Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Indigenous Issues’ Category

Marking Identity

A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Read more

An Ordinary Sunday

Midway through last week, someone encouraged me to periodically attempt something like modern “retellings” of Jesus’ parables during my sermons. In other words, rather than drily “explaining” the stories Jesus told, just try to tell the story in a new way. So, I gave it a shot yesterday. These stories are based on Luke 18:9-14, the famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. What follows is, it should be noted, a work of fiction, even if it is obviously informed by various stories and experiences I’ve encountered along the way. Read more

Sky

I spent thirteen or so hours this past week driving under the summer prairie sky. Saskatoon was the location of our Mennonite national church’s biennial gathering which I combined with a visit with my brother and his family. It’s a long drive and very flat. It’s the kind of drive that is easy to dread, particularly in winter months when the roads are bad and the landscape is bleak. It’s a drive I’ve done often enough but it’s not one that I’ve ever particularly relished. This time, however, the sky almost literally took my breath away. Golden yellow canola beside wavy green barley fields stretched out under this vast canopy of pillowy cloud and brilliant blue. Or, when the weather turned, spectacular scenes of dark, brooding masses of cloud. The sky seemed alive. Even when it looked threatening and portended fierce rain, it was a kind of strange comfort. It was the kind of sky that puts you in your place. There was a vast unchangeableness about it. It seemed the kind of sky that nothing could go wrong under. Read more

Kings of Our Own

For the last few days, I’ve been sifting through the mental notes and impressions collected during my time spent last week at the final event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa and the NAIITS (North American Indigenous Institute of Theological Studies) 2015 Symposium near Chicago. In many ways, I have been feeling that there’s not much to say beyond what I’ve said in previous posts about previous trips with similar themes. Or, at any rate, that I’m unable to put newer or better words to the ones I’ve already come up with. The pain and injustice of Canada’s history of Indian residential schools has been well documented, after all. Is there any point in adding to the noise?  Are there new insights to be gleaned or windows through which to see these matters? Read more

Shared Room

Near the conclusion of his remarks about the final recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde offered the following challenge to non-indigenous people: Make room.

Make room in minds and hearts for new ways of understanding and relating to indigenous people. Make room for conceptions that go beyond “drunk” or “lazy” or “entitled” or “pagan” or any of the countless other stereotypes about indigenous people that not only still exist in the broader culture, but flourish. Read more

Ronnie Otter

I’m spending the first part of this week in Ottawa for the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the long journey that began in 2008 with the government of Canada’s official apology for residential schools, and which will culminate tomorrow when the commission releases a summary of its six-volume final report. After that, it’s off to the Chicago area for the NAIITS 12th Annual Theological Symposium. It promises to be a full and stimulating week.

I confess, though, that after one day of the TRC I am feeling mostly just exhausted. Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

At any given moment, I have around half a dozen half-written blog-posts and/or fragmentary ideas lying around collecting dust in my “drafts” folder. Sometimes these turn into full-length pieces. Sometimes they just forlornly sit there for months on end until I either get sick of looking at them OR forcibly wrench them into a “Miscellany” post. Today, it’s the latter. 🙂

Here, then, my latest assemblage of ideas about totally unrelated topics… Read more

Unlearning

Last night, our family went to see a drama performance called “New Blood” that was held at the local university as part of their “Native Awareness Week” celebrations. The show was put together by high school students from Strathmore, AB, a small town near Calgary and bordering the Siksika Nation, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Through music, drama, drumming, and dance, the students told the life story of Vincent Yellow Old Woman (the current chief of the Siksika Nation), including his time spent in residential school as a boy, and the later recovery of his Blackfoot culture. It was a moving portrayal of the many losses experienced by indigenous people as a result of colonialism, as well as a stirring call to hope, forgiveness, and love. Read more

On Contamination

We do a lot of driving in our family. Driving to volleyball, guitar, swim club, band rehearsal, grandma and grandpa’s, and on and on it goes. Many days it is in the car that some of the best, most important, and sometimes only conversations with our kids happen. Today my daughter and I were off to the doctor’s office for a routine visit and the talk turned to the trials and tribulations of teenage life. We talked about cyber-bullying, peer pressure, romantic dramas, sports, classroom dynamics, terrible teachers, and a whole host of other things.

We also talked about racism.

Read more

Three Girls (And an Orangey-Brown Dress)

Among the gleanings of my morning tour through Facebook land was the discovery that Tuesday, September 30 has been designated “Orange Shirt Day” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) here in Canada. Intrigued, I did a bit of snooping around and found the following explanation for the origin of the idea in an article at NationTalk:

Orange Shirt Day is an outcome of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. It stems from a story told by former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad, who had her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken from her as a six-year old girl. She spoke powerfully of how it seemed to her that nobody cared and, in this personal way, it speaks to the many harms experienced by children in the residential schools.

