“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”       

                                                                                      Desmond Tutu

I was at a Charity and Justice conference recently in Hamilton put on by the Hamilton Faith Communities in Action. It was a life changer for me. A group of faith-based communities came together to talk about what’s next, how to resolve issues surrounding food and income security, and first nations concerns.  It was dialogue driven. Questions were asked, people responded and the reality is we didn’t solve anything. But we’re talking. We’re trying. We’re gathering and building communities of difference. And I believe that the good news is things are changing.

I attended a “blanket ceremony” with a group of aboriginal leaders in one of the morning sessions. Not quite enough coffee yet in my system and still feeling a little like I was playing hooky and should have been answering email and attending to the day to day, the demonstration began. A historical introduction, followed by the removal of our shoes and we were off. They led about 25 of us through a ceremony that was at times uncomfortable. A little like a group strategy game and quite emotional for me.

Blankets were laid out on the ground to represent the country of Canada before it had been “discovered” by those crazy Europeans who on strict Papal orders came to “civilize” and subjugate the land. These “holy” documents were often used by “Christian” conquerors in Canada and the Americas to justify a brutal system of colonization. It was based in violence, greed and an ungodly disregard for the other. It demonized indigenous people, their culture and terrorized them in the name of god. Not sure which god that is, but not a creator I’m interested in.

We were all told to wander over the blankets as if we were living and moving freely on the land. After several minutes we came to rest on one of the blankets. This would now be our Reservation and our home.  Not by choice, but because that’s what those exploitative explorers told us to do. The Portuguese and the Spanish had it on good authority that they were privileged and were exercising god given rights. They wielded the authority of an angry god as seen through the eyes of European rulers who were more interested in power, prestige and wealth than they were in loving their neighbors. They called it a Doctrine of Discovery. At this point in the ceremony I started to get even more uncomfortable.

I heard about the British North America Act and why it was not such a good thing for Native folk. The last time that came up for me was in a social studies class at Rexdale Public School and I’m pretty sure we white colonials came off looking pretty good. Mrs. Pruter used the textbook that had been oddly enough written by us white guys. Probably of Spanish descent.

One of my favorite historical Canadian figures as a young student was Louis Riel. I’m glad I connected with the upper Canadian rebel. A leader fighting against injustice. I can’t remember what mark I received for the project I did on the Rebellion, but it makes me somewhat proud to know I was siding with one of the good guys. He wanted to preserve Metis culture and land rights, so we executed him. High treason. Sounds like Sir John A may have overreacted.

I’ve heard my Uncle Bern say, “What I know could fill a book. What I don’t know, however, could fill a library.” That’s exactly how I feel about Canadian Aboriginal and First Nation’s issues. Standing on blankets that were removed right out from under my feet. Proclamations made as my rights were disregarded in this important allegorical ceremony were an eye opener for me. As an Aboriginal, my children were taken away from me and placed in residential schools and “normalized.” Some of my friends and family died from white man’s diseases – one more European import that we didn’t ask for.

1st Nations MAp

One of the facilitators, as she was acting out the part of an arrogant white colonial explorer walking the land, gave me an elbow and pushed me out of the way marched on by. I picked up on the metaphor right away and laughed out loud. She drove her point home to be sure, but was kind enough to apologize to me after the ceremony. Funny. Ironic and telling. Wonder how Chris Columbus behaved around Aboriginal men, women and children. Pretty sure he never apologized for the raping, pillaging and thievery that followed his “discovery” of the New World.

I’m afraid a blanket will just not cut it when it comes to covering over the sins of a young and immature country that was morally degenerate in it’s treatment of others.  We may have been young, but Canada should have known better. Sanctioned dehumanization and genocide? Why would anyone agree with that, at anytime, anywhere? We blew it. In such a telling and deeply troubling way.

As a Canadian I’m often proud of my heritage and my country’s approach to serious issues around the globe. Maybe it’s time we started doing a little more relational work here at home.

How did we behave so badly? How did we ever demonize the other in such a non-Christian, amoral manner? A pathway to a bastardized form of redemption that was blazed in fear, blood and tears. They weren’t interested in the truth. The conquerors came with only a few things in mind.  Land, power and converting souls. Evil, shameful and ironic. Using the bible to justify such atrocities in the name of Jesus. Indeed.

DP – Nov 2013