In recent weeks I have resisted going into colonized spaces that are places dominated by colonized ideas, ways of thinking, being, and doing. This is because my own heart has been dismayed by the uneasiness brought on by the found graves of our lost children. As a First Nations Christian, I have found myself in the middle of nowhere land. I am caught between repentant settler communities that don’t know what to say, angry First Nations that are spewing hate, and other First Nations Christians that think smudging for Christians is a deplorable idea. Let me explain