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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sinixt First Nation Not Extinct

This was the CBC headline on March 27th.  A BC provincial court judge here in Nelson acquitted Richard Desautel of hunting without a license and hunting without being a resident.  The judge ruled that the Sinixt people have not lost connection to Southern BC, and that they have rights to the territory.  (Check out the CBC article at and local news at the Nelson Star.)

I grew up in NW Ontario—Kenora to be precise.  There was a Residential School there run by the Presbyterian Church.  There was (and still is) a great deal of racism in Kenora.  (This is the land of Richard Wagamese of the Ojibway First Nation, FYI, a writer that many of us have come to love.) What I learned from my father, who was active in Kenora working with First Nations people, is how deeply embedded racism and colonialism are in Canada; racism and colonialism are part and parcel of our governmental and societal institutions.  Canada still has a lot to do to live up to the apology made to First Nations peoples by PM Stephen Harper.

My Dad started off in ministry with The United Church of Canada in the late 50’s in the Hazelton area.  He supported local First Nations initiatives at Kispiox and Kitsegukla, and raised concerns within the United Church’s hierarchy about relationships with First Nations people.  While those concerns didn’t quite fall on deaf ears, they fell on ears that weren’t ready to challenge the status quo.

Since the late 50’s the United Church has made strides in working alongside First Nations people within the Church and in society.  In BC Conference of the United Church, First Nations people remained with the Conference; in the rest of the United Church, First Nations ministries formed the All Native Circle Conference.  The United Church has tried to come to terms with its complicity in colonizing First Nations peoples; it has been a sometimes-painful journey that has led to new learning, deep insights and new relationships of integrity and hope.

I celebrate the success of the Sinixt First Nations in BC Provincial Court; and I appreciate the comments of both Richard Desautel as well as Richard's lawyer, Mark Underhill.  There is still work to be done and the journey to make.  My hope, too, is that all of us together will make the journey and the effort to deepen and enhance relationships, reconciliation and new beginnings.

BTW, I was at the General Council (the United Church’s national decision-making body) in Fredericton in 1993 that elected the Rev. Stan MacKay as our Moderator.  Stan is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba and was elected as the first First Nation Moderator.  I had the privilege of meeting Stan on a few occasions; I’ve always appreciated his insight, commitment to justice, and his wisdom.  At the end of an article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, he said, “May the dialogue take place in the spirit of hope and with a courageous commitment to the justice and right relations that (Art Solomon and) many elders have modelled with such integrity for generations yet unborn.  (Go to Stan MacKay speaking his truth.)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Tribute to Richard Wagamese.

I first encountered Richard Wagamese, the Ojibway writer from Wabaseemoong First Nation in NW Ontario, a couple of years ago when I was handed Indian Horse and told, “You need to read this!”  I didn’t know what the novel was about other than it was a novel about surviving a residential school.  I didn’t know where it was set nor who the author was.  The novel had a huge impact on me.

When I read Indian Horse, I had a very visceral reaction.  I grew up in Kenora, ON, and knew many of the places that Richard wrote about in Indian Horse.  There was a Presbyterian Church of Canada run residential school in Kenora and growing up in Kenora I was very aware of the deeply embedded racism against 1st Nations people; sadly, this embedded racism still exists in NW Ontario.  I left Kenora when the Ojibway People occupied Anishinabe Regional Park; I remember my father later talking about the horrible suggestions many people made about what should be done about the people who had occupied Anishinabe Park.  Reading Indian Horse brought back so many memories of the geography of NW Ontario and of the oppression 1st Nations people faced.

I’ve gone on to read much of what Richard has written.  Keeper ‘N Me spoke powerfully to me of the way in which the land of NW Ontario speaks words of healing to us.  I was deeply touched by the story of the young man who comes home to NW Ontario after serving time in prison; he finds his home with his family and learns the traditions and stories of the Ojibway people.  I remember Richard writing about the Anishinabek people in this novel and translating the word to mean “human being.”  Keeper ‘N Me was about healing and how we can all find healing in reconnecting to the land.

Medicine Walk was also a powerful novel about a young man taking his father into the wilderness of BC to die; the young man’s father wanted to die in “way of the warrior,” i.e. seated and facing the E.  The young man had been abandoned by his father, who had lost himself in alcohol and addiction.  It is a gripping story of personal encounter, family, reconciliation and overcoming barriers.

In telling his stories, Richard conveyed something of his experience of what it is to be indigenous in Canada and the lasting impact of residential schools.  He also wrote about addictions and living on the street and how to be welcoming and inclusive; in writing about hospitality and inclusivity, we readers had to come to grips with the fact that Canadian society can be very inhospitable and exclusive.  There was prophetic challenge in Richard’s works.

In his poetry and two collections of daily reflections, Richard challenges us to be more fully human… to be more Anishinabek.  We struggle to find acceptance and a place to be most fully ourselves.  We are challenged to see our place in the Creator’s intention for climate justice and all of life.  We see our very human tendency to be self-centred; but Richard does not leave us in a place of negativity or cynicism. Richard helps us find a way to be other-centred, love-centred and hope-filled.

I have been deeply touched by Richard’s writings and to hearing him in interviews.  I shall miss his creativity and challenge to be more fully human.  We shall miss his voice in Canada as an advocate for indigenous people and culture.  We shall miss his insightful and humble wisdom.

May the spirit of Richard Wagamese continue to challenge us to be better people and to live as full human beings together.  Thank you, Richard!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The President of the USA is NOT the Leader of the Free World.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing the President of the USA described as the leader of the free world.  I didn’t vote in the US election; there was no world-wide election!  I live in Canada and vote here.  Why do we persist in this ridiculous notion that the President of the USA is the leader of the free world?

Every country in the world has a responsibility both to its own citizens and to other countries.  Each nation holds others accountable for actions taken or not taken.  No one leader can achieve world peace; it takes all leaders willing to come together.  In the mix of protecting national security and being responsible to other nations, we find a way forward that is just.

No leader can be the leader of the free world simply because there is always vested national interest that gets in the way.  Perhaps if we had a world government and we all voted on a leader or an executive, then a case could be made for a leader of the free world.  And in a very real way, the Secretary-General of the UN is the de facto leader of the free world.

I’m also weary of hearing about President Donald Trump more generally.  Much of the world interest in Trump has become simply voyeurism.  We want to see a spectacle, and certainly Donald Trump is providing that.  But there are other issues with which we need to spend our energy and time.

Climate Justice is a key issue here in Canada with PM Trudeau backing away from some Paris Agreement commitments.  Poverty here in Canada continues to be incredibly high and the gentrification of our communities an important concern.  The relationship with 1st Nations people is a key issue with many of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission needing attention; Grassy Narrows is back in the news because of environmental toxins remaining in the river—they cannot eat the fish and practice their culture without getting sick!  The backlog of refugees waiting to come to Canada, especially from Africa, is a black mark in our history of refugee sponsorship.  Race concerns here in Canada are prevalent, and the recent racist violence against Muslims is deeply alarming.

As the past Moderator of our United Church said at the Epiphany Explorations conference in Victoria this past January, “Enough of Donald Trump!  We have enough to do in our country, not to mention the world.  Let us put our energy to positive use to create change.”  (I’m paraphrasing, but her words drew a loud applause!)

I’d rather not react against the president, or our PM for that matter.  I stand for love and justice.  I stand with my kin from around the world… for clean water, for climate justice, for a good standard of living for all, for a guaranteed annual income, for a distribution of wealth that is just, for relationships that are life giving across cultures.

Peace to you!