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What Would It Look Like if All Aboriginal Issues Were Resolved?

Christ has given us a ministry of reconciliation. Relationship is at its core.


"If you don't see the colour of my skin, you don't see me." This was one of the more poignant comments made by one Aboriginal leader when The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's Aboriginal Ministry Council met in Calgary with a number of MPs who have a Christian faith. The Council is made up of Aboriginal leaders, from across Canada, who represent different tribes and a diverse cross-section of the evangelical community. It exists to help bridge relationships and understanding between Christian Aboriginals and evangelical Christians. The meeting with these Christian MPs was an extension of this mission.

This Aboriginal leader was making us think in a new way.

Many people have good intentions, which is why they will remark to someone of a different skin colour or someone from a different culture, "When I look at you, I don't see you as Black, Asian or Red, I see you as a person." The intent is good. The person is expressing that they are not racist or prejudiced, but rather they readily accept another without attaching barriers to the relationship because of the person's skin colour. But then these good intentions were challenged by this comment, "If you don't see the colour of my skin, you don't see me."

This Aboriginal leader was making us think in a new way. If you don't see the colour of my skin, you don't see my uniqueness in history. You don't see the contribution of my culture to the broader society. You don't see the effects on me by people who have treated me differently, due to the colour of my skin. That is what he really meant.

The purpose of the meetings with the MPs was to discuss two questions:

1. What would it look like if all Aboriginal issues were resolved?
2. Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, what does that look like?

These questions couldn't be addressed until all of the participants in the room actually saw the skin colour of the Aboriginals in the room. As it turned out, a great deal of time was spent talking about past injustices—reliving some painful memories—in an attempt to dispel myths and untruths about Aboriginals.

All of the Aboriginals in the room had experienced racism against them. Each of the Aboriginals expressed how much energy they expend explaining to "Whites" the importance of maintaining their culture and identity, even as Christians. Each spoke about their personal experiences living in a "White" culture.

During these meetings, we learned that there is a difference between justice and law. Governments had the law on their side when they changed the rules affecting existing treaties, when they uprooted whole communities and moved the people away from their traditional grounds; when they pulled children from the arms of their parents and sent them hundreds of miles away to be assimilated into "White" culture. Then, they had the law on their side, but today, can anyone really say that there was justice?

When talking about past injustices to Aboriginals, there can be an assumption that injustices experienced by Aboriginals refer to historical wrongs, mostly associated with broken treaty promises. The reality is that many Aboriginals are living with injustices committed against them during their lifetime. Residential schools were operating within this generation's lifetime—the devastation to lives is immeasurable. The negative effect resulting from the treatment of Aboriginals in residential schools has been carried back to many of the reserves and Aboriginal communities where sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and family violence occur all too regularly.

The question, What would it look like if all Aboriginal issues were resolved? cannot be answered without understanding where Aboriginals came from and how past experiences continue to affect them. It was expressed best by one of the leaders who is left-handed. She said, "Take a pen in your right hand and look at the lettering on the pen (we had pens from the hotel so read the name on it). She then said, "Now take that pen and put it in your left hand." I looked at the pen in my left hand and the writing on the pen was upside down! Making her point, she stated, "As someone who is left-handed, I am always reading the writing on the pen upside down. That is what it is like trying to fit into a western culture. The pen in the right hand represents the dominant culture."

As I listened to the conversations, there were a number of observations that "White" people just want to find ways to fix the problem, without first trying to establish and build on relationships. To these Aboriginals, nothing can happen without first there being relationships established.

… [let's] welcome to the conversation the difference in worldviews, culture and past experiences.

One of the MPs expressed it succinctly when he related the story of a hard-working man whose wife said that she was leaving him. "I don't understand it," he said. "I give her everything: a house, a car and a vacation every year. What more does she want?" The MP told him, "She wants you—she doesn't want all of that stuff, she wants you."

It is true that the issues or the problems faced by Aboriginals are important, but what is more important, is building relationships and understanding between each other while on the road to resolving problems.

What would it look like if all Aboriginal issues were resolved, and what does reconciliation between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals really look like? The first step is to "see the colour of our skin" and with that, to welcome to the conversation the difference in worldviews, culture and past experiences. While it is true that we are all one in Christ, let's not forget the words of the Apostle Paul:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (1 Corinthians 12:14—20).

Finally, let's also not forget the words to the children's song, "Red and Yellow, Black and White, all are precious in God's sight." God did not create us to be the same; He created us to be different. Let's celebrate that.

Douglas Cryer is the director of public policy for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

 

 
 
 
 

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