Library Learnings

A focus on Indigeneity:  

We must move “past the past”

“Ripped from the headlines,” the saying goes. 
Perhaps that can be said for what’s now underway in “Library Learnings,” and what will continue right through year’s end: a series of seven interrelated essays about Indigeneity in Canada. After all, does a day go by in which the media don’t report on Indigenous peoples in this country, and their relationship to others of us who are non-Indigenous?
Consider writer Paul Christopher Henry Webster’s scrutiny of Indigenous sovereignty, this in The Globe and Mail of July 6: in Canada, “Indigenous issues currently command centre stage”; “Canadian Indigenous people are singing an increasingly discordant tune”; “Indigenous nationalism is not to be underestimated”. He quotes Indigenous legal scholar and activist Pamela Palmater, who argues that “Indigenous Canadians should pursue their right to be ‘self-determining, and free from interference or control by another nation,’ including Canada.” He quotes Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who teaches at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in Yellowknife, who would have First Peoples find “ways out of domination, and ‘not [be] afraid to let those imaginings destroy the pillars of settler colonialism’.” Clearly, the matter is consequential, and mustn’t be shrugged off.
Thus, “Library Learnings” writings, which total more than 15,000 words in length, and are the result of a half-year-long study. Eleven different books were read—note that several are in the SSUC Library; and well in excess of 50 articles and papers and online sites were perused. Sources range from The Soul of the Indian from 1911 to the RCMP’s Native Spirituality Guide, APTN News, a TEDTalk, the NFB’s Faith Project, the Alberta School Boards Association’s Indigenous Insights video series, Evergreen State College materials for Native American learners, the Oneida Indian Nation website…and elements from SSUC Sunday gatherings.
The articles—here itemized, with their publication dates noted; a new one will be posted every four weeks—examine reconciliation (which, as Webster put it in his piece in The Globe, “Always seems to be the hardest word”) [July 5]; author Kent Nerburn and his book, Neither Wolf Nor Dog [August 2]; the new Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada [August 30]; and, in four parts, Indigenous religion and spirituality [September 27, October 25, November 27, December 20].    
There’s much for we who are non-Indigenous to learn, to know, about Indigenous history and ways. About how First Peoples had to give up, as Palmater observes (and Webster quotes her), their “language, culture, laws, governance  and ways of being, and adopt Canadian ways of life.” Maybe, just maybe, these “Library Learnings” and their focus on Indigeneity, will help us to enrich our understanding. And then to move on. Together. After all, it’s as one of the sources quoted in the essays put it, “…we are stuck, unless we move ‘past the past’.”  
Ken Fredrick
Part 1: Reconciliation
“Because it’s the right thing to do”
“It is such a Christian word: reconciliation.”
Eileen Markey has that right. This sentence of hers comes from her 12-page-long hard-hitting article about Canada’s efforts at “‘whitewashing’ Indigenous children,” reported in the June 14, 2018, issue of America Magazine, the 110-year-old weekly periodical of the Jesuit order in the United States. A graduate of the Jesuits’ Fordham University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she, based in New York City, is an independent, investigative journalist who specializes in such matters as the role of religion in the public square.

In straight-arrow Christian theology, reconciliation is, according to Wikipedia, “an element of salvation that refers to the results of atonement. It is the end of estrangement, caused by original sin, between God and humanity.”  “God reconciles us to himself,” adds, quoting Romans 5:1, “through the death of his Son.” But this same entry makes it plain that reconciliation can, and should take place between mere mortals, as well. As the website Patheos puts it, “This is stressed in Matthew 5:21-25, where we are told that, if we have an unresolved disagreement with someone, we should resolve it as soon as possible….”
Yes, but. Reconciliation can be hard to come by because, as Markey writes, “it requires the perpetrator to reckon with evil. For reconciliation to work, members of the perpetrator groups need to acknowledge what happened, put in place protections to ensure it does not happen again, and make amends.”
This notion is that of Robert Schreiter, whom she interviewed for her feet-to-the-fire story; to hear her tell it—and in this she takes pride—her journalism “is distinguished by deep, immersive interviews, and robust research.” “Truth-telling is an essential element” in any attempt at reconciliation, he, a professor of systematic theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, told her, “even if some would rather rush forward toward forgiveness.”
(Further along in her article, Markey introduces the reader to Rebecca Thomas, described as “a Mi’kmaw woman and the student services advisor to First Nations students at Nova Scotia Community College,” who is “one of the people who inherited [from her parents] the damage of Shubenacadie [Residential School].” And because that is so, she is in no hurry to give absolution: “‘I think in order to have a good and meaningful reconciliation, we need to sit with the truth for a while.’”)
Another member of the school’s faculty, and one who is a Canadian, Michel Andraos, reckons that the hardest thing for Christians to accept “might be the idea that their religion was not incidental to the violence [meted out to First Peoples], but was central to it.” This “culpability” must be faced, but, oh, Markey wonders, how do religious communities “embark on a spiritual endeavour with people they have harmed?”
Seeking after “reconciling ways”
It can be seen in both song and prayer that reconciliation is a resolve of the Southminster-Steinhauer United Church community. Consider the lyrics of minister Chris New’s song, “Reconciling Ways”: “Gathering, honouring, remembering where we meet; our deep respect for history and culture, still incomplete. First Peoples’ land from long before, relationships to restore; enriching and reconciling ways, we live and dream for more.”  
And here are the closing words written for the June 23 spiritual gathering, which honoured National Indigenous Peoples Day: “We go with gratitude for the great heritage we share with one another. We go strengthened for the good and difficult work of reconciliation. We go with great hope for the good way of relationship and connection to our land and all that lives on it. We go with peace, knowing that the Great Spirit that is alive in all things and all people goes with us.
Then, in taking up, in emphasizing, the residential school horror, Markey turns back to Schreiter: “The root sin in the case of the residential schools, he says, was the lie that European and Christian culture was superior to First Nations’ cultures. That lie made everything else possible.”
No wonder, then, that columnist Denise Balkissoon, writing on the op-ed page in the June 14 edition of The Globe and Mail, shared her concern about the Canadian public “stubbornly remaining ignorant” of the history and ways of Indigenous peoples. 
The previous month, Robert Bertrand, took up this matter in The Globe’s Report on Business pages—he is the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: reconciliation calls for “profound and transformative change. For many, this pursuit can feel daunting.” Indeed. “Recognizing the unique contributions and worldview that Indigenous people have to offer…is part of this work. …although Indigenous and non-Indigenous people had, and continue to have incredibly different experiences, we are all in this together.
“In order for reconciliation to begin, there is essential work to be done, beginning with self-reflection and learning about Indigenous experiences.” This “requires openness and a desire to understand that the dominant experiences of Canada have not been shared by all…. Meaningful reconciliation is a reflective, sustained, and evolving process. It is a journey into the unknown that can be intimidating, but also an opportunity.” Bertrand concludes by stating, plainly, while we have the chance now “to find a path” forward together, “this window will be brief….” 
What the residential schools were unable to do
“Nobody can tell me that we are not impacted by the residential schools.” Brenda Semantha, who is Dene, is speaking, this in one of the 20 short videos that make up the Alberta School Boards Association’s Indigenous Insights series. “Whether you like it or not, they are a reality, a part of Canada’s history that we can no longer avoid, and no longer say, out of ignorance, ‘Oh, that doesn’t affect me’.”
A worker with The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program, a part of the All Nations Hope Network in Saskatchewan, she recalls, “They had the ability to strip us of our braids, our language, our way of life. But,” she adds, resistively, “they were not able to strip us of our spirit. And I truly believe that that is what pulled the people through the horrific experience of the residential schools.”
If this is so, it might be wise to pay heed to the unnamed blogger, writing for Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. in an August 16, 2018, posting, “What reconciliation is and what it is not”. It tells how Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action “awoke in many individuals…a realization that they had not just a role to play, but a moral responsibility to make amends for the past. …reconciliation is [by now] a familiar term to most of us. But there’s still confusion over what it means, and who is responsible…. The TRC definition of reconciliation [follows]:
“‘…Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.’” 
“I believe,” the blogger opines, that “Canada has moved to the point at which we no longer ask ‘whether reconciliation is possible,’ but ‘how is reconciliation possible’. And from that position, increasingly non-Indigenous Canadians are asking, ‘What can I do?’”
He or she makes these recommendations, among others: that we accept that reconciliation “is the responsibility of every Canadian”; that relationships be built between Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks, and negative perceptions and stereotypes be forsworn; that “learning about Indigenous history” is essential [and here he or she wants recognized “the intergenerational impacts of colonization, attempts at assimilation, and cultural genocide”]; and that “Indigenous beliefs, cultures, traditions, world views, challenges, and goals” be heralded.
That is what “Library Learnings” will strive for in the remaining months of 2019. And why it will do so. 
Coverage continues with the essay that will follow this introduction: to be posted here August 2, it will point up the Canadian Geographic’s new and admirable Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, a four-volume set of books. Read it, and you’ll suppose that it covers all things native. But, really, the atlas makes scant reference to religion and spirituality. “Spirituality is not typically discussed as a matter of practice,” Perry Bellegarde explains in the introduction to the volume about the First Peoples, but then the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations adds, “yet it forms the core of First Nations world views….”
Because this is so, “Library Learnings” then will be given over to an informative four-part series of essays, one a month, specifically about Indigenous religion and spirituality, based in part on several books in the SSUC Library collection. The first installment of this primer or overview will be posted on the Library web page on August 30; succeeding chapters will appear on September 27 (contact, colonization), October 25 (consequences), and November 22 (moving on).
And perhaps this focus on Indigeneity, now begun, will, in some small measure, help to foster reconciliation. One hopes.
In attempting to say, finally, why reconciliation is desirable, is essential, Robert Joseph, in a May 24, 2016, TEDTalk from Vancouver, put it simply: “…Because it’s the right thing to do. Because it aligns with our Canadian values.” Hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk Tribe, he concluded his address with these words: “…really, at the heart of it all [reconciliation] is this idea of love—of loving yourself, loving others—and we all can be driven by that…. [Then] one day soon, we will have achieved a country that is reconciled….”   
