continues in our own hearts today. One day, hopefully we will get to this part as a church. To be faithful to the Gospel of Peace [Ephesians 2:11-22], it behooves us to make statements of confession and repentance in our worship services on a regular basis.

Some may object that such a land acknowledgement is just political tokenism and we should keep politics out of our worship services. Worship in any form—song, prayer, sermon, ritual, etc.—is a deeply political act. The first confession of faith and the first act of worship for the early church was their statement: “Jesus is Lord.” All citizens of the empire at the time were required to pay homage to the emperor with the statement of allegiance: “Caesar is Lord.” Thus, the primary statement of worship was also a statement of political allegiance to the reign of God as inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth because this God demanded exclusive worship. Going to church to worship God is a political act no matter what the form and content! If you don’t want to make any political statements join a country club. Politics is about allegiance and relationships; this is what the church of Jesus Christ is about: allegiance to Jesus and renewed relationships with others.

A land acknowledgement is but the beginning. If this is all we do then it is mere tokenism as it has become in some public events and ceremonies. God doesn’t want us to put too much energy into crafting an hour of songs, prayers, and sermons. “I can’t stand your religious assemblies. I will not accept your offerings. Away with the noise of your songs!” (Amos 5:21-23) True worship is primarily about what happens outside the walls of the church building. Following Jesus is about all of life. We need to learn about the history of injustice toward indigenous people in Canada and then we can begin the work of reconciliation. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)

Here is the land acknowledgement statement for our congregation, Emmanuel Mennonite Church:

As a faith community, we believe that the earth is a gift from God our Creator. Together with the first people of this land, we are called to be stewards of this earth that sustains us, and we are grateful for that privilege. Therefore, we acknowledge with deep gratitude our presence on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral homeland of the Matsqui First Nation, affiliated with the larger Sto:lo Nation. The land is an important part of our faith and we also recognize that it is has always been at the center of Indigenous life, culture and spirituality.  May we treat this land and all its people with respect and understanding, as we strive for peace and right relationships with all who share it.

We could add another day to “Diversity Month”: the newly declared American national holiday, Juneteenth, celebrating the anniversary of the final emancipation of African slaves on June 19, 1869. Since I am Canadian I will focus on Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, June 21.

The first thing European settlers need to learn about Indigenous history is that it goes back thousands of years before we got here. Most of the Canadian history books that I used in school had no more than a paragraph about this. Thankfully, this is changing. I have had opportunities to learn a bit about this history as an adult and I know it is now becoming part of our public school curriculum.

The second thing we need to learn is our own history and how it has impacted indigenous people. It goes back to the origins of Christendom when Christians ceased to be a persecuted minority group and became the state religion in the Roman Empire that ironically, had executed its founder a few hundred years earlier! This was a process that took hundreds of years but the tiny Jesus movement that began as a Jewish sect eventually became the official religion of an empire that came to dominate the entire European continent.

From this base of power explorers traveled the world, exporting both European economics (capitalism), and religion (Christianity). A particular doctrine developed at this time, called TERRA NULLIUS, which is translated “the land is empty.” This doctrine stated that any land that was inhabited by “non-Christians” was theoretically empty and was free for the taking as “territory for Christ” just as the lands of the pagan tribes of northern Europe had been centuries earlier. This was based on the biblical story in the Old Testament (although I would say it is a gross misreading of the Bible) where the children of Abraham laid claim to the land of Palestine because they believed God had given it to them. The Canaanites did not count as inhabitants because God had promised the land to the Israelites; instead, they were to be eradicated or else the people of God would be defiled. This doctrine could now be neatly applied to all the continents of the globe where European explorers and Christian missionaries landed, North America being one of them. Only Christians counted, the rest were labelled pagans, savages, heathen, etc. and were to be either converted or eliminated for the cause of Christ. In Canada, this was accomplished through residential schools, among other things.

However uncomfortable, every person who is identified with the name of Jesus must identify with this history even if it took place hundreds of years ago. During this Indigenous History Month, Christians have to start with our own history that brought us to this continent. Even if we were not the ones to hold white Christian supremacist attitudes as early colonialists and settlers did, we go by the same name as those who did and we benefit from it, so we must own it. It’s a simplified version of a long and complicated story but this is our history.

