For Nov. 6 2016, at First Mennonite Church. John 11:1-45, Ezekiel 37: 1-14.
Bones. Dead, dry, and disturbing because they hit us in the face with thoughts of mortality and helplessness in the face of death. We don't usually have to look at human bones because they are hidden under muscle and skin. When we see our bones, it means something has gone wrong. Something is horribly broken or long dead or neglected. We hurry to cover the bones up again with bandages or 6 feet of dirt. We don't want to see them and be reminded that things go wrong. It is unpleasant to feel responsible, or sad, or face up to brokenness.
Indigenous peoples know all about brokenness and cover-ups. Last week I had an opportunity to listen to Papaschase Chief, Calvin Bruneau, and Millwoods historian Catherine C. Cole talk about the history of the land that our church sits on. This land is part of Treaty 6, and is part of the parcel given to the Papaschase band as their reserve in the late 1800s. Through a variety of nefarious means, including starvation, money (scrip) tied to membership loss, government officials rewriting rules to "legally" remove rights, and settler pressure, members of the band had treaty rights taken away and they were scattered into the care of other bands-almost erased from history. For a quick summary of this history click on the link:
The scriptures today talk about the impossible, the dead coming back to life. When I read these passages through the lens of the history I have just heard, they do come to life in new ways. I think of the bones Ezekiel looks at as the First Nations people who were almost erased from this land. The Papaschase are working hard to recover their history, to dig up both the physical and metaphorical bones of their people. Chief Bruneau has long been involved in the Rossdale burial site-where the remains of some of the original Papaschase inhabitants of Edmonton are buried He spoke of how, when there are construction projects in the Edmonton area, burial grounds are still sometimes uncovered. Sometimes the powers that be try to cover them up again-finding bones means slowing down construction projects. But maybe a bigger reason for the cover up is that if the bones are acknowledged, then the reality of a Papaschase people with roots and history and claims in this area must be acknowledged! The reality of broken promises and the responsibility for change is daunting, but of great and even sacred importance for all of us.
In both Ezekiel and John, new life seems impossible. It only happens when people listen to God, hope beyond hope, and acknowledge what God is doing.
I am particularly struck by the story of Lazarus. Jesus raises him from the dead, but then instructs the watching crowd, Lazarus' family, friends, and community, to "unbind him and let him go!" God does the impossible life-giving piece, but those around Lazarus have work to do now so that Lazarus can truly live among them again. Lazarus is alive, but the people around him have to acknowledge that, approach him, let him go, and then live with him among them.
The Papaschase people are alive, they are here. Are there ways that we, as their community and as fellow Treaty 6 people, can unbind them?
In July 2016, Mennonite Church Canada voted to 'repudiate the doctrine of discovery.' I think this is part of the important call to the work of unbinding. The doctrine of discovery is the colonial mindset (and laws) that allowed Christendom to claim superiority, to take lands and subjugate indigenous peoples. While we no longer officially claim these things, we have inherited a mindset of settler superiority and rights and racist attitudes that we are finally starting to understand and reject. The repudiation is a starting point, but seriously, the language of repudiation and doctrines (while important) sounds pretty stuffy and distant. How do we make it real and practical?
Here are some initial thoughts of how to start doing the work of repudiating/unbinding/partnering with our indigenous neighbours as we, together, come to new life.
1. Read the history. Support the uncovering of First Nations history that has been buried and hidden.
2. Listen to First Nations speakers, authors, historians....without offering a "fix." (We already have a long history of European settler "fixes" that have not been helpful. If something new is to happen, we have to stop doing things the same old ways.)
3. As our church considers what to do with our parcel of land, how can we acknowledge who this land was stolen from? What is our responsibility now that we have knowledge?
4. Stop complaining, and blaming, and naming. Listen.
5. Be willing to consider giving something up, or back, in the name of reconciliation.
6. Read the recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation process.
7.Find out about the issues in your neighbourhood or province and speak up. (For example: recent news reports have said that indigenous schools in the North receive less funding per student than other public schools. This is wrong and we should speak out.)
https://dofdmenno.org/ a website with good, up to date anabaptist thoughts and resource
Wrongs to Rights. A special 2016 issue of "INTOTEMAK" magazine that engages the question; "How churches can engage the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples." Our church library has a copy, and it can also be obtained through the Common Word Bookstore (this is our Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre. Google will take you there.)
Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. Edited by Steve Heinrichs. 2013. Herald Press. A collection of essays and responses dealing with; "conversations on creation, land justice, and life Together." Our church library has a copy, Common Word Bookstore has it too.