Afterword: a survey that “should give Canada cautious optimism” 
“Canada’s relationship with the Indigenous peoples who first inhabited this land continues to be unresolved and fraught with controversy.”
Ominous, that is the first sentence in the introduction to a national review conducted this past spring by the Environics Institute for Survey Research. The first of its kind, it measured the attitudes, experiences, priorities, and aspirations of young adults, ages 16 to 29, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. And what it found is not enmity—that opening line not withstanding—but hope.
“The results of this survey should give Canada cautious optimism,” EI pronounced upon the assay’s release on July 9, pointing out that there’s “a striking alignment between [the views of] both populations.” [ puts it this way: “…the similarities in perspective stand out, much more than the differences.”] The “youth in Canada as a whole are aware and engaged”—they get that the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples “is fractured,” but they’re “optimistic that we can repair it.”
So it is that “…reconciliation in particular” is a goal. Both populations agree on what will be required: “…reconciliation is considered to be about rebuilding relationships and trust, apologizing and making amends, and correcting past wrongs.” And both anticipate “meaningful progress toward reconciliation in their lifetimes.” The survey makes plain how important it is “to consider the perspective of the country’s youth—the emerging generation on whose shoulders the promise and challenge of reconciliation rest most directly.”
EI’s final report—which can be found by Googling “Canadian Youth Reconciliation Barometer 2019”—was pointed up in the Opinion section of The Globe and Mail’s Civic Holiday weekend edition. The writers, EI president Michael Adams, and Keith Neuman, lead researcher on the project, conclude that public attention now is focused “on the claims and concerns of Indigenous peoples and communities arguably to an unprecedented degree,” and so “more meaningful changes in public understanding and public will” may result.
Coincidentally, on that holiday Monday The Globe published what it called “The most-read ‘First Person’ columns of the past year.” There were four of them, including, from last November, a love letter to Canada penned by a woman from Virginia, Lorraine Koury, headlined, “I’m an American, but I’m head over heels in love with Canada.” It was unabashedly favourable, a paean to our country.
In fact, Ms. Koury waited until the 12th paragraph to point up just one shortcoming: “And even though we adore you, we are not blind to your faults, either. We know that you have your own problems, most importantly your continuing treatment of the Indigenous.” But, even after calling out this iniquity, she ended that paragraph on this supportive note: “But if there is one country on this Earth that we believe will eventually right its wrongs, it’s you.”
May it be so.
Ken Fredrick
Part 2: Neither Wolf Nor Dog
“Just carry Dan’s words in your heart”
“You did something we did not think was possible. You killed us, without even taking our lives.”
This intense, unexpected passage in the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog stopped this reader in his tracks. Is this what Murray Sinclair meant when, in reporting out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings, he spoke of “cultural genocide”? Or what Marion Buller meant when, in presenting the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, she eschewed the adjective, and discerned “genocide”? 
The words are Dan’s. He is the wizened and wise Lakota ancient on a South Dakota Indian reservation who, together with his side-kick Grover, all but kidnaps Kent Nerburn to tell his, and his people’s, story. Which the author does, feelingly, in his 1994 book Neither Wolf Nor Dog; it, and the two books that continue the story, The Wolf at Twilight [2009] and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo [2013]—together, they, all critically-acclaimed and award-winning, make up the so-called Neither Wolf Nor Dog Trilogy—were recently gifted to the SSUC Library.  
But it was not an easy story to write. Or read. Hard truths are told. As Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat put it in their review of the book for, “…Nerburn has fashioned a powerful drama around his encounters with Dan, a Lakota elder who unflinchingly speaks the truth about Indian life, past and present.”
“No one will leave us alone,” Dan disheartens, “and let us be who we are.” The ways of his people were “taken from them. Everything. Your people did it,” he rails at Nerburn. “That’s the way it was planned, and it worked. You took their spirits, and left them with shame.” And as “our culture goes, we go. Everything our old people starved for and our ancestors died for will be gone.” He adds, ultimately, “We were a good people. But we were not allowed to live.”
In the aftermath of this ruination, Dan tells Nerburn that “…we are still at war. …if we don’t fight for who we are, we will be destroyed….” So, he believes, “There is not an Indian alive who dares to think too much on the past. If we looked too long at the past, we would be too angry to live.” 
Such bitterness is personal, he admits: “…my grandfathers…said I had too much anger to speak. They told me that anger is only for the one who speaks. It never opens the heart of one who listens.” But his grandparents advised him of this, too: “There are good white people…. They want to do right. They are not the enemy anymore. The enemy is blindness to each other’s ways. Put away your anger, they said.” 
How different are the ways of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? “…White people always think of themselves first, and how to get your individual rights,” Dan reckons. “We don’t. We think about our culture, and how to make the people strong within it. That’s what we’re doing. We’re building the culture. That’s our job….” 
Nerburn mentions how nowadays white America is coming to “rediscover” the Indigenous “way of life,” and seeking “to appropriate the very spiritual truths we had tried to destroy, in order to fill the void of our own spiritual bankruptcy.” This is not lost on Dan: “Some of my people…think you know that you are lost, and that you want us to help you find your way.” He obliges: “You want to know how to be like Indians? Live close to the earth. Get rid of some of your things. Help each other. Talk to the Creator. Be more quiet. Listen to the earth instead of building things on it all the time.”
Albeit fleetingly, but tellingly, Dan brings the Christian faith into the conversation: “I like Jesus. …He was wakan [Encyclopaedia Britannica: “a great spiritual power…a kind of holiness or wonderfulness inherent in some objects”]. He should have been an Indian. He didn’t own anything. He slept outside on the earth. He moved around all the time. He shared everything he got. He even talked to the Great Spirit as his Father. He was just like an Indian.” 
What’s more, “The white people knew they…weren’t living like Jesus had told them. They made up excuses. When they looked at us, they saw the way Jesus had said to live. We made their excuses look false.”
“We’re calling it creative non-fiction”
Can a book “be at once a work of fiction,” Kent Nerburn asks on his website, “and non-fiction?” Yes, he answers, and cites Neither Wolf Nor Dog: it is, he asserts, “neither wolf nor dog.” In it, and in the other books in his trilogy, he uses “aspects of the novel, oral history, mythology, parable, and spiritual homily…. He describes the end result as “a genre-blending, category-blurring literary vehicle….” He tells, “We’re calling it creative non-fiction.
“Is every part of it factual? No. True? Yes. Everything in there is based on actual physical experience and memory,” he continues, “but, for the sake of story-telling, the narrative is reconstructed in places.” So, Dan, Grover, and the others in the book are “real people, all,” Nerburn declares on his website. Though “‘Dan’ is not his real name,” according to Minnesota’s “Nerburn has renamed everyone, except himself.” [St. Paul’s Pioneer Press reported that “Dan died in 2002.”]
In a 2017 interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Nerburn, who had just moved from Minnesota to Portland, supposed that his 1994 book “has remained alive…because it serves as a bridge from the non-Native culture to the Native cultures, and I walk you, the reader, across the bridge. I…hand you over to their voices [those of Native Americans], to the most authentic expression of their understanding and beliefs that I can create, and I get out of the way and let them talk….
As Neither Wolf Nor Dog nears its conclusion, Nerburn is taken, inevitably, rightly, to Wounded Knee. It was here, on December 29, 1890, that 457 Seventh Cavalry troopers—this was General George Armstrong Custer’s corps, remember—fired indiscriminately and at close range on mostly unarmed Indian people, approximately 350 of them, whom they had been escorting. According to the Library of Congress, over 300 were killed, half of them women and children. 
That morning, the Sioux in their camp, had joined in a Ghost Dance, according to history-online website Timeline, “praying that the soldiers be scattered like dust in the air.” To Native Americans in the West, the Ghost Dance symbolized “blissful resurrection”; to non-Indigenous peoples “it represented Native American resistance to white brutality and cultural erasure. …the United States military perceived the Ghost Dance as an act of war.”
What it was, was a peaceful spiritual movement, begun in the late 1800s by a Paiute religious leader, Wovoka, which spread quickly as far east as the Missouri River and to the Canadian border. He saw himself—this as puts it—“as a new messiah, or Jesus Christ, come to the Indians.” Intended to rehabilitate Native American cultures, this movement announced the imminent return of the dead—hence, “Ghost”—the ousting of whites, and the restoration of Native lands and ways of life. These ends, it was believed, would be hastened by song and dance. 
Dan touches upon the Ghost Dance phenomenon: “But it made the government angry. The Indians had hope. If you have hope, you come alive again. We had all become dead in our hearts. When the government saw us come alive again, it had to kill us. We could not have hope. If we had hope, we might have dreams. We could not be allowed to have dreams.”
By now in his book, Nerburn, fully committed to the Native Anmericans’ cause, picks up on Dan’s outcry: “…people who had sensed the power of God in every rock and bird and square inch of land had been reduced to dancing crazily in a circle, in hopes that their desperate ecstasy would call forth a saviour who would keep them from having to watch one more of their children die hollow-eyed and uncomprehending in their arms. …we had destroyed the dreams and families of an entire race, leaving them homeless, faithless, and with nothing but ashes of a once graceful and balanced way of life….”  
In real life, too, Kent Nerburn is fully committed to the Native Americans’ cause.  
Five years ago, the website [“nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism”] mentioned that he “isn’t a Native writer, but the majority of his work centres in Native American themes.” As an author, he has managed to “respectfully bridge the chasm between the white and Native worlds, and he ultimately earned the trust of people who have learned to trust no one who looks like him.” 
