Archives for posts with tag: Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has a bad reputation for geography. People make jokes about driving through it at night because there is nothing to see anyway. People think of it as merely miles and miles of flat grassland now turned into wheat and now canola fields. Thus, many people do not get off the Trans-Canada highway to explore this diverse province. Even if staying on this legendary highway there is diversity from the aspen forests, ponds, swamps, and valleys in the east to the open prairie around Regina—which fits the stereotype—to the salt lakes and flats, and then the grand rolling hills growing bigger and grander from Moose Jaw to the Alberta border. And this is only a small slice of the south! We have not yet mentioned the absolutely stunning Saskatchewan or Qu’Appelle River valleys or the top half of the province that is lake and forest country. So give Saskatchewan a chance! This summer we had to fly over it in our annual trip to Manitoba and I missed it.

My sacred place in the province is hills overlooking the Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan Landing, a few minutes’ drive north of Swift Current where we lived. They have since made a national park out of similar terrain south of Swift Current: Grasslands National Park. This geography has a haunting beauty all its own. From a distance they are but dry hills and rolling prairies, which have a haunting beauty all their own, but if you look closely at the right time of year you can see blooming cacti the colour of the most glorious sunshine. That is the juxtaposition of life: sometimes the times of suffering make us more beautiful people. This place became sacred for me because it corresponded with a particular geography of my soul that I was experiencing at the time. It was a time of transition, confusion, and lack of clear direction. I often went to these hills for solace and to cry out my longing for redemption and healing. The depth of my experience in these hills inspired more poetry than all of the other provinces combined. Sometimes people have chuckled when I read this poem because all they know are the Saskatchewan stereotypes but they don’t know my soul or the sacred beauty of the place.

Saskatchewan,

a naked barren land

and domineering sky—

heat, dust, wind, smoke sweeping

over ridged and rugged yellow grayish skin

stretching on endlessly.

Is there anywhere to go here?

Is there any destination?

It’s all so open-ended,

seeing forever

yet seeing nothing.

 

The election was called in the midst of our annual trip to Manitoba—and probably in the midst of the vacation travels of many Canadians. We chose to travel the Yellowhead Highway through Jasper, Edmonton, and Saskatoon on our way to Winnipeg. I read a few books about Louis Riel to transport my mind to pivotal events that happened in the Saskatchewan and Red River valleys near this route. Not only were they an engaging read, they refreshed my perspective on the place of the Prairie Provinces within confederation. These events are also related to what I believe is the most important issue in the upcoming election.

I agree with Rex Murphy, when he stated in his CBC opinion piece on June 4, 2015 that the most important issue of the election is how the prospective government will act on the report of the TRC. The apology by PM Harper in 2008 was good and necessary but it is only a beginning. We need to continue to understand the truth about what happened in our history and continue to work at reconciliation between our gracious hosts and subsequent settlers.

The background to the Riel saga was the mass killing of the bison on the plains in order to systematically and intentionally eliminate the indigenous people who relied on the bison for their livelihood. This should be named for what it was—genocide. Although the Museum of Human Rights which we visited in Winnipeg acknowledges the contributions of indigenous people in Canada and lists genocides that have occurred around the world, it neglects to name the genocide of indigenous people that happened on our own soil in the 19th century.

Louis Riel was not only the founder of Manitoba—as finally acknowledged in 1992—but he could also be said to be the father of Saskatchewan and Alberta as well. At his best, he represented the interests not only of the Metis and indigenous people but the French in all of Canada and all settlers on the western prairies and forests [ironically, “Rupert’s Land” was given to the Hudson’s Bay Company by the king of England and sold to the Canadian government by the HBC with seemingly little thought of the residents of the land]. At his worst, Riel was tortured by a combination of mental illness and religious delusion later in his life but the man was a true visionary who saw modern day Canada before it was. He saw Indigenous Peoples, Metis, British, French, and other settlers sharing the land together in mutual peace and goodwill. For his resistance of English Canadian domination he was hanged a week after the last spike was nailed on the Canadian Pacific Railway in November, 1885. In fact, these events are tied together: The push for the completion of the railway was so that troops could be sent west to put down the “rebellion.”

(A sad reality that Mennonites will have to deal with is that we benefitted from land giveaways by the Canadian government in the Red River Valley shortly after the Metis resistance in 1869-70 and again after the resistance in 1884-85 on the land between the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. Were we given land so as to be a “buffer” between desired settlers and undesired native peoples similar to the Ukraine a few centuries earlier?)

The putting down of the resistance movements led by Louis Riel accompanies the oppressive residential school policies initiated by the Canadian government that finally ended only in 1996. This chapter is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] most directly dealt with. We need to speak the truth and name the residential school policy as cultural genocide. What will our leaders have to say about this in the election campaign? As a Christian who values truth and reconciliation, the way I vote will be influenced by the responses on this issue.

My apologies to the hungry dogs licking their chops for the next controversial theological morsel I might toss their way. I have rediscovered my first love, both personally and professionally. My first love is expressed in the so-called Great Commandment [Luke 10:27], to love God and neighbor. It is simple and profound. My professional first love is to teach this to students. This is the motto verse of our first year spiritual formation course that I’ve been working on of late. Sometimes theology with all its semantics and controversies leads us away from our first love.

I’m going to Saskatchewan this weekend. I have not had a speaking engagement there in quite a few years. It brings me back more than 15 years when we lived in Swift Current. Those years were of the most difficult in my life so far and yet looking back, they were also years of intense spiritual formation. We tend to think of lush trees and lakes as beautiful, but the saints of old in the Bible and church history often withdrew to deserts for times of prayer and spiritual formation.

The dry hills and plains around Saskatchewan Landing constitute one of the most hauntingly beautiful places on earth as far as my soul is concerned. It was a place where I was in pain but also where I learned to trust God.

Saskatchewan,

a naked barren land

and domineering sky –

heat, dust, wind, smoke sweeping

over ridged and rugged yellow greyish skin

stretching on endlessly.

Is there anywhere to go here?

Is there any destination?

It’s all so open-ended,

seeing forever

yet seeing nothing.