One of the gifts that Indigenous Peoples from so many different parts of the world have is the art of storytelling. In many Western cultures, stories are seen as things for children that adults have little time for. Time—isn’t that always the issue? You need time to listen to stories. You need time for stories to soak in and take on meaning. You need time to reflect on stories to learn the truths that are embedded in them. As Western Christians, we need to learn the importance of stories, and we need to take time to listen and be open to learn the wisdom they contain.
A print journal doesn’t exist in time as much as in space, but it’s equally challenging for us to give up pages for stories to be told. I know our readers are drawn to articles with “Ten Ways . . .” in the title, or to answers for various “How to . . .” questions. All that is good, and I promise we won’t stop providing those. But this time I’m asking you to take the time to sit with these stories and, as you do so, to allow questions to bubble up and to discover for yourself the stories’ wisdom.
It was tempting to condense these stories into an article that summarized the lessons they contain or to create a sidebar with practical applications for worship. But we aren’t going to. Listen to these stories. Read, discuss, and apply these stories in community. And may they in some way find themselves woven into your church’s story so together we may all be re-story-ed in Christ.
We are grateful for Do Justice, a blog shaped by a variety of voices examining and reflecting on justice issues with a Reformed accent, for allowing these stories to be shared. We also thank those who tell these stories and the communities they represent.
A Note to Those Living Outside of Canada
It may be tempting to skip this article if you are not part of the Canadian context of these stories. However, the calls to confession, forgiveness, healing, and equality in relationships—and the desire for the flourishing of all people—are areas of growth no matter where we are located. So let us all learn from the work that is being done in Canada, where the Christian settlers work to develop a new theology of and relationship with the land—God’s creation—and the Indigenous Peoples from whom it was taken and who know it best.
—Rev. Joyce Borger
Land is sacred.
As Reformed Christians who know that all of life is sacred, this shouldn’t be news to us. Yet we’ve too often fallen for the lies of our culture. We are implicitly taught every day that land is a resource to be consumed, an asset to be optimized. But we are more than consumers. We are stewards.
And we are implicitly taught every day that we have a right to this land. That Indigenous Peoples “lost” it somehow, that they mysteriously disappeared, that they sold it. The lie of the Doctrine of Discovery (see sidebar), repudiated as a heresy by a number of different denominations, runs counter to the truths of Scripture. We are not landlords. We are guests.
This is our Creator’s world. So let’s return to the land together, to the treaties that were meant to help us steward the land together. We are—all of us—made from the dirt of a garden, after all!
Who first stewarded the portion of Creator’s world that you call home? And why does it matter? Let’s dig in and listen to the stories of three congregations as we learn together.
Doctrine of Discovery / Doctrine of Christian Discovery
The doctrine set forth a principle that justified colonization and codified racial hierarchies in the law, placing European, Christian nations in the position of power. The doctrine began with a series of papal bulls that granted dominion of Catholic nations over non-Christian peoples and lands. It evolved as a legal construct alongside colonial history, was encoded in the judiciary of settler nations, and continues to influence legal and policy decisions today. It provided the intellectual framework that dictated how non-Natives interacted with Indigenous Peoples, and it became the basis of international law, effectively legalizing colonization.
—The Doctrine of Discovery Task Force of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, “Creating a New Family: A Circle of Conversation on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” 2015, crcna.org/sites/default/files/doctrine_of_discovery.pdf, 6.
Guests on This Land
By Jacqui Mignault
This is a small story about what happens when we invite others to our table.
In the year of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, my church, The Road Church in Calgary, Alberta, was encouraged to consider what it means that the land we call Canada has been inhabited for far more than 150 years and to ask ourselves, “What do the biblical calls to hospitality and reconciled relationships mean for our church’s relationships with local Indigenous Peoples?” Rich Braaksma, one of our pastors, reached out to The Native Centre at the University of Calgary to find someone from the local Indigenous community who would help our church engage these questions. One of the administrators there, Cheryle Chagnon Greyeyes, said yes and offered to come to our church to speak to us.