You wonder, how did he do this? “I became a watcher,” he explained a year earlier in an interview with Read the Spirit online magazine. He cited this as an example…and it’s worthy of reporting here in whole:
“I went to visit one of these places [a former Great Plains residential school for Indigenous youth]. I was invited to talk to some clergy and, while I was on that trip, I stopped by a cinder-block cafe at a time when it was almost empty. There was just one old man at a table. I asked if I could join him. He said, ‘Sure.’ I asked, ‘Did you go to this boarding school when you were young?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I went.’ ‘How was it?’ He said, ‘I learned good language. I learned good Christian.’ Then he paused. Finally, he said, ‘And now I am no longer myself.’ To me, that was a dagger in my heart.” 
At the end of that interview, Nerburn added this: “…I really try to write from my best self. I don’t let my ironic self, or my sarcastic or angry self, get into my books. …As a writer, I have a ministry. That ministry is to write from the heart. …I’m giving readers stories with heart….” 
That he would see his endeavours as a “ministry” is not surprising. After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota—he’s from Minneapolis—he pursued studies at Stanford, then Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union; in 1980, he graduated with a Ph.D., with distinction, in both theology and art. David Crumm, Read the Spirit’s editor, labeled him “a unique American theologian, working his way through cycles of stories and artworks [Nerburn is a noted sculptor, not only an author of 20 books], travels and talks, toward developing an authentically North American theology rooted in geography and peoples of this continent.” 
Finding “creative non-fiction” in the Christian Bible
Kent Nerburn’s use of “creative non-fiction” in the writing of Neither Wolf Nor Dog shouldn’t trouble in the least progressive Christian readers. It’s something with which they are familiar, surely. Consider how progressive Christianity pioneer Marcus Borg finds it thither and yon in the Bible. He just calls it something else: “metaphorical narrative”.
In The Heart of Christianity, he insists that “stories can be true, can be revelatory, can be epiphanies, even if they are not factual reports.” In the Bible, for example, “the Genesis stories of creation…are not history remembered. Yet, as metaphorical narratives, they can be profoundly true, even though not literally factual.” He loves to tell how the Oglala Sioux medicine man and spiritual leader Black Hawk would begin to tell his people’s story of creation: “Now, I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know the story is true.
All right, but Nerburn is best known as an author, as Crumm mentions, and especially for his books that explore “Euro-American relationships with Native Americans.” In this, he’s helping to retell the national narrative: “One of the central problems is this unresolvable tragedy at the heart of our American narrative,” Nerburn warrants, “when we look at what we did to the people who lived here first. 
“Not only did we expunge the native history from our history books for a long time, we took generations of Native American children into boarding schools, and tried to expunge their history from them, by force. A lot of the struggles with Native Americans over the years have come because of these efforts to destroy, to erase their stories from our national story.” (It’s worth noting here what Haligonian Tara Thorne wrote in The Coast in a review of the movie version of Neither Wolf Nor Dog: “…Canadians will see the parallels in the two countries’ treatment of its Indigenous citizens.”)
That Nerburn has wrestled with what he calls “this unresolvable tragedy” can be seen in his letter to teacher Bill Davis’s high school students in Stillwell, Oklahoma—they had read Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and had shared with Nerburn their take on the book: “ ..There may be nothing we can do other than be aware of what our presence on this continent had wrought. …there may not be a way to rectify past wrongs, beyond having them serve as a kind of dark knowledge that guides our footsteps into the future…. 
“We, as members of the dominant, or at least the dominating culture, do not have to feel guilt at what happened in the past. We merely have to feel responsibility for it as it impacts the present and future. Power is real, and the powerless rely on those of us who can effect change to do so, even if that change is only in attitudes….  
[Referring then to Dan and his insights, Nerburn continues his letter] “…he gives us insight into a way of understanding [different from our own]…. Once we can begin to share that understanding, if only for the purposes of seeing into the heart and mind of another, we are on our way to reconciliation and healing…. …Just carry Dan’s words in your heart….”
Correspondent Kathy Holmgren, writing earlier this year in the Rapid City, South Dakota, publication, Native Sun News Today, displayed more passion, and less compassion, as a result of taking in Neither Wolf Nor Dog: if we “take great collective pride in the stories of the people who settled this land…the ‘wild west’…then we must accept that we have collective guilt…for killing innocent old men, women, nursing mothers and babies, at Wounded Knee. If we take collective pride in the American cowboy, we must accept collective guilt for the Indian schools that ripped children from their mothers, and beat them for speaking their own language, even though they didn’t know any other; priests who molested them; teachers who tied them in chairs. …we must accept the collective guilt that comes with broken treaties, broken families, and broken lives.
“You see, if we take the pride, and never accept the guilt, then Dan and Grover and every other Native has a right to be angry. They may always be angry, I don’t know. But I do know that without acceptance of that collective guilt, we can never even begin to heal the wounds and the rift that still divides.” 
Ken Fredrick
Part #3: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada 
Canada—”before the lines were drawn”

We’re Albertans. There are lines on maps that make us so. More than a hundred years ago, someone somewhere—Ottawa?—drew these mostly-straight strokes on a map, where there’d been none before. They pre-empt us from being, instead, residents of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, or the Northwest Territories; another had been drawn earlier—it’s the one that thwarts our longings [should we have these] to be Americans. But what would we be had these lines not been drawn? Can you even imagine Canada without these familiar demarcations? 
Created by The Royal Canadian Geographic Society, published by Canadian Geographic, and funded by the Canadian government, the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada discards these lines. See for yourself—the atlas has been added to the SSUC Library’s reference collection. See this new-old depiction of this land, sans borders; lose yourself in it, and you likely will. Shouldn’t that waterway be labeled the North Saskatchewan River? And how come we are in a place labeled “Cree”? And when you drive 390 kilometres west on Highway 16 you should enter B.C.—right?—except there’s no such place; there’s no such highway, either. 
It’s as John Geiger, the RCGS’s president, observed, as reported in the Ottawa Citizen: “It is a view of Canada ‘before the lines were drawn’.” That was one of the things “we were really clear about: we asked not to see political boundaries,” states Charlene Bearhead, educational advisor for the atlas. “Canadian Geographic listened. They interpreted. They came back, and asked if they got it right. It was incredible. And I believe that that was the most significant contributing factor to the success of this project.” 
After all, as Adam Gaudry, a Métis professor from University of Alberta, points out in the forward, “Cartography has long been an imperial enterprise used to claim territory and imagine the geographic reach of empires. In its imperial usage, map-making is an instrument of Indigenous erasure.” Educator Angela Nardozi, who, for over a decade, has had what she describes as a “passion for working alongside Indigenous communities,” references on her website Gaudry’s contribution, and how it affirms “the political nature of mapping, how mapping has been weaponized against Indigenous peoples.”    
In September of last year, Steve Paikin, devoted an entire half-hour episode of his TVO show, The Agenda, to the atlas. “For generations, knowledge about Indigenous history and culture was overlooked, dismissed, and even intentionally erased, as the residential schools experience amply demonstrated. Times have changed, and an ambitious new project is putting some of that back on the map. Literally.” 
The project began in 2016 with an informal talk between Carolyn Bennett, minister of crown-Indigenous relations, and Geiger—who, by the way, pictures the minster as “a great lover of geography and a great lover of maps.” As he later explained, “It is our hope that this atlas will help Canadians to build a better understanding of our Indigenous peoples, appreciate their contribution to building our great country, and ultimately begin the process of reconciliation.” The venture arose out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s incitement that “culturally appropriate curricula” be developed for Aboriginal Canadian students. 
“This unique Indigenous-led educational project will provide Indigenous students with a much-needed tool kit to help them learn more about their people, geography, and culture,” the RCGS stated in a news release. More than that, however, the atlas provides a resource “for all Canadians to better understand our shared geography, and positions us to build healthy relationships for the future,” according to Roberta Jamieson, CEO of Indspire, a charitable organization dedicated to raising funds to deliver programs that’ll provide the tools needed for Canada’s Indigenous peoples—especially youth—to achieve their potential. 
To create the atlas, editors collaborated with Indspire and these other groups and organizations representing Indigenous peoples: the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The RCGS warrants that “the level of Indigenous participation and Indigenous-led content creation” proved to be “unprecedented in scope.” “Wherever possible, we used the voice of [an Indigenous person],” Ossie Michelin told APTN News. The journalist who edited the atlas’s Inuit section, added, “When that wasn’t available, we went with a researcher or scientist working directly with Indigenous groups.” 
Geiger says so, too. In his interview with the Ottawa Citizen, he affirms, “…one thing that was clear from the very beginning was that…the content had to be Indigenous-led. This wasn’t the society trying to tell a story on behalf of Indigenous people; this would be a story told by Indigenous people.” Further along, he declares, “This is a magnificent story to tell of the incredible cultures that existed pre-European contact, and the depth of these cultures and the beauty of them. I think this book really captures that.” 
On whose territories were pipeline projects happening?
On the heels of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada comes Native Land Digital, a crowd-sourced, interactive website [] that’s mapping traditional territories of Indigenous peoples, treaties, and languages. While this new Canadian not-for-profit—it was incorporated last December—was designed to be, and is becoming fully Indigenous-led, it was created in 2015 by Victor Temprano, CEO of, a tech startup in Vancouver. As he explains, it “is not anacademic or professional survey of Indigenous territories, and the maps are constantly being refined from user input.”
The venture arose while he was “mapping out pipeline projects” in British Columbia. “I started to ask myself whose territories all these projects were happening on.” Native Land’s mutable maps are “meant to encourage education and engagement on topics…[such as] colonization, land rights, language, and Indigenous history.” Too, it’s hoped that those who’ll view these maps will look at the land “from an Indigenous perspective [which] means understanding that the land is a living being.
It’s thanks to Lois Evans that SSUC now possesses this publication. She purchased the four-volume set—one provides an overview; the others are devoted, one each, to the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit—and then donated it to the church Library. She found the atlas advertised in a magazine, she explains, and, because “we have been exploring our relationship with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, I thought it would be an excellent resource for the church.” Is it ever! It fills 328 good-sized pages; contains 48 full-page maps, plus over 50 smaller maps; features more than 350 photographs; and includes timelines, charts, graphics, frequently-asked questions, and a helpful glossary in which a whopping 164 terms are explained.  
Even if you’re one of those who can’t tell up from down when eyeing a map, this collection of books will grab your interest. Kids Can Press is the global distributor of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, which company president Lisa Lyons Johnston describes as “so much more than an atlas, the gorgeous four-volume set of books can more accurately be described as an encyclopedia.” As the Canadian Press mentioned, it includes information about Indigenous lands, communities, languages, treaties, and addresses topics such as colonization, residential schools, cultural appropriation, and racism. As Nardozi puts it, “It is amazing to have this amount of information that I trust in one place.”
Because so much information is imparted, this essay can do no more than offer a wee sampling…of what especially piqued and concerned and jolted this reader.
*  “We live in an era of reconciliation,” Julian Brave NoiseCat allows in the introduction to the atlas. But he, a member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen in British Columbia, goes on to add, “but it would take an unprecedented transformation for the immense wrongs perpetuated against our people to be put right. To begin, we must peer into the abyss of these injustices.” He goes on to tell of “decades and even centuries of struggle,” and, more specifically, that, “Our land was stolen, and with it our culture and life ways….”
Just so, Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, reports and regrets this history: “…one fact remains central—the traditional lands, practices, values, cultures, languages, systems and understandings of Indigenous peoples have been systematically attacked, dismantled, and destroyed, at the hands of the Canadian state.”  
*  Of Southern Tutchone-Athabaskan and Euro-Canadian descent, Jocelyn Joe-Strack, in writing about efforts to negotiate land settlements with governments, points out, “At the heart of this dispute was a foundational difference in the Indigenous approach to development: our vision is generations-long. …This phenomenon of intergenerational leadership driven by devotion to our children is one of the key successes of Indigenous peoples. It is a force that has [changed] and is changing how decisions are made. …there’s still work to do to convince our colleagues in development of the value of prioritizing generations over year-to-year benefit….”
So it is that—this is reported in the piece on “Protected areas”—Indigenous rights advocate and former Xat’sull First Nation chief Bev Sellars filed private criminal charges against a mining company for the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia: “‘We just couldn’t let it go. In my culture, we have a sacred responsibility not only to care for the land, waters, animals, and people living today, but also for the next seven generations to come. I could not bear to witness B.C. simply stepping aside and giving up on its responsibility to protect our shared environment and waters.’”
*  In the volume given over to the Métis, it’s explained, “Being from both Indigenous and settler traditions, the Métis have always had the ability to ‘live in two worlds,’ and have been able to adapt to changing circumstances.” Their adaptive nature can be seen in “their traditional culture, which seamlessly blends Cree, Ojibwa, French-Canadian, and Scots parent cultures into a vibrant synthesis….” [This volume, incidentally, tells in a straightforward manner the history of the Métis, from when “they arose out of the fur trade, in the late 1700s,” to today; those given over to the Inuit and First Nations peoples are more topical in their approach.]
*  Not surprisingly, climate change is pointed up in the book about the Inuit. “…The environment of risk that Inuit are born into is intensifying because of climate change…. Unprecedented rates of summer ice loss, reduced sea ice in the winter, ocean acidification, temperature and sea level rise, melting permafrost, extreme weather events, and severe coastal erosion, undermine our ability to thrive in our environment…. For Inuit, sea ice is critical infrastructure…. Ice is an extension of the land—its existence is imperative for Inuit to travel…. …Recent changes in the northern climate have led to increasingly dangerous sea ice and snow conditions, causing hunting areas and traditional travel routes to become inaccessible….”
*  The precariousness of life in the north is underscored in a particular table, found on page 50 of this volume: it reports such social and economic inequities as these in the Inuit regions compared to the rest of Canada: the life expectancy for Inuit is 10-1/2 years less than it is for non-Indigenous Canadians; the infant mortality rate is almost three times greater than that for the non-Indigenous in Canada; 70% of Inuit households are food insecure, while all households in Canada are 8% food insecure; and the inequities go on and on. 
*  In writing, movingly, of the residential school debacle, Anne Spice, a Tlingit member of Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Yukon, tells of her maternal grandfather: “…He died before I was born. He died of demons born in this school [Carcross Residential School]. He died without ever telling his story. Instead, he swallowed it, and it is this absence that troubles me…. …By holding his experience and refusing to pass it along to his children, my grandfather was destroyed from the inside out. Crucially, my mother names this not as passive suffering, but as an act of sacrifice. He contained the violence to ensure it was not transmitted to future generations….
“As adults, knowing even a fraction of what may have happened in that school is enough to undo us. We know enough about this school, about the others, to assume that it was worse than we can imagine. It destroyed him. But he had demons that assaulted him for his whole—whole life. …His silence was a shield. My mother grew up without knowing, and his knowing but not telling was an act of love….” 
*  In what is the most hard-hitting entry in the four volumes, Karyn Pugliese, who’s just vacated the post of director of news and current affairs for APTN—she’s heading to Harvard this fall as the Martin Goodman Canadian Nieman Fellow—scathes journalists, and not only non-Indigenous reporters and editors, for failing for so long to cover ably the story of the First Peoples. Writing about reconciliation, she, described as an Algonquin citizen of the Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, and she alone in the four volumes, gets a disclaimer added to her contribution to the atlas: “Her opinions are her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of her employer.” 
“…it took years to do work we are proud of,” she declares, writing about the coverage of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. “And lest we forget, we did not get there on our own. Indigenous families insisted their loved ones deserved equal word counts, to be above the fold. Mothers marched through downtown streets, held vigils, lit candles. Women glued photos of their lost sisters onto coloured bristol board, scrawled their names in bold black marker. They planted themselves on Parliament Hill in the path of journalists heading to scrums. Why did we make families push so hard and wait so long?” 
*  And yet…and yet…the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada teems with hope and promise and grace. Craving a way forwards, Ry Moran would have us create “a new national narrative.” We need “to fundamentally shift the national narrative away from a culture of domination and oppression, and towards a culture of respect, reciprocity, and understanding.” We have, he warrants, an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to walk together “towards the destination of a fair, equitable, and just country. …Together, if we are willing, we can transform this country into something we are all proud to call home.” 
By way of concluding this essay, the writer herewith cites Elizabeth Renzetti’s June 8 column in The Globe and Mail. In it, she points out that the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls “make simple but profound requests of all Canadians: that we take the time to learn about Indigenous history and the crushing consequences of colonialism and misogyny.” He’ll say, too, how a helpful start on this venture can be made by visiting the SSUC Library and delving into the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada.
Ken Fredrick

Indigenous Religion & Spirituality, Part 1

“Our religion is an attitude of mind”

“‘We do not have a religion’”—in his book The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality, Blair Stonechild is quoting the man he calls his “esteemed mentor,” First Nations elder Danny Musqua—”‘but rather a way of living….’” 
Over and over again, this point is made in many of the texts and articles scrutinized in order to grasp and report Indigenous religion and spirituality [books in the SSUC Library collection are bold-faced in the initial reference]: “…religion was not separated from the rest of life” (The Land Looks After Us: A History of Native American Religion, 2001, by Joel Martin); “Every act of his life [that of the Native American] is, in a very real sense, a religious act” (The Soul of the Indian, 1911, by Santee Sioux Ohiyesa); “The Redman’s religion…is part of his every thought and his daily life” (The Gospel of the Redman, 1935, by Ernest & Julia Seton). As the National Film Board of Canada’s The Faith Project explains, “…There is no dichotomy between ‘religion’ and regular life—it is not seen as separate from the overall human experiences of living, knowing, and learning.” 
Author Kent Nerburn, who describes his work as a search for “an authentic American spirituality,” quotes Ohiyesa—this in the 1999 book he edited, The Wisdom of the Native Americans—as saying, “Our faith cannot be formulated in creeds, nor forced upon any who are unwilling to receive it; hence there is no preaching, proselytizing, nor persecution, neither are there any scoffers or atheists. Our religion is an attitude of mind, not a dogma.”  
The storied Chiricahua Apache medicine man and warrior, Geronimo, once spelled out his people’s understanding of religiosity in these words, recorded in the 1994 Running Press book, Native American Wisdom: “We had no churches, no religious organizations, no sabbath day, no holidays, and yet we worshipped. Sometimes the whole tribe would assemble, and sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number…. The songs had a few words, and were not formal. The singer would occasionally put in such words as he wished…. Sometimes we prayed in silence, sometimes each prayed aloud, sometimes an aged person prayed for all of us. At other times, one would rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen [God]. Our services were short.”
In The Knowledge Seeker, Stonechild, a Cree Saulteaux member of the Muscowpetung First Nation, and a professor of Indigenous studies at First Nations University of Canada, reports how an elder explained, “…once a person set foot outside his lodge, the entire world was his church. …Spirituality is to be practiced daily, rather than merely written about or practiced in a rigid institutional setting. Underlying all Aboriginal belief is a view of a world gifted by Manitow [God]. Our purpose on earth is to develop an understanding of how to live in harmony with all of Creation.”
Difficult to digest
As you read on, be aware that it may not be possible for a non-Indigenous person to construe Indigenous religion and spirituality. This cautioning appears in three different books: “…outsiders can never fully understand their religion…” (Martin); and, “The religion of the Indian is the last thing about him that the man of another race will ever understand” (Ohiyesa). Then there’s this admonition, written by the University of Regina’s elder-in-residence, Noel Starblanket, in the foreword to Stonechild’s book: 
“…deep spiritual understandings of Indigenous peoples are often difficult for [the] non-Indigenous…to digest…. Many spiritual concepts can never be effectively transcribed in the English language from their original Indigenous tongue. Therefore, unless one is a spiritual practitioner and a fluent Indigenous-language speaker, one cannot ever hope to totally and comprehensively grasp, much less fully explain, them on the written page….”
Even so, we mean to try…to try. After all, the University of Regina Press, which published the Stonechild book, makes the point that there is an “urgent need to teach about Indigenous spirituality.”
Raveling out Indigenous religion and spirituality is complicated by the fact, which Martin, who is chair in American Indian studies at the Riverside campus of the University of California, affirms: “Over the course of millennia, American Indians created hundreds of different religions….” And in this country? “There is no definitive and overarching ‘Indigenous religion’,” The Canadian Encyclopedia online reports. Bear in mind that there are in Canada, according to the 2016 census, 1.67 million people who identify as being Aboriginal; and that there are, the encyclopedia declares, 634 First Nations. “However,” it adds, “there are commonalities among Indigenous spiritual traditions….” 
“Spiritual practice was at the core of life of early Indigenous peoples of the Americas,” Stonechild vouches, and says again, “…in pre-contact life, spirituality played a central role in people’s lives.” (But it’s less so nowadays? “Our spiritual life is withering,” he laments—much more on this further along.) In its Native Spirituality Guide, the RCMP reckons that a “sense of identity, pride, and self-esteem are rooted in established spiritual principles.”
In the very first paragraph of his history of Native American religion, Martin tells how Indigenous peoples incorporated spirituality into everyday life: “Little is separate from religious influence. …Their spirituality can affect how they cook, eat, dance, paint, tell stories, mould pottery, dye clothes, decorate their bodies, design their homes, organize their villages, court lovers, marry, bury, dress, speak, make love, cut their hair, and so on.”
In an effort to help teachers nowadays to best present educational materials to Native American learners, Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, fashioned a paper entitled, “Traditional Native American values and behaviours”. It considers spirituality: “Religious thought and action are integrated into every aspect of the sociocultural fabric of traditional Native American life. Spirituality is considered a natural component of everything. …all aspects of Indian cultures are touched by it….”
In his 2012 book, Spirit Talkers: North American Indian Medicine Powers, William Lyon, associate researcher at the University of Kansas, quotes 19th-century historian and author Henry Schoolcraft: “’It would surprise any person to become acquainted with the variety and extent to which an Indian is influenced by his religious views and superstitions. He takes no important step without reference to it.’” The Setons said likewise: “The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual…. His mode of life, his thought, his every act, are given spiritual significance….”
Why so? “Key to understanding Aboriginal spirituality,” Stonechild explains, “is the notion that ’spirit’ actually exists.” The belief system of his Saulteaux people, and those of related nations, “maintains a direct connection to what is spirit, drawing directly from a spiritual fount that has always been, and continues to be, real and tangible.”
What else he heralds will sound ever so familiar to SSUC members and friends, for we have heard our ministers say it repeatedly: “The fundamental precept to understand and appreciate…is that we are really spirit beings who are on a physical journey as humans….”
Native American attorney, activist, teacher, and author Sherri Mitchell, in her Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-based Change, 2018, introduces another overriding component in Indigenous spirituality, which is that “the Creator is the source of our being, and that we can never be separated from that source….” Stonechild puts it this way: “The purpose of spirituality is to discover [and cultivate] the relationship that the Creator has with the universe…. …[It is] a means of connecting with the supernatural….” 
Such engagement goes way back. Martin quotes an 18th-century Englishman, William Bartram, who traveled among the Native Americans: “’These Indians are by no means idolaters, unless their puffing the tobacco smoke towards the sun, and rejoicing in the appearance of the new moon, may be termed so. So far from idolatry are they, that they have no images amongst them, nor any religious rite or ceremony that I could perceive; but adore the Great Spirit, the giver and taker of the breath of life, with the most profound and respectful homage.’”
In the 2018 edition of the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association’s spring session at the University of Alberta, Charlene Bearhead taught a roomful of continuing education students—this writer among them—the course, “From Truth to Reconciliation”. Who better? She, the newly-appointed head of education and programming for the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, was education coordinator for both the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation; also, she served as educational advisor for the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada.
So it was she whose assistance was sought as these essays about Indigenous religion and spirituality were being imagined: to best comprehend Indigenous religion and spirituality, what books should be read? She, in turn, enlisted the help of seven knowledgeable colleagues and friends: Cheryl Devin, Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty, Elizabeth Gauthro, Jennifer Tupper, Shelby LaFramboise, Sylvia Smith, and James Daschuk, each of whom recommended books…several of which (Mitchell, Stonechild, Chantal Fiola) proved to be indispensable. Their input, so appreciated, is acknowledged.
Then, with the research and writing ended, what Charlene did was vet the completed essay—she served as, in her own words, a sounding board, a peer reviewer. (Along the way, she shared this thought—try to recall it as this four-part composition comes to be concluded: “If you peel away enough layers, every culture can trace back to the same values.”) For her efforts, encouragement, and kindness, this writer gives thanks.
Actually, “Ceremonies are deemed essential to keeping open the connection with the spiritual world,” Stonechild observes, “that realm that is beyond ordinary sensory experience. So central are ceremonies to our societies that whenever any major development occurs in our individual or collective life…a ceremony is conducted in order that matters may evolve in a ‘good way’. …Ceremonies, prayer, meditation, visions, and dreams are all part of spiritual endeavour….” 
The Faith Project, as well, underscores this necessity: “Ceremonies and cultural practices can include powwows, sweat lodges, smudging, fasting, singing/chanting and dancing. Such practices are seen as expressions of spirituality within a holistic, balanced, and harmonious worldview.” As it explains, “Spirituality is more a worldview than a set of specific cultural practices. In this worldview, sacredness is interwoven through all dimensions of life….” 
This notion of inter-connectedness shows up in the literature over and over: “The concept of relationship is integral to Aboriginal spiritual traditions” (The Faith Project); “Native spiritual life is founded on a belief in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all natural things, all forms of life,” (Native Spirituality Guide); “Our songs, stories, and mythologies all speak of our interrelatedness. …it is a belief that has been held by Indigenous peoples since the beginning of time” (Sacred Instructions).
Certainly, the Indigenous people’s relationship to the earth itself is a habitude that is undoubted…and makes headlines often enough. “…for many Native nations, the land matters profoundly,” Martin writes. “Tied to cherished stories, beloved foods, family memories, vital gods, and influential ancestors, the land is sacred. This conviction, shared by many contemporary Native peoples, goes back thousands of years.” 
In his history, he points up what could serve as a summary—it’s a declaration, made in 1951, by Hopi chiefs and elders: “Our land, our religion, and our lives, are one.” 
Ken Fredrick
Indigenous religion & spirituality, part 2
“Ships arrived to harvest souls”
“Ships arrived to harvest souls….”

Karen Solie has a wonderful way with words, as well she should: she’s associate director of the Banff Centre’s writing studio program. This evocative line is found in her recent fifth book of poetry, The Caiplie Caves, from which it was excerpted in the first-ever issue of Broadview, the offshoot of The United Church Observer. The book, according to the House of Anansi Press, “attends to transition in times of crisis.”
Solie’s words, and those of her book’s publisher, invoke surpassingly the coming of the European, Christian colonialists to what we call the Americas, and one of the reasons for their incursion. Ruination ensued. “Contact is probably the most dramatic collision of two diametrically different belief systems and ideologies in world history,” Brian Stonechild declares in his book, The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality. “There was,” he adds, “a total lack of comprehension of Indigenous spirituality, and it was treated with contempt.”
In telling of the invasion of Aboriginal lands, Tim Giago, founder of the Native American Journalists Association, in a 2011 HuffPost online article, is blistering: “The invading Christians labeled the Indigenous people as heathens. They set out with a vengeance to cleanse the land of these heathens….
“Perhaps it was an act of white supremacy that caused the settlers to totally black out, and begin to destroy the faith and ideologies of the Indigenous people. There was never an effort made to understand their beliefs. It was automatically assumed that they were inferior, and therefore their spirituality and traditions were worthless…. …If they converted to Christianity, they would be saved, and, much more, they would be civilized….”
One non-Indigenous authority, right here in Edmonton, Bill Anderson, is just as outspoken. “At the core of colonialism, in my view, is pride,” this Lutheran Church-Canada pastor wrote in April last year in his denomination’s online magazine, Canadian Lutheran. A professor of religious studies at Concordia University of Edmonton, he warr
anted, “It’s the arrogance and pretentiousness that one culture is superior to another—and therefore presumptively asserts its domination over other people groups—while stealing their land and resources.”
Further along in his piece, he adds, “Colonialism is what caused the mass suffering of Indigenous people here in Canada, the Americas, and around the world.”
Don’t “expect the rivers to run backward”
It was Chief Joseph who led his people on a punishing thousand-mile flight through America’s Rocky Mountains in an attempt to reach Canada so that they could live in peace. Ultimately, surrounded by U.S. troops in the Battle of Bear Paw, the Nez Perce surrendered on October 5, 1977…40 miles from the international border and freedom.
And it was he who, 15 months later, addressed Congress. The version of his oration “that has come down to us was published several months later in the distinguished periodical, The North American Review. …[In his address] he painted one of the most poignant portraits of the Indian experience that has ever been voiced,” Kent Nerburn contends in the book he edited, The Wisdom of the Native Americans. Chief Joseph avowed, in this excerpt:
“‘If the white man wants to li
ve in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit. They are all brothers. The earth is the Mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.
“‘You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases…. Let me be a free man…and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty. When the white man treats an Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars….’
The encroachment is summarized, with less passion—after all, this is from The Canadian Encyclopedia online—in this fashion: “Contact with European religious systems—through settlers, missionaries, church- and government-sponsored residential schools, and direct and indirect government policy—brought change to all Indigenous religious forms.” Let us attempt here and now to detail various ways and means that brought on such change.
Indigenous peoples, together with their traditions, have “survived” colonization—“miraculously, unbelievably—in spite of extraordinary challenges,” Joel Martin affirms in his history of Native American religion. “These challenges included horrible diseases, territorial invasion, enslavement, popular and ’scientific’ expressions of racism, state-enforced dispossession, compulsory conversion to alien ways, separation of children from parents, privation, poverty, isolation, bureaucratic harassment, environmental pollution, unchecked development, tourism, insensitive judicial decisions, and other threats. Many of these negative pressures,” he adds, “continue to this very day….”