June is Indigenous History month and Gay Pride month, and because of the recent murder of four family members in London, Ontario who were visibly Islamic we are reminded of Islamophobia in Canada. All three of these are related: they are all about the need to accept and embrace human diversity. People who are indigenous have suffered grievously ever since European colonizers landed on the shores of this continent. People who identify as LGBTQ have often been victims of abuse by the hetero-majority. People of Islamic faith have often been the target of hatred in North America where they are a minority. In the Christian faith we have a word for how we should respond: repentance. Repentance means to change, in this case our attitudes toward minorities.

We are like birds. “Birds of a feather flock together.” We tend to build relationships with those most like us and treat others as “them.” But I think humans can be better than birds. We can learn to appreciate people who are of a different culture, sexuality, or religion. Those who are in the majority and/or who are in positions of power have a special responsibility to become more aware of our privileges. Too often we are completely oblivious to our privileges and take them for granted. Awareness is the beginning of repentance. “Walk a mile in the others’ shoes” is a good concept for cultivating awareness. We can walk in others’ shoes by educating ourselves about how people are different and then learn to accept and appreciate those differences.

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Why write another post when someone else has already written what I wanted to say and said it better than I could? I am reposting what my colleague, David Warkentin, wrote to us at Columbia Bible College. I believe it has a lot of relevance for all Christians as we seek to respond in some way to what I wrote about in my last post.

Living out shalom – some thoughts on mourning and repentance

*Warning: this reflection contains content and links related to Indian Residential Schools that may be distressing.

This week we are processing the chilling news of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, as reported by the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation. You can read more here and here. Bryan also posted a reflection here. We mourn the news of this tragedy.

Part of the curriculum in the course I teach, CHRM 101 The Church In Mission, discusses the church’s responsibility to engage practices of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people, including response to the church’s complicity in Indian Residential and Day Schools. This curriculum is one of the ways Columbia is responding to the TRC Calls to Action. And while those schools were run mostly by Catholic, United, and Anglican churches as mandated by the Canadian government, other Canadian Christians participated in furthering the injustice of these schools in some form or another (e.g. volunteering and teaching). And this included Mennonites (See here and here).

Facing this history, then, I don’t think we can stop at mourning. The news of this week reminds us that alongside mourning is the call to ongoing repentance that is the way of the kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15). Yet faithful repentance for complicity in the atrocities born of Indian Residential Schools is no straightforward matter. Taking collective responsibility and practicing reconciliation is long hard work. We may wonder, “Is peace even possible?” Indigenous theologian Randy Woodley offers important perspective on peace and the Kingdom of God: “Shalom is not a utopian destination; it is a constant journey. One does not wait on shalom; one actually sets about the task of shalom…people need to be going about the business of making shalom and living out shalom.” How, then, can we live out shalom?

Engaging these heavy topics in a course, students often ask the following: What can I/we do? How do I/we learn from the past and pursue shalom in the present and future? In response to the news this week, we may be asking similar questions. How do we practice collective responsibility in the face of such loss and pain?

Knowing these questions are likely being asked by many of us, I thought I would share some of the material I use to answer these questions with students. Consider this my invitation for all of us to participate in living out shalom, individually and together. Here goes:

  1. Sit in the discomfort: Mourning and lament at the tragedy of this news cannot be glossed over. If you are Indigenous, old wounds may be re-opened; new wounds may be forming. Too often the church has required you to conform to shallow peace in the face of trauma. If you are non-Indigenous, try not to rush past the discomfort, including feelings of sorrow, helplessness, or even guilt. But as non-Indigenous people, let’s avoid the temptation to center our discomfort, which is incomparable to the difficulty this news brings for our Indigenous colleagues, friends, and neighbours. And for all people, rest in the presence of Jesus and his invitation to bring our burdens to him.
  2. Educate yourself:
    1. Learn about Stó:lō/Abbotsford history:
      1. Listen to the reflection from the late Ray Silver speaking at the event co-hosted by Columbia, Journey of Reconciliation.
      1. Learn about St. Mary’s Residential School, which operated in Mission up until 1984. See here and here.
      1. Check out the resources available in the local Indigenous Library.
    1. Learn about Indian Residential School history
    1. Listen to Indian Residential School survivor stories  
  3. Support Indian Residential School Survivors: Indian Residential School Survivors Society
  4. Participate in reconciliation efforts
    1. MCC Indigenous Neighbours Program
    1. Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous-Settler Relations