That Sunday morning, Cheryle told us a little bit about herself—who she was, where she was from, and the story of the land our church sits on. She sang a welcome to us. The service continued as it usually did with a few songs, and Pastor Rich preached a sermon on Luke 10. He began by sharing about his visit to Oman and Bangladesh, where hospitality is expressed with an invitation to sit and share tea, sweets, and food. He continued by speaking of the deeply biblical theme of hospitality and the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. “Love God and love your neighbor,” Jesus told the people who were looking to him to give them something to believe in (Luke 10:27–28). One of the people listening to Jesus asked for a caveat, perhaps not unlike how you or I would have responded to the story; surely it was too much to love every person like a neighbor. Surely we can’t be expected to—well, LOVE just ANY neighbor. “Who IS my neighbor, Jesus?” someone asked (Luke 10:29).
Of course Jesus refused to play along. He instead told a story about someone not like them, not liked by them. In fact, he told a story whose hero was someone who was at the time expressly overlooked, distrusted, and looked down upon. Jesus flipped the question. He told a story about just such a person doing the work of the neighbor—doing the work that in fact summed up the law and the prophets. We in the congregation heard this word, knowing we are both Jesus’ questioner and people in that crowd, that we are both those who ignored the hurting man and the hurting man himself.
Rich and Cheryle then talked about hospitality. Rich asked Cheryle questions about her culture and hospitality practices. We learned a bit more about the practices and meaning behind things we perhaps didn’t previously understand, such as smudging or the gifting of tobacco. Cheryle talked about ceremony and why it’s important for her. She called it “kindness signified.” She talked about how good guests listen to their hosts and partake in the world of their hosts. They enter into the practices of the host, for it means you take seriously their place in the world and that you are entering that place as a guest—you do not take over the home of your host for your own. And good hosts in turn care for the needs, the lives, and the world of their guests.
The whole conversation was an exercise in hospitality. Rich and Cheryle are different, absolutely. And there are differences that can’t be conflated into sameness and shouldn’t be. No one is saying that their different beliefs about the nature of the world are interchangeable. But Rich and Cheryle are also neighbors, and they were taking seriously what it meant to care for and welcome someone else’s dignity, their whole person, their God-given, Creator-given life. Their conversation opened this up for us.
Originally published as “Guests on This Land-Part 1,” Do Justice blog, March 12, 2018.
By Janina Krabbe and Silas Krabbe
Have you ever seen a tree so large that as you walked toward it you could not see the top?
I live in a land that was once covered in trees so expansive that you would have to make a concerted effort to walk around them. Trees that stood for generations. Trees that were nourished by salmon carcasses strewn about the forest by eagles, wolves, and bears. Trees that welcomed new life into the world, provided clothes and baskets, and then stood watch as lives waned and returned to the earth.
These same living forests were recast as dollar signs in the eyes of the European settlers. Previously, the forests of the West Coast were limited only by the depth of the soil, which had been developed and slowly nourished by the sea since the last ice age. With the arrival of the settlers, the mature trees were threatened by the extractive practices of these foreigners to the land. The thousand-year-old giants were felled, carved up, and removed. Just as the settlers removed the trees from the land, they also attempted to remove the peoples who had stewarded the land for thousands of years. Systematically, intentionally.
Mosaic Church exists on land that was robbed. Robbed of its people. Robbed of its trees. Literally, the roots ripped out. The ecosystem was destroyed, the way of life dismantled. These realities whirl around us, within us.
At Mosaic Church we have been building relationships with displaced Indigenous People who have traversed Turtle Island (also known as North America) and now find themselves living in Vancouver, Canada. Our church meets on the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam (xwmәθkwәy̓әm), Tsleil-Waututh (Sәl̓ílwәtaʔ/Selilwitulh), and Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw) Peoples, yet most of the Indigenous People in our community do not trace their ancestry to these Coast Salish Peoples. However, they do share what Indigenous theologian Randy Woodley has called the Harmony Way—a worldview common to Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island that understands holistic, harmonious, integrated, and rhythmic living as the good life (Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Eerdmans, 2012).
While Vancouver is considered one of the greenest cities in the world (both literally and figuratively), with views of forested, snow-capped mountains, the extractive, disposable, colonial worldview upon which it is built is more present than the distant vistas. Perhaps this is nowhere more felt than the Downtown Eastside in which our church is located. Considered the poorest urban neighborhood in Canada, our community, our neighbors are limited by government policy, marginalized by gentrification, contained by policing practices, and exploited by ongoing colonialism.