What’s more, certainly many Indigenous people link such vicissitudes to Christianity. “They accuse Christianity of involvement in genocide,” Martin writes. “They note that when Europeans invaded America they did so not as people who just happened to be Christians, but as Christians who felt it their sacred duty to conquer and subjugate non-Christian peoples. …In the name of God, Christians sanctioned a massive invasion of Native land, enslaved American Indians, slaughtered whole communities, exiled others, imprisoned still others, forced conversion, instilled Indian self-hatred, separated children from their parents, and desecrated Native sacred sites.”
“In effect, the European came among us,” Ohiyesa remembers, in his book from 1911, The Soul of an Indian, and said: “‘…We have the only God, and He has given us authority to teach and govern all the peoples of the earth. In proof of this, we have His Book, a supernatural guide, 
every word of which is true and binding. We are a chosen people, a superior race. We have a heaven with golden gates fenced in from all pagans and unbelievers, and a hell where the souls of such are tortured eternally.’”
Not that the newcomers themselves always lived out their Christian ways: “…Christianity is not practiced by the very people who vouch for [it]…. It appears that they are anxious to pass on their religion to all other races, but keep very little of it for themselves,” the Santee Sioux writer observes. There were exceptions. Martin tells how, of all the types of Christians he knew—this was in 1756—a Munsee Delaware named Papounhan “held the Quakers in highest regard. He said they ‘walked nearest to what Jesus Christ had required Europeans to do’. He urged Europeans to practice what Quakers preached: nonviolence, antislavery, and self-restraint.”
That was then, this is now, and humankind has wisened up, yes? “In truth, it is colonization that is the real danger, because the force driving it is never satisfied,” Sherri Mitchell points out in her stirring book, published just last year, Sacred Instructions. Colonization “continues to consume everything in its path until everything has been devoured. The only way to stop this cannibalistic destruction is to liberate ourselves from the colonial mind-set, and realign ourselves with the source of life.” She a
sserts, and rues, how “colonization has forced upon us…the belief that there is a separation between us and our Creator (God).”
“…so that things calm down”
Posted to Facebook on June 4, a short video, part of a series about northern entrepreneurs produced by The Narwhal magazine, introduces Misty Ireland. Born in the Northwest Territories, she, a Dene and a member of the Jean Marie River First Nation, has had, we learn, “a keen interest in learning traditional uses for products harvested from the land”; this interest came to include essential oils. So, when family members were unable to use traditional smoke smudges—this is precluded in such public spaces as hospitals— she developed a more environmentally-friendly option, an oil spray for smudging purposes; and her business, Dene Roots, was born.
Be that as it may, it’s these words of hers, about strengthening relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples—she voices them, looking straight into the videographer’s camera—that struck this writer: “…as Indigenous people across Canada, we need to share, we need to educate, we need to promote, we need to assert our teachings, our understandings of how things are, so that things calm down, and things get rebalanced, and people reconnect, and we get healthier.
That’s the American experience; surely, Canada’s First Nations peoples were better treated? “…colonization has forced us to forget the Original Instructions given to us by creator,” Chantal Fiola attests in her book, published in 2015 by the University of Manitoba Press, Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Métis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality. A Métis Anishinaabe-kwe—an Ojibwe woman—she teaches Native studies at U of M.
“The colonial agenda of assimilating Anishinaabe peoples into dominant European settler ways dates back to early contact, and continues to this day. European religions have played a central role in this assimilative agenda…. …Christianity was encouraged (often forced upon) Aboriginal peoples, including the Métis, in many ways…. At the same time as policy and legislation was being drafted to facilitate the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples, ongoing missionary efforts with the purpose of converting the Métis were also occurring.”
She castigates the “notorious” residential schools (“Former students recall the messages loud and clear: ‘If you stay Indian, you’ll end up in hell’”), references the child welfare system, and itemizes government actions (“the Indian Act effectively made Indigenous ceremonies illegal for approximately a century, and, as a result, ceremonies had to go underground, and were practiced in secret”).
In her book, Fiola tells of a study she conducted, which had her interviewing at length a dozen-and-a-half participants, all Métis. “Many identified fear-mongering tactics used by Christians to control Aboriginal people…including Christians who refer to traditional ceremonies as ‘evil,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘witchcraft,’ or ‘devil’s work,’ and to those who participate as ‘heathens’ and ‘heretics,’ who will surely ‘burn in hell.’” She adds, “Each of the participants in question mentioned that this type of control and intimidation at the hands of the Christian church, and some individual Christians, continues to this day….”
We know about this. “The Indigenous peoples of the lands that became Canada welcomed those who brought the Christian gospel,” The United Church Manual observes. “Yet as Christians, we abused this welcome,” the UCC stated just this year in its jotting, “Relationship and Inclusion,” “and imposed our own vision of civilization as a condition of existence and of accepting the gospel.” (To be sure, the church has apologized for its part in colonization, the writing continues.)
We’ll return to Blair Stonechild and his book, The Knowledge Seeker, to wrap up this essay: “Historical contact, government policies, and residential schools relegated Aboriginal belief systems to the periphery, even in their own communities. The Old Ones are alarmed at the decline of Aboriginal spirituality,” and the consequences—“the adverse impacts”—to which this backsliding is giving rise. “Is it possible that there can be a renaissance?”
Ken Fredrick
Afterword: A visit to the Royal Alberta Museum

In the midst of the sprawling space given over to “human history” in Edmonton’s new Royal Alberta Museum is a compact display, encircled by walls that set it apart from all the other exhibits. As you enter, you’re cautioned that what you’ll find within are sensitive materials: it is the feature that tells the story of Alberta’s residential schools. 

It was curated by Indigenous artist and University of Alberta associate professor Tanya Harnett, a member of the museum’s Indigenous content advisory panel. The exhibit is intended to convey “the realities of residential schools to those who may not know much about them,” she told Folio, the university’s daily digital magazine. describes it as “a small, much-needed permanent exhibit on residential schools—and the traumatic effects that have resounded through generations of Indigenous people. …it is a vitally important project.” To say why, the site quotes Harnett, who is a member of the Carry-the-Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan: “People can say ‘truth and reconciliation,’ but there’s a stronger drive to ‘reconciliation’ than to ‘truth’—the truth has often been left behind.” 
This pocket-size sanctuary contains a large map marking all of the residential school sites in Alberta; a variety of First Nations objects from the museum’s collections; a media screen that offers visitors the chance to scroll through and enlarge archival photographs of boarding school students; and pronouncements by the likes of Sir John A. Macdonald (school the children away from their parents so that “they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men”). But the centrepiece is a single art 
work, Alex Janvier’s iconic 2001 painting, “Blood Tears.”
Born in 1935 of Denesuline descent, Janvier, at the age of 8, was uprooted from his home, and sent to Blue Quills Indian Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. “As a First Nations person emerging from a history of oppression and many struggles for cultural empowerment,” Galleries West affirms, “Janvier paints both the challenges and celebrations that he has encountered in his lifetime.” Now recognized as “one of the significant pioneering Aboriginal artists in Canada,” he is renowned for his unique abstract style, distinct curved lines, and use of bright, often symbolic colours. 
“This deeply personal work reflect’s Janvier’s 10 years in the Blue Quills Residential School,” the Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum Society has explained. “‘Blood Tears’ conveys loss, as well as resilience.” Harsh and boldly-coloured, this canvas is “made all the more powerful with the inclusion of a lengthy inscription painted in his own hand on the rear,” according to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series. It records the losses that Janvier attributes to his decade in residential school: childhood, culture, language, customs, parents and extended family members, traditional beliefs, elders’ knowledge. And the list goes on. 
It is a powerful indictment. But it is made more so by a few-minutes-long film that the visitor can screen. The work of Cree director Alex Lazarowich—he went to Cold Lake, Alberta, to interview the artist—it has Janvier recounting his personal experience at Blue Quills. “You can see in his face, and hear in his voice, the impact of the daily cultural and physical assault against the students of residential schools,” Lazarowich told

And here was the moment that stopped cold this visitor—he rewound the video more than once so as to photograph the image on the screen with the surtitle showing below it: Janvier remembers, “That was the greatest thing that happened. Just to survive.”
Ken Fredrick
Indigenous religion & spirituality, part 3
Escaping “the reservation of the mind
Contact and colonization caused consequences. For the first peoples, the aftereffects were devastating. And long-lasting. The ne
wcomers coveted freedom for themselves, but craved land, gold, chattel, beaver pelts and buffalo hides, and more: they sought to harvest souls.
Chantal Fiola, the Métis Anishinaabe-kwe in Manitoba who authored Rekindling the Sacred Fire, stipulates how “colonization has deeply affected us all.” She then provides, in the next sentence, a way out of this bind: “We must make efforts to decolonize our minds of the destructive values, beliefs, and ways of behaving that come from a colonial mentality, and divorce us from our own Anishinaabe systems of thought and being.”
This university teacher of Native studies is consciously, conscientiously trying to revitalize her Ojibwe character: “Daily, I try to ’think Anishinaabe’…with every decision I make. The more I participate in ceremony, and learn the teachings, the more naturally this comes. I have tried my best to ‘think Anishinaabe’ throughout this journey….” Otherwise, she adds, she would be “living life feeling lost, unbalanced, and spiritually unfulfilled….”
Next door in Saskatchewan, Blair Stonechild is just as concerned about a decline of spirituality among Indigenous peoples: “…today’s Indigenous communities struggle to maintain the spiritual aspect; colonialism has so severely damaged Indigenous cultures and economies that there is too often an absence of spirit….” In The Knowledge Seeker, he allows, “Attempts to restore spiritual understanding in today’s world is challenging in the face of exceedingly powerful and entrenched forces.” 
He, the first instructor hired by the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College—now First Nations University of Canada—feels that, “The Western world has come to live in a state of denial of spirituality….”