I have no orange shirt, alas, but the initiative has me thinking of a few recent experiences, and about three girls. Read more

Demons

I’m downtown for a lunch meeting, standing at a street corner… I look across the street, see his huddled frame lying against the side of the building… Lying there. On the street. A bed of concrete. Just lying there. Even from across the street, I can see that he has black hair, brown skin…

Is he sleeping? Passed out? Dead? Does anyone see him?

Car after car drives by, like so many priests and Levites.

Just another drunk Indian downtown… Read more

“We Dance the Same”

They’re sitting there in our church parking lot, staring out at the rain from inside their run down green Chevy Astro van. They showed up after church yesterday. Martin was looking for conversation, for help, for gas money to Calgary for a medical procedure, the usual. He’s aboriginal, around 55, dark glasses, long black hair, cowboy boots. The conversation meanders here, there, everywhere. “Am I late for the service?” he says.  “I wanted to get here for the service.”  It’s 12:10 pm.

Read more

Fences

Spring seems to have finally, laboriously, tentatively, intermittently have sprung here in southern Alberta, so I spent my day off yesterday on a motorcycle ride. The glorious first ride of the year. My dad and I meandered south through the small predominantly Mormon towns that dot the landscape between Lethbridge and the American border before crossing the Milk River ridge and heading west. Then it was through the Whiskey Gap and then a tour along the brown snow-flecked foothills in the shadow of the majestic Rocky Mountains. After a quick stop for lunch we turned back north through the Blood Reserve before the final turn east to arrive back home in time for the kids to be get home from school. It was a lovely ride—clear blue skies, relatively warm temperatures and, best of all, little wind to speak of. Read more

Broken Along the Way

I had planned to be in Edmonton today for the seventh and final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but a combination of an unexpectedly clogged schedule and yet another batch of bad weather in the winter that refuses to die means that I am, instead, watching the events on my laptop on this snowy spring morning.  The opening ceremonies are taking place right now—the prayers, the speeches, the parade of dignitaries across the stage.  It’s all very good, but the audio’s not great, so my mind is drifting.

Read more

A Gift is for Giving

This past weekend, we were privileged to have Cheryl Bear from the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation community in northern British Columbia as a special guest here in Lethbridge at both our Mennonite Church Alberta Annual Assembly on Friday and Saturday, and at our morning worship service on Sunday.  The timing of the event was significant here in Alberta, as the Truth and Reconciliation’s final national event will be taking place in Edmonton this week (Mar 27-30).  Cheryl is gifted musician and storyteller, and it was delightful to both hear from and get to know her over these short few days.

Read more

The “Self-Aggrandizing Fairy Tale” Upon Which We All Depend

Earlier this week I turned the last page of Joseph Boyden’s highly acclaimed third novel, The Orenda, recent winner of CBC’s Canada Reads and, to the great consternation of many, long listed, but not shortlisted, for the prestigious Giller Prize. It is, as many have said, a remarkable book about the seventeenth century Huron-Iroquois wars in what is now Eastern Canada, and the French Jesuit colonial missionary enterprise that inserted itself into the mix. It is gripping, insightful, heartbreaking, and, yes, at times almost unspeakably violent.

Read more

All Apologies

In order to relieve the tedium of trudging aimlessly around the house in a fog of sinus-clogged misery, I spent part of yesterday watching Mitch Miyagawa’s 2012 documentary, “Sorry State.” Miyagawa figures that his family might just be the most apologized-to family in history, at least when it comes to official government apologies. His Japanese father was apologized to by the Canadian government for being shipped off to southern Alberta during World War II. His Chinese step-father was apologized to in 2006 for the head tax in the early twentieth century. And, finally, his Cree step-mother was on the receiving end of PM Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology for government run residential schools. That’s a lot of apologizing.  Read more

2013 in Review (And a Thank You!)

So, 2013 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time to take a peek in the rearview mirror and reflect a bit on the year that has nearly passed.  In the blogging world, this means—what else?!—highlighting the most read posts on this blog over the past 365 days or so.  It’s an imperfect tool of evaluation, obviously—a cursory count of clicks and page views hardly provides an accurate assessment of meaningful or substantive engagement—but I suppose it give some sense of the themes that drew people here over the year.   Whenever I look at statistical summaries on this blog, I find myself scratching my head.  That was my most-read post?!  I don’t even like that one!  Why didn’t ____ make the list? Posts that I am convinced are the best thing the internet has seen since, well, two hours or so ago languish in obscurity while others that I dashed off in twenty minutes generate more traffic than I would ever have expected.   I suppose such is the nature of blogging. Read more