The painful history of the land beneath our feet impacts the way we exist in this space. The trauma inflicted on the land, on the original human inhabitants—both in the past and present—forces us to wrestle with how we occupy this space as a community and as individuals.
Each and every day we are somewhere. Perhaps the most pernicious portions of Western Christian culture are spread by the assumption that we have no culture and we have no land. We barter and trade in cultures, never paying attention to our own, and we purchase and sell land as property, removing ourselves from it. We pretend that we hover over top of the land like disembodied spirits that can move from one place to the next without ever “touching down” or caring for the places we inhabit. This is not the case.
We occupy physical spaces, spaces with histories, each week for worship services, for picnics in parks, or even sitting at desks looking at screens. These are the places we pause, places we spend time. But what about those spaces and places we occupy by passing through? We may not think about a road or a sidewalk as a space we occupy, but do we not require that they will always be ready for our use? Whenever we fail to consider the places in which we exist, we continue to unconsciously propagate the doctrine of terra nullius, that the land does not have an innate meaning and purpose, that it is empty, that it is merely there to be taken and used.
One of the ways our community wrestles with, acknowledges, and disrupts the way we occupy space is by cohosting a powwow. Once a year, in celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada (June 21), we move into the street outside the building where we meet. Blockades go up at the ends of the street, redirecting the “normal” (colonial) flow of traffic. An Elder’s tent is erected where the center line begins. A stage is built for powwow dancers where cars would otherwise slow down to turn into the intersection.
For this day, the land is again a place of intentional ceremony. The flow of events is dictated by dancers and salmon BBQing rather than by Western time and stoplights. It is a day in which to relinquish control, to reverse the inviter and the invited, to affirm Indigenous Peoples and cultures for who and what they are, for their gifts, their wisdom, their ways of being and knowing, and their challenge to us of settler cultures. The First Nations community structures and leads the event; we, as settlers, are welcomed to the land, to that space, and we participate in a different ceremonial rhythm.
To our knowledge, facilitating a powwow makes us an anomaly among church communities in Canada, but it flows naturally from Mosaic’s style and mode of being as a church. A significant part of our Sunday services is organized around holding open space for the voices of those present. In our context, we intentionally refrain from the more colonial approach that regiments time and structure, fitting people into the order. By contrast, Mosaic’s conversational teachings and nonlinear seating make room for disparate, vulnerable, and ignored voices to be heard, acknowledged, and respected. For us, these are ways we are moving into an understanding and acknowledgement of the Indigenous territories that we occupy.
Like the hush that falls upon a group in an ancient forest, Mosaic creates an unconventional church space to allow the quiet to speak volumes and facilitates a community powwow to occupy our space in a way that participates in the reintroduction of Indigenous ceremony to a land torn to its roots.
Originally published as “Re/Placing Ourselves,” Do Justice blog, October 22, 2018.
Land Acknowledgements: More Than Words
By Sam Cooper
We noticed her standing just inside the front entrance, looking up. While she was waiting to load her bus with the summer camp kids, she had stepped into the church foyer and saw the land acknowledgement: “The Community Christian Reformed Church of Meadowvale is located on the Treaty Lands and Traditional Territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit.”
Intrigued, she divulged, “My family has been in Canada since the 1800s. We’re from the East Coast.” Then she added, “I think my great-great-grandmother was Indigenous. I need to know more about her.” And so on that midsummer day we had an opportunity to tell our own story of needing to know more too, of the history and ancestry of the land on which we find ourselves.
At its heart, our posted acknowledgement is a confession that we dispossessed the earliest inhabitants—nations of people—of their homelands. It is our declaration that while God “had determined the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26), we came in pride and arrogance to rule, to have dominion, and to occupy this ground. It is our admission that we came to settle, not to share; to own, not to steward. It is our avowal that we have been complicit in the expropriation of this territory and that we benefit daily and unfairly from its richness. It is our admission that we have broken every treaty. It is our way of owning the history of colonization and assimilation. It is a visual reminder for us that there is a more ancient story than we have been taught about this land we now call Canada, voices that have yet to be fully heard.
And yet, this land acknowledgement is also a grateful recognition that, notwithstanding our Doctrine of Christian Discovery, we have been welcomed here to share in the Creator’s gifts of land, air, water, and fire. Finally, it is a call for us to be in genuine relationship with real, living people—the descendants of the Chiefs and Clans whose totems mark the treaties of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands and whose wampum belts testify to covenants still in force. They are here, still honoring the sacred trust given to them by the Creator to care for and protect the Land.
Today, the recognition of the traditional homelands of Indigenous Peoples seems ubiquitous (at least in the Greater Toronto Area). You will hear acknowledgements at public meetings of school boards and city councils, at the provincial and federal levels of government, at award presentations and fundraisers, at meetings and events of colleges and universities, at mainline church denominational gatherings, and even at professional hockey games. What may seem newly pervasive (and meaningless) to us has been respectfully practiced for generations among Aboriginal Peoples. Thus the challenge is to do more than simply recognize those who are Walking Gently on the Earth (Lisa Graham McMinn and Megan Anna Neff, IVP, 2010) and Living in the Tall Grass (Stacey Laforme, Chief of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, UpRoute Books and Media, 2018). While the meaning of land acknowledgements, like reconciliation itself, can be complicated, if it is predicated on mutual respect and honoring, we can be hopeful.
Our hope is an ancient one. And here is the great paradox for the Church: we have already been given the preeminent land acknowledgement—a land recognition that has also been exchanged by tribes and peoples for generations and generations. It is located in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it.” Since the earth is the Lord’s, then all of us are only caretakers. In God’s wisdom, the Creator called the First Peoples all over the earth to this sacred trust. Ironically, it was a friend and Cree Elder from Alberta, Carol Lovejoy, who taught me this from Psalm 24.
Our church is situated on Lake Waybukayne. Waybukayne, a Chief of the Mississaugas, was murdered along with his wife and her sister by British soldiers on the shores of Lake Ontario, near the Toronto Islands. In a service of reconciliation in 2001, the Church of the City of Mississauga identified publicly with that offense and many others associated with colonization, and we repented to Chief Larry Sault and other representatives of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. That day, Chief Sault and his People graciously released us. Since that day we have worked to become friends and partners as, by grace, we “bring forth fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
Today there is a fence around parts of the lake. Perhaps you’ve seen such fences in environmentally sensitive areas. They’re often high and include a sign: “Restoration in Progress.” We need fences there to protect the lake, the embankments, the nesting birds, and the native vegetation against our indiscretion and abuse. It is our best effort, in partnership with the city, to protect and conserve this unique ecosystem in the heart of our community.
The Mississaugas, who according to archaeologists lived so lightly on the land that there are frustratingly few artifacts to uncover, knew how to steward the land and its resources. Creator, who made the heavens and the earth, has taught them. We, on the other hand, need fences. And we need simple statements of acknowledgement to protect, honor, and respect the “unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous People and their traditional territories” (lspirg.org/knowtheland).
Originally published as “Bringing Forth Fruit Worthy of Repentance,” Do Justice blog, October 26, 2018.
I know I said we were going to let the stories speak for themselves and not give you additional “how-tos” and “tensteps,” and we aren’t, but I did want to address one concern and offer a few places to go if you or your congregation would like to know more or consider next steps.
There has been concern raised that land acknowledgements are little more than moral exhibitionism and that churches and other organizations are including them as a means to seem politically correct (christianscholars.com/can-land-acknowledgements-be-christian). I’ve wondered the same at times, and we certainly need to be careful not to fall prey to simply jumping on the “bandwagon.” But I hope the stories shared above encourage you to think much more deeply about land and land acknowledgements. If you do choose to include them in worship or elsewhere, first learn the history of the land and do the relational work with the Indigenous Peoples who call them home.
—Rev. Joyce Borger
- The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has compiled a comprehensive list of resources for learning more about worship and ministry with Indigenous Peoples. See tinyurl.com/IndigenousPeoplesCICW.
- To learn more about which Indigenous Peoples resided on the land you live and work on in Canada, go to native-land.ca. If you live in the United States, consult usdac.us/nativeland. We apologize that we are not able to offer links to every one of the countries represented by our readership.
- To learn more about Territory Acknowledgments, go to tinyurl.com/territoryacknowledgment.
- Worship resources that include the voices and concerns of Indigenous Peoples can be found through many denominational websites.
- Listen to the Do Justice podcast, sign up for their enewsletter, or read their blog at dojustice.crcna.org.