Jun26TueJune 26, 2018
There are some topics that are, quite simply, uncomfortable. One of those uncomfortable topics was tackled head on at the 2018 NAIITS[i] Symposium entitled White Supremacy, Racial Conflict, Indigeneity: Towards Right Relationship.
Presenters came from Australia, New Zealand, and North America to present papers addressing their experience of or with white supremacy, colonization and patriarchy within the Christian faith. Discussion circles, open mic questions, along with casual connections over meals or coffee at the end of the day afforded many opportunities to engage in honest reflection and open discussion with other Jesus followers whose life experiences and perspectives much different than our own.
Three presentations in particular had a significant impact on me, offering new concepts, answering questions and contributing significant pieces to my thinking around this idea of right relationship.
The first was a paper by Alistair Reese, PhD, entitled Indigenous Generosity and a Treaty: Towards Reconciliation in Aoteara – NZ. Reese’s paper was compelling as he outlined an experience that held strong parallels to our own Canadian context. He identifies the Biblical concept of covenant as foundational to our participation in the mission Dei, and in God’s work of reconciliation.
The second was a paper presented by NAIITS’ Masters student Erna Hackett, a Korean American pastor who examined justice from a white theological perspective and juxtaposed it against justice from the theological perspective of peoples of colour, primarily Native American and African American. Hackett exposes the problematic thinking around a theology which consistently positions one people group above others; privileged persons above those who are experiencing oppression, poverty and injustice. She explains that theology from a non-white perspective often has a wholistic view, focusing on community, relationship and systems of injustice.
The third paper was co-written by Adrian Jacobs, Turtle Clan, Cayuga Nation of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy at Grand River Territory, who serves at the Sandy-Saulteaux Centre, and Jennifer Henry, who is the Executive Director of KAIROS Canada. Their paper was entitled Treaty: Medicine for Anxiety. They discussed the continuing impact of the “Doctrine of Discovery” and the meaning of the two-row wampum, the invitation by the Haudenosaunee People to walk together as brothers - an invitation that continues to be extended to us today. Our response to this invitation is critical to our experience of covenantal community in relationships that honour treaty agreements and allow us to truly walk together well in the land as relatives.
As a member of the dominant culture, it hasn’t always been clear to me where and how I should be walking. However, an understanding of treaty, a theology of covenant, and a glance into some non-white theological perspectives is bringing some clarity.
Without question, this year’s symposium addressed some very difficult topics and prompted uncomfortable conversations. However, the atmosphere was refreshingly open. A theme that resonated with me personally was that of “belonging.” As a member of the dominant culture, it hasn’t always been clear to me where and how I should be walking. However, an understanding of treaty, a theology of covenant, and a glance into some non-white theological perspectives is bringing some clarity. I am humbled at the gracious invitation into dialogue and relationship, and grateful for the ongoing journey.
As the symposium wrapped up, an EFC working group, established in October 2017 to focus on reconciliation, convened to share highlights and reflections on their learning. We were joined by some of the indigenous theologians who are part of the NAIITS board of directors and the NAIITS community.[ii] A key concept from the symposium which resonated deeply with many was the link between the concept of Treaty and the biblical concept of Covenant with its connection to right relationships with Indigenous peoples. Our working group will continue to research this link.
Reconciliation often centres around addressing unmet needs of individuals or groups and neglects the essential response of right relationship with one another as participants in the mission Dei. We discussed reconciliation as restoration to the kind of relationship God would have intended we have in the first place.
We do need to understand the impact of colonization and the role of the church in it.
We do need to understand the impact of colonization and the role of the church in it. We do need to engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and the UNDRIP[iii]. The working group is looking at various means of resourcing churches. It is our hope that churches will begin to step into their responsibility to work toward right relationships with indigenous peoples in this land, understanding that these relationships become tangible evidence of the hope that we profess.
May we accept that responsibility and truly learn to walk together well in the land, as relatives.
Alison Lefebvre is Director of Flourish Ministries for EMCC.
She makes her home in Didsbury, AB.
Contact Alison for more information about any of this content.
[i] NAIITS is an acronym for “North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Study”, now simply “NAIITS: A Learning Community.” (www.NAIITS.com) The NAIITS Symposium was hosted this year by Acadia Divinity School in Wolfville, NS.
[ii] Members from the NAIITS Community who attended included Cheryl Bear, Adrian Jacobs, and Terry Leblanc, Wendy Peterson and Shari Russell. Wendy and Shari are regular members of the EFC Working Group on Reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.
[iii] UNDRIP is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, available at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
Visit these websites for information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: