Tomorrow Sunday, June 18th, 2017 is Aboriginal Sunday on the Canadian Church Calendar. As you know it’s the Sunday before National Aboriginal Day, Wednesday June 21st, 2017. In our morning service we will talk about the historic apologies made by the United Church of Canada to First peoples. My colleague Val Chongva has titled tomorrow’s reflection Sorry. Why our Church Apologized. One of the readings will be I Lost my Talk written by Rita Joe (1932- 2007) a Mi’kmaw poet and songwriter born in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton Island. Another section of the service will be titled Lament on the Path to Right Relations- Seeking Right Relations. Aboriginal Sunday has become a very important Sunday for our community because it has helped to remind us of our need to continue gaining understanding about a part of our history here in Canada which still needs lots more education and reconciliation work.
This past week I have been in Truro, Nova Scotia attending the 49th Atlantic Seminar in Theological Education. The focus has been on The Spirituality of Pop-Culture. We have been looking at culture as the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours and artifacts that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another. Pop-culture has emerged in the past 70 years as one of the biggest influences on world-view. As we have looked at the impact which pop-culture has on our world view (both good and bad) I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what it would mean to have one’s culture almost completely destroyed.
I found myself contemplating again the history that tells of Christian ‘explorers’ arriving in new lands around the world and believing it was important to supress the faith and spirituality of the people who had lived in these lands for long periods prior. How devastating to have your culture, faith and spirituality systematically removed from you? Today we know that First People’s spirituality was (and still is) highly respectful of the earth and the natural order. Today many have begun to realize and confess the terrible short-sightedness and tragedy when those of one faith and culture sought to supress the faith and spirituality of another – rather than seeking ways in which to co-exist respectfully and honourably. In my Canadian context I’m thinking especially of the tragedy inflicted upon the First peoples of Canada. I have never forgotten a leading statement emerging from one of the first Earth Summits back in 1991 (held in Brazil). The statement went something like this: ‘Unless we can go back and learn from the First Peoples of all the Americas, the kind of respect and care for the Earth taught in their spirituality and culture then we will have little hope of saving ourselves from the devastation we are creating.’
Here are a few opening lines from the first apology made by the moderator (Rt. Rev. Robert Smith) of The United Church of Canada in 1986 acknowledging how people of one faith tradition failed to honour, respect and learn from people of another faith tradition. Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.
We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.
May we receive the coming week as an opportunity for recommitting to finding out more about the longer history of Turtle Island and the responsibilities which accrue to all in our relationship with Canada’s First peoples – and all First peoples.
Jim MacDonald serves in ministry with the congregation of Central United Church-
An Affirming Ministry and partner in the Community Peace Centre Inc.