It was “the historical experience of colonialism and racism that assaulted and demeaned their identity,” Stonechild says of First Nations peoples. “This damaged their sense of self-worth and value of life. Spiritual illness emerges in the form of symptoms, including substance abuse, existence of gangs, destructive relationships, family dysfunction, anti-social behaviour, and suicide….” The “original people’s heritage,” he adds, has been “almost totally annihilated”; and they’ve “lost the strong spiritual connection with their culture and land….” 
The future of Native American religions is “uncertain”
“Native American religions…face…threats to their well-being. …even if every state were to safeguard Native sacred sites and protect Native religious practices, the long-term security of Native religions would not be guaranteed. The well-being of any religion depends upon the well-being of the communities who hold it. Today many Native American communities are ravaged by high levels of illness, bad diets, and poor health care. …Such conditions can breed despair and cynicism, undermine hope and confidence, and sap the spirit of Native American individuals.
So it is that the future of Native American religion is, Joel Martin concludes, “uncertain”. Writing in his 1999 history of Native American religion, he allows that, “…To be sure, things are not as bad as they were in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. No longer are major Native religions outlawed. No longer are Native children stripped from their families, and forced to attend Christian boarding schools. No longer is federal Indian policy designed to crush Native cultures.
“However, if the darkest time has passed, it is not all sunshine and light, either. Prejudices against Native religions continue to thrive among non-Native populations; state and federal officials continue to make decisions harmful to Native religious life; and larger economic and social patterns continue to affect Native communities in destructive ways. …In sum, it is unlikely the 21st century will bring the demise of Native American religions, languages, and peoples, but it will not witness the rebirth of all of them, either.
He tells of elders’ dismay: “Elders view the failure to take the spiritual aspect of life seriously, and cultivate a relationship with the sacred, as a serious deficit. Spiritual p
overty inevitably leads to deterioration in all other aspects of our existence.” Most certainly, they’re “alarmed at…the adverse impacts this decline has on youth….”
According to Fiola, most older-generation Indigenous people “did not pass the [traditional Native spiritual] teachings on to their children in an effort to spare them further persecution….” She quotes an elder, Joseph Bruchac: “‘There are many people who could claim, and learn from Indian ancestry, but because of the fear their parents and grandparents knew, because of past and present prejudice against Indian people, that part of their heritage is clouded or denied.’”
Sherri Mitchell, who comes from the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine, also treats on inter-generational concerns, but differently. “If we carry the wound of the oppressed, there is often an inherent sense of distrust and despair within us. This distrust and despair forms a barrier between us and others…. …When pain remains unhealed, it simply gets transferred…onto the next generation…. …This is how the pain survives.”
In her Sacred Instructions, she, portrayed as being “deeply committed to cultivating and renewing the traditional and ceremonial practices of her people,” explains, “When we don’t heal our pain, it comes out sideways, and derails our lives and damages our relationships. Unhealed pain destroys our ability to achieve true intimacy by keeping us hidden from one another….” 
Like her Canadian counterparts, she, too, reproves colonization for attempting to separate those who were subjugated from “their core values and beliefs, to break them to the will of the colonizer. Then it forcibly imposes its own values and ideologies onto those being colonized….” She wants so for Indigenous peoples to escape this confinement, which she styles “the reservation of the mind”.
In short, as a result of contact and colonization, Christianity and Indigenous religion and spirituality converged. For better or worse.
Side by side on the river of life
In 1613, as Dutch traders and settlers moved up the Hudson River from New Amsterdam, a treaty was struck between Holland and the Five Nations—the Haudenosaunee. has it that this agreement, the Two-row Wampum Belt Treaty, was the very first concordat reached between Indigenous and settler peoples.
As was their custom for recording events of significance, the Haudenosaunee created a wampum belt to commemorate the compact: two rows of purple shells run its length, separated by a strand of white shells; two other bands of white shells form the belt’s outer borders—the three strings of white shells are said to symbolize peace, friendship, and respect.
The parallel rows of purple shells represent two vessels, traveling the same river, which the white shells represent. One is a ship that carries the Europeans, while the other, a canoe, is for the Native Americans. They travel side by side on the river of life, close enough so that each can help the other from time to time, as human beings are meant to do, but never interfering with the other—theres to be no effort made to pilot the other’s vessel.
It is worth noting, perhaps, that, on its website, the Oneida Indian Nation affirms, “The agreement has been kept by the Haudenosaunee to this date.
“Those of us who listened to the preaching of the missionaries came to believe,” Ohiyesa reports in The Soul of an Indian, “that the white man alone had a real God, and that the things that the Indian had previously held sacred were inventions of the devil. This undermined the very foundations of our philosophy. …Yet the religion that we heard preached in churches and saw practiced in congregations, with its element of display and self-aggrandizement, its active proselytism, and its open contempt of all religions but its own, was for a long time extremely repellent.”
In the book he edited, The Wisdom of the Native Americans, Kent Nerburn includes this plea—it’s that of Chief Joseph, described as being “best known for his extraordinary attempt to lead his tribe [the Nez Perce] through the western Rockies to Canad
a to escape the approaching U.S. army”: “‘We do not want churches, because they will teach us to quarrel about God, as the Catholics and Protestants do. …we never quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that.'” 
And yet, Christianity came to be embraced, widely. “I find it astonishing,” Bill Anderson wrote last year in the Canadian Lutheran, “given the abuse that Indigenous people have suffered via colonialism (and the wrongly-applied version of Christian religion), that 65% of Indigenous people in Canada remain Christian.”  
Be that as it may, “The divide between Christian and non-Christian peoples remains an issue of tension,” The Canadian Encyclopedia online attests. “Faith is a divisive issue on many reserves,” the C2C Journal reported in 2011. “There are many Aboriginal traditionalists who would be happy to see Christianity leave their community. To them, Christians are reminders of the residential school legacy, where many felt Christianity was forced on Indigenous peoples, and traditional ways were punished.”
Writing in Indian Life, Jeff Decontie, who identifies himself as “half Algonquin and half Mohawk,” and whose community is the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, “hear[s] more than ever the idea that Christianity is not for Indigenous people…. …I have the opportunity to talk to people who believe that Indigenous people should drop this whole Christian thing, and go back to their traditions. They say there is no need for the colonizers’ religion, or that it keeps Indigenous people down t
o the ground, so others can walk over them….”
Writer Joel Barde, in his cover story in The Walrus last October about Evangelical Christians “targeting” Indigenous peoples, found that “some Indigenous leaders, angered by Western religion, have started to fight the encroachment of what they describe as modern-day colonizers….”
He tells how the late Larry Morrissette took him on a tour of Winnipeg’s North End, where, the elder and community organizer railed, “You can’t find a grocery store, but you can ‘step out of your house and get converted.’” He felt that the North End “was under siege, and that relentless proselytizing ran counter to a growing project to ‘decolonize’ the neighbourhood….” Barde quoted him as saying, “The ultimate goal of Christians is ‘to rid our people of who and what we are.’”
Even so…if that is so…that online encyclopedia quoted above declares, “Though historically suppressed by colonial administrators and missionaries, especially from the late 19th- to mid-20th centuries, many contemporary Indigenous communities have revived, or continue to practice, traditional spirituality.”
Joel Martin, in his history of Native American religion, acknowledges that, “Today many Native communities are ravaged by high levels of illness, bad diets, and poor health care,” and then allows, “Such conditions can breed despair and cynicism, undermine hope and confidence, and sap the spirit of Native American individuals.” But three pages later, he reckons, “Far from rendering Native American spirituality obsolete, difficult challenges can deepen people’s commitment to religious life.” 
Fiola—who, remember, teaches in Winnipeg—tells how many of the Métis whom she interviewed for the study she reports in Rekindling the Sacred Fire, “no longer practice Christianity…. …It is significant that almost every participant was raised in a Christian faith (and none in a solely Indigenous faith); however, many…now adhere to an Anishinaabe spiritual path, and are raising their children in this way….” 
“The vibrancy of Firs
t Nations spiritual belief systems has been badly eroded through historical contact with Europeans,” Stonechild observes. “Entire generations of Indigenous peoples were severed from their spiritual heritage….” And this is where, in his book, he wonders, “Is it possible that there can be a renaissance?” 
If so, if Indigenous peoples want to revitalize their spirituality, they have something in common with progressive Christians, who want for their faith another reformation. Could a way forward, together, be possible? That’s next.
Ken Fredrick
Indigenous religion & spirituality, part 4:
“The message…is vital to everyone today”

“Our people have a great deal to share with the world.” The world…we…should listen.
Sherri Mitchell, whose writings in her book, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-based Change, have been neglected heretofore in this essay, will dominate this closing instalment. From a small Indian reservation in central Maine—“My tribe is Penawahpskek, the Penobscot Nation”—she, named in her native language Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset (She Who Brings the Light), “invites everyone to the table,” a book reviewer remarks.
“…As Indigenous people, we have been guided to carry the sacred teachings that allowed us to maintain our connected way of life, so that when this time came, we would be able to help guide humanity back to a more balanced way of being,” she explains in the introduction to her 2018 book. “…My people have been dreaming of the time when our way of life would be embraced, rather than attacked; when our wisdom would be sought, rather than shunned; when we could stand united once again with all our relatives within creation….”
In her concluding chapter, she puts it this way: “The Indigenous way of life is a path that leads us back toward life and harmony with the rest of creation. This way of life is now being revitalized and shared around the world….
“We are loved and supported by generations of ancestors who carried these messages forward to guide us during these times. …[They] have left us with a map that can lead us back to the humanity and sacred connections that we have lost along the way. Our responsibility during this time is to seek that path, and reconnect with the heart-based wisdom that binds us to one another and the rest of creation, all the way back to the beginning of time. If we honour the gift that has been left for us, we will preserve our path forward, and heal the wounds of our collective past.”
