May these words and these thoughts that I share as a Deacon of your church be true to you gracious God.
I would like to share with you my experiences over the summer, that have deeply impacted my life. As background to this I need to go back to August 2012. I shared on that day my reason for my plans to participate in the first Walk for Reconciliation in September 2012. I feel it provides for a foundation for my ongoing passion for the issues of reconciliation with the First Nations peoples of Canada.
That day I said, “This walk is part of the ongoing goal of reconciliation with our Aboriginal peoples. Those that attended the Residential schools and their families have challenged our church to be accountable for the ills perpetrated on them in years gone by. This issue has a personal element for me. While we were living in Vancouver I attended Southlands Elementary. It was a couple of blocks away from the Musqueum Reservation. The first generation of Musqueum children to attend public school attended Southlands and I had a good friend, Theresa, who was Musqueum.
Theresa and I had a friendship that was restricted though. I will never forget how difficult it was for me to be told by her that although she could come to my birthday party I was never able to go to her house on the reservation. At that time, even at the age of 9 or 10 I knew this was unjust and by the time we moved away I was saying, in my childhood innocence, I was going to work with Indians (to use the vernacular of the day) to right the injustice. Little did I know the depth of what had happened in the past and my dream never came to fruition. I guess this was the time when I first became aware of injustice in my world. I did not know what it was all about; I just felt that something was wrong. Over the years as I came to understand as to why I could not visit Theresa at her home I just became sad. I do not know what has become of Theresa, I pray that she has not become a victim of the legacy of the Residential Schools.”
I fast forward to today. In my covenant renewal letter to Bishop Melissa at the beginning of this year I stated that … ‘An evolving area that has been a concern for many years is to better understand and assist in the struggles involved with Reconciliation with the First Nations people and I hope to participate in some of the Diocesan activities in this area.’
By the beginning of this summer I felt I had neglected to do anything around this statement in my covenant renewal letter. Due to family commitments I was unable to attend events around Reconciliation that involved spending a day in Vancouver. This is when I felt I had buried the talent I had neglected for many years.
Yet, I knew I had to hear First Nations people’s stories, I knew I had to listen with compassion about the impact Residential Schools had on generations of families. I knew I had to listen to the pain of the families affected by the negligence of our justice system to The Missing and Murdered Women. I knew that each time I would hear such a story there would be pain in my heart and I would think of Theresa and wonder where her life journey had taken her. I felt helpless and unsure as to where my journey with these concerns would lead me.
Reading this parable from Matthew’s gospel “I knew you were a harsh man.so I was afraid and hid you talent’. I felt like the unworthy servant who buried the talent. I had done nothing since I was in Elementary school about wanting to ‘work with Indians to right the injustice’.
Something changed at the beginning of the summer when Trudi and I attended an event at Douglas College. It was here that we heard stories from local people of the effects of the Residential Schools on their families.
I heard the story of a First Nation Cree 2 Spirited UBC doctoral student. For clarification, the two-spirited person, has been in the tradition of the First Nations people for many moons as cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male.
I heard the stories of Cease-Wyss who is a respected ethno-botanist who shares her wisdom about this local land on which we exist and also I heard from Fred Hulbert,
Council Member, Kwikwetlem First Nation
It was this evening that stirred my longing, and empowered me to get closer to unburying the talent that lay dormant for many years.
It was the words of the First Nations Cree Two-Spirited person that hit my heart the most and caused me to weep. I felt his sadness of the impact of the Residential Schools on his story that ran parallel to my brother’s story of the impact the church had on his upbringing as a clergypersons’ child who knew he was gay but was not free to be himself in the life of the church in those days.
Later, Lilian and I attended an evening at Town Centre Park sponsored by the Tri-Cities Ministerial where an apology was offered for the involvement of the churches in the Residential Schools. I left this revival meeting frustrated, as for me it left much unsettled and I wondered as to the benefit of it.
After that evening I heard of the Welcome Post Project and Tasha Faye Evans. I had seen Tasha Faye at Sophie’s school (Pleasantside) when she coordinated the Welcome Post Project there but had never met her. I did wonder how she would respond to Trudi and me (as clergypeople) when we attended our first Welcome Post Project evening at the Noons Creek Hatchery. In her awesome way Tasha Faye was very receptive to us and I felt that special connectedness to her as happens when you meet certain people.
At these evenings I grew and took amazing steps forward on my journey to Reconciliation. I saw people of Port Moody journeying to embrace Reconciliation. Having Tasha Faye join us at the end of the summer to speak was an amazing blessing and I was more than pleased that Council agreed to support the Welcome Post Project.
Some of the parish engaged in a discussion on Linda Gray’s book ‘First Nations 101’. This was a fruitful experience as we discussed what we did and did not know about our First Nations People. Out of these groups came a desire to go deeper into reconciliation, how this will happen has yet to be determined.
The readings we just heard are pretty challenging. As I read them I wondered to myself where is the good news. The gospel is one that I have real difficulties ending with saying … ‘This is the good news of Jesus Christ’
Being overwhelmed by all that is happening in our world causes me to wonder, whether it is easy to understand the one who buried the talent. We are being challenged, as Matthew’s Jesus challenges the status quo of his day, to do our best with what God has given us. We are not to allow our actions to be overshadowed by our fears. Fear, when it gets hold of us can freeze us into inertia, to lose hope for the future. I have, at times, found myself wondering whether the hope in what I say or do is going to have any effect on anyone or any situation. Yet, as I speak these words I can hear my mom saying….
“Anne we can’t give up hope, for as soon as we do the darkness will win”
My hope is based on my belief in the grace of God and this is what I hang onto when I get discouraged. Without my belief in a gracious God the door for the darkness to take over would be opened.
We are further being challenged by the reading from Zephaniah when it says …
‘’At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs”, and continues, ‘the great day of the LORD is near, and hastening fast”
Our hearts, and more importantly, our actions, must show that we recognize and are thankful for our God given talents, and we are not to hesitate to go out and use them for the betterment of this world which we hold to be God’s kingdom here on earth.
And finally in the passage from Thessalonians we are reminded that
‘we are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.’
Although I have felt challenged in my commitment to my covenant and my hearts’ concern for First Nations people, I wonder now if perhaps I had not buried my talent but had allowed time without forcing the issue for the talent to grow into something that would serve a purpose for the betterment of all.
In the fall, Trudi and I went to hear Roy Henry Vickers speak. Roy Henry is the First Nations artist of the books we used this summer with the children for their First Peoples Principles of Learning. One of the many impactful statements I heard from this brother of the land was his closing after sharing his life story and the story of the treatment of his grandmother at a BC Residential School, by saying something that really challenges us, I paraphrase it here …
Although the pain and sadness continues I live in the hope that love will prevail and we all will live in harmony one day ….
As I discovered this summer there is hope for Reconciliation with First Nations people. I believe there is a generation coming soon when all peoples; whether Indigenous or immigrant; whether gay or straight; whether Christian or one of the many other ways of honouring the Creator will live in harmony.
May we never be a people who rest complacently on our dregs. May we continue to be children of light and live in the faith of God’s grace. May we never forget we are to use the talents God has given us for the betterment of all creation. May we live in hope that the foundations we lay now will become a reality of unity in generations to come.
On the Facebook page for the Roy Henry Vickers event we attended he is quoted as saying … ‘Great happiness and peace comes from knowing that you make the difference for good in the world so go out and make that difference.’