An important lesson I’ve learned engaging these topics is that reconciliation is a verb in Indigenous languages. We don’t arrive at or finish reconciliation, but rather we practice reconciliation. Reconciliation is ongoing. My suggestions here, then, are not designed as a “how-to” guide to accomplishment, but rather resources for the living out of shalom. I hope we can continue to respond as a community, individually and together, in the days ahead.

Peace,

David Warkentin

June 1, 2021

The news about finding the remains of 215 unidentified children who died while attending an Indian Residential School in Kamloops seems to have hit our nation hard. It should! It is long overdue. Most Canadians were probably like me in that the first time they ever heard personal stories from people who had attended Indian Residential Schools was during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings held between 2011 and 2015. Our collective eyes were opened at that time and since then I have participated in various walks of solidarity and attended educational events put on by indigenous leaders. It has been a much needed journey of education.

My journey with developing relationships with indigenous people really started 50 years earlier when my family adopted my sister, who is indigenous. My sister’s story is her story to tell. But since then it has been important for me to seek to understand her larger backstory, the story of all indigenous people on this continent. In Canada specifically, Indian Residential Schools were a deliberate attempt by the British and Canadian governments to “take the Indian out of the child.” These schools were not in existence to educate children, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity. In justifying the government’s residential school policy, John A. Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1883:

“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with his parent, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

Instead of distancing ourselves from quotes and policies such as this let us acknowledge the truth of this sad chapter in Canadian history. European settlers have all benefitted from these cruel policies for the past 150 years. This sad chapter only closed in 1996 and we now have the opportunity to write the next chapter. Guilt on behalf of our ancestors might be our first response but I’m not sure it is particularly helpful. I think our first response should be to hear and understand the truth. Even though I feel I am reasonably educated, I am finding I still have a lot to learn before I know the whole truth. I am also finding that it is not always a pleasant truth to hear about but it is necessary for moving towards genuine reconciliation.

Why do we need reconciliation? For those who call themselves Christians, it is because reconciliation is at the core of the Christian Gospel. My next post will focus specifically on our response as Christians.

Victoria Day is a unique Canadian holiday. It comes at an appropriate time when the weather is starting to get warm enough to spend a long weekend camping or doing some other outdoor activities after a long winter of hibernation. But why does Victoria get a day? Until our present queen, Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch, and perhaps the last one to have any influence in the running of the empire. She even has an “era” named after her, characterized by strict morality and unique fashion and decor. Under her reign the British Empire expanded to its greatest breadth: 25% of the land on the globe! It is the biggest empire in the history of the world. But more than 100 years later, when we now know what goes into an empire sausage, do we still need to be celebrating her? I guess it’s because Canada is still officially part of the British Commonwealth. But really, the idea of a monarchy living in castles and ruling an empire is rather dinosauric. I don’t have an opinion for or against the ongoing institution of the royal family; it just doesn’t matter. I don’t care about whether Harry [British royalty] and Megan [American royalty=movie stars] live in a castle in England or a mansion in Hollywood. There are more important things in the world to care about.

Like, the month of May is Asian Heritage Month! They deserve a month just like blacks do. Asians have also been victim to European colonialism around the world and continue to be victims of racism and hate. We need to be aware of this. The first Asians to come to Canada were the Chinese in 1788 as workers for the British Empire on Vancouver Island. Many more came during the gold rushes in the 1850s and on. Sikh settlers from the Punjab in India settled in the valley I now call home in the early 1900s. During World War I Indian refugees were turned back on the SS Komagata Maru. During World War II Japanese Canadians were removed from their homes and forced into internment camps. Even though they had so many odds stacked against them in a British colony, Asian people were resilient in carving out a life here on the west coast. They were often the ones to do the dangerous and dirty work in the colony and later the province of British Columbia. Anti-Asian racism has continued into the present as we have seen during the pandemic. Correcting these injustices starts with learning a bit of history. I have not even scratched the surface with this post.