It is in two of the chapters, nearing the book’s end, “Core cultural values” and “The Indigenous way of life,” that Mitchell leads the reader out onto that “path,” and shares that “heart-based wisdom,” first explaining, “Our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us everything that we need to know about our rights and responsibilities in this life, in accordance with the Creator’s Great Laws. These teachings are beyond the laws of man, incorporating both spiritual and natural law.
“These laws teach us how to treat one another, how to live in harmony with all living beings, and how to honour and respect the Earth. They teach us that the Mother Earth, and all life that exists upon her, has the same right to live and thrive as we do. They teach us that there is a place within creation for all things, and that all life holds equal value. These laws teach us how to be quiet and listen, to ourselves and others, and how to speak simply, without flattery or exaggeration. They teach us not to chase our life, but to wait for it to reach us with open hands, and how to breathe into the dreams that life reveals to us.”
Then, she cuts to the chase: values are central in Indigenous religion and spirituality. In right living. “Our core cultural values help us to identify who we’ve been, who we are, and who we will become as a people. These values are constant and unchanging, and they guide our relationships and the work that we do in the world.” They “outline a way of life.” 
Joel Martin, in his book, The Land Looks After Us, introduces the reader to “Lone Wolf, an Odawa Indian in the Great Lakes region, [who] starts each day mindful of his moral responsibilities to the world around him…. …he sees what the Odawas call pimadaziwin, the Right Path. Aiming for the Right Path, he and other Odawa traditionalists” engage in such activities as vision quests, sweat lodges, and powwows. “Ideally  these ceremonies enable Odawas to enjoy a robust moral life….”
“Following the virtues”—this is how Blair Stonechild explains it in The Knowledge Seeker—“will enable us to make appropriate decisions, and maintain good relationships with others.” Which is why he urges, “Humankind must realize the need to apply spiritual principles to how we live….” This Cree Saulteaux educator holds that “the message of Indigenous spiritual knowledge is vital to everyone today.” Then, too, this is a spirituality “open to anyone who is interested.”
Two of the non-Indigenous persons most interested were Ernest and Julia Seton. He, an Englishman who was a lifelong student of the natural world in Canada—he became a Government of Manitoba naturalist—“dedicated a large part of his life to…helping the Whiteman realize the value of the doctrines by which the Redman lived,” his wife wrote in the preface to the 1948 edition of their book,The Gospel of the Redman. In the introduction to the 2005 commemorative edition, their daughter, Dee Seton Barber, observed how “the spiritual traditions of the First Americans provide us with profound insights into the proper understanding of man’s role in the universe.”
In the last paragraph in the book, the husband and wife co-authors conclude, speaking of the Native American: “We advocate his culture as an improvement on our own.”
“An uncomfortable conversation”
It’s time. High time. Past time. For there to be, when it comes to relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, “a genuine change of heart throughout Canadian politics and government. That will require a change of heart in all Canadians, many of whom have little interest in Indigenous peoples, and less desire to treat them as equals.” That, anyway, is Crawford Kilian’s judgment.
Writing in The Tyee of June 25, he, a regular contributor to this Canadian independent online news magazine, reproached “Ottawa’s malevolent racism,” and regretted “over a century and a half of calculated oppression by white Canadians and their governments.” Since Confederation, our “governmental culture” has been “stubborn in its determination to destroy the peoples it has expropriated.” From the start, “The young dominion of Canada was determined to solve the ‘Indian problem,’ whether by assimilation or extermination.” And, back in the day, “settlers couldn’t have cared less” about Indigenous cultures and their preservation.
Writing earlier in The Tyee—this was in the March 14 edition—Kilian, a retired college teacher, pointed out how Indigenous leaders have been “listening to us for centuries. Now it’s our turn to listen—really listen—to them.” And for those of us who comprise what he calls “settler Canada,” that will “likely be an uncomfortable conversation.”
But, really, the values “that we hold most dear,” as Sherri Mitchell puts it, are not at all curious, eccentric, alien. Or unique. She, and lots of the other writers represented in this jotting, point up such precepts as respect, relationship, honour, community, cooperation, harmony, patience, listening, humility, equity, inclusivity, wholeness, responsibility, learning, charity, kindness, and love (“When we come to know the true essence of spirit, and the source from which we all come, we realize that there is only love”). 
Now it is that Mitchell sees what she calls “Euro-American values” as being, historically, different from these. She lists such as these: conquest, competition, aggression, arrogance, exclusivity. But are not the virtues she champions, and the other writers, too, the very ones most of us…most of us…learn at our mother’s knee? What is good, and what is bad; what is right, and what is wrong; what is acceptable behaviour, and what it not. Really, how to behave in society. Really, the notions Robert Fulghum puts in his bestselling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
This should sound familiar to Christians, maybe some especially: values—less so beliefs—are front and centre in progressive Christianity. Just as they are in Indigenous religion and spirituality. Think how, in this congregation, virtually every Sunday service is built around one or another such value: it’s pointed up in Nancy Steeves or Chris New’s reflection; we pledge allegiance to it when “strengthening our intentions”; we sing about “Our Highest Values”.  
Consider how Stonechild sees parallels between First Nations’ virtues and the 10 Commandments, “Christianity’s formula for proper relationships”; and Martin maintains that the Lakotas’ seven main values are “echoed in the seven sacraments or blessed practices which fortify the faith of Catholics”; and even Jeff Decontie, writing in Indian Life, in a piece that emphasizes how numbers of Indigenous peoples are coming to reject Christianity, ends up affirming, “The Christian faith has much to say about how to be a good human being….”
Is resolution alluding us?
The Indigenous Values Initiative, an independent non-profit organization in upper New York state, is dedicated to articulating, disseminating, and promoting “the ancient and enduring values of Indigenous Peoples traditions,” as expressed by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is made up of the Seneca, Tuscarora, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk Nations. It avows that “Indigenous value systems need to be heeded in these troubled times. Intercultural understanding, however, must be based on healing generations from colonization, missionization, genocide, and assimilation.
But is such resolution actually happening? At a summit at Syracuse University, which the Initiative sponsored last August, the point was made that “‘truth and reconciliation’ efforts in settler-colonial states have the appearance of resolving the history of conquest and domination, but often do not result in a healing of Indigenous Peoples and their lands.
More specifically, it was posed that “Canada’s attempts at ‘truth and reconciliation’ fail because Canada is unwilling and unable to deal with the historical and present harms being done to Indigenous Nations and Indigenous Peoples. Settler colonial states like Canada…reproduce the harm they claim to address every time they refuse to address missing and murdered Indigenous women, acquit the murderers of Indigenous Peoples, ignore treaties, steal land, and continue to do harm.” As well, it was maintained that resolution “fails because Christian churches have not accounted for harmful past and present legacies.
In the book he edited, The Wisdom of the Native Americans, Kent Nerburn introduces his readers to the writings and sayings of 40 persons, from Joseph Brant to Dan George. But it’s the man known by the Anglicized name of Charles Alexander Eastman—the Santee Sioux, Ohiyesa [1858-1939]—that especially earns his esteem:
“Ohiyesa was, at heart, a poet of the spirit, and the bearer of spiritual wisdom. To the extent that he dared, and with increasing fervour as he aged, he was a preacher of the Native vision of life. It is my considered belief that it is his spiritual vision, above all else, that we of our generation need to hear. We hunger for the words and insights of the Native American, and no man spoke with more clarity than Ohiyesa….”
In his own book, The Soul of an Indian, Ohiyesa allows that, “Long before I ever heard of Christ or saw a white man, I had learned the essence of morality. …I knew God. I perceived what goodness is. I saw and loved what is really beautiful. Civilization has not taught me anything better!”
Nevertheless, he came to see Christianity as a “wonderful conception of exemplary living” (though he did wonder why “Christianity is not practiced by the very people who vouch for [it]….”). And he drew the conclusion “that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.”
Nevertheless, in an article in the November, 2006, issue of The United Church Observer, “Native Spirituality & Christian Faith,” writer Donna Sinclair expresses the “wish that we could pick up the pieces of Native spirituality shattered by Christianity centuries ago…. It’s a yearning named in 1986, when the church [the United Church of Canada] apologized to Native congregations for not hearing ‘when you shared your vision’.”
And she wonders, “How can the spiritualities of Native and non-Native people coexist in one church, though, when our ways of being are so deeply different…?”
But are they so removed, each from the other? Further along in her article, Sinclair quotes a Métis traditional elder from Gateway, Manitoba, Jules Lavallee: granted, “‘there is a difference [between our two traditions]. But the more we understand each other’s way, the more we realize there are many similarities.’” 
There is within the walls of Southminster-Steinhauer United Church testimony…graphic evidence…of this truth. Look at the seven banners that are mounted on the walls of the Large Hall—after a demission for the holidays, they’re to be back up on Sunday, January 12. A few years ago, these banners were fashioned for SSUC by a Dene Tha First Nations artist, Arthur Gallant. Each heralds a different Indigenous value: honesty (“Better to fail honestly than to succeed by fraud”); wisdom (“With hard work and dedication will come knowledge”); courage (“Let nothing stand in the way”); humility (“To be humble is to be strong”); respect (“Give it, earn it, receive it”); truth (“It is easiest to speak the truth”); and love (“Care for one another”). 
Affixed to the wall, there’s a brief-enough introduction to, an explanation of these Indigenous “Seven Sacred Teachings banners”. It mentions that, “While volunteering for Ponoka United Church, he [Gallant] met Richard McKelvie”—a friend of SSUC, he is a progressive Christian—“who reintroduced Arthur to the seven teachings, inspiring and reinvigorating his passion to create.” And it reports how Gallant learned, and was struck by the fact that “the values of his tradition and of the progressive Christian church could have so much in common [emphasis added].” 
Such precepts as these are sacred to us, too; we share these life-values with Indigenous peoples. This being so, is it naive to suggest that this truth, if we keep it before us, could help us to move forward, together, toward reconciliation? It is, at very least, a worthy hope with which to end this essay. 
Ken Fredrick   
Gatherings at 10AM Sundays