I stood barefoot on my blanket as a First Nations person. We were a gregarious people who moved around, visited other groups, traded, conversed, shared stories and listened to new ideas and techniques. While I did that, my blanket was taken away. As I watched that happen, I lost my identity. I no longer belonged. When I died, I was almost apathetic. I didn’t matter anymore.
That was my experience with the Blanket Exercise. Led by Patricia Victor, elder in the Sto:lo Nation, pastor of a church in Chilliwack and Co-chair of the Indigenous Partnership Council as well as Co-director of the Institute of Indigenous Issues and Perspectives at Trinity Western University, to all elementary staff on the February 23 Professional Development day.
One staff member reacted to what was done in the name of Christ and by Papal edict in the colonization of what we now call North America. It seems so clearly errant in terms of what we understand to be a Christian.
Another felt the abuse of placing a blanket intentionally infected with small pox on the shoulders of a First Nations person.
Still another said it was “driving her crazy” to see the pile of family pictures representing the children taken away from First Nations families.
Awakened to action
There is much to understand and much we may never understand as we seek truth and reconciliation with First Nations. I feel embarrassed that it took another edict, this time from the provincial Ministry of Education, for Christian schools to begin this process. I believe this is another way in which we should have been showing leadership.
But perhaps it is not too late.
How do we begin this process personally and locally? I think the answer is much the same as what I wrote about in reference to my mom in my last blog. It is similar to what staff members work hard to establish in the first few weeks of school and throughout the year. It is what makes ACS a strong community. It is the same as why Jesus “moved into the neighbourhood” as Eugene Peterson states in The Message, and what He exemplified in His ministry.
It begins with relationship.
Weaving a new story
It was good to meet with Patricia Victor and Dovette Federspiel, who accompanied her, and to hear their stories. It was honouring when Patricia explained to me that the greeting she often puts at the top of her emails, “Ey Swayel,“ is Halq’emeylem (language of the Sto:lo people) which literally means “good day.” It carries the meaning of: it is a good day to meet, greet each other, it is good to be together—it is about the relationship not just the day.
It is good to read First Nations literature and struggle with what the spirituality we meet there might mean for us.
It is good that two of our grade 5 teachers, Mrs. Van Der Leek and Mrs. Van Dyk are building a relationship with local Matsqui Chief Mackay.
It is good that Mrs. Rae is seeking out local First Nations musicians who may come to share their gifts with us.
It is good to begin a relationship with our First Nations neighbours, to confront our stereotypes and to see them first as image bearers of God.
May He bless and guide us as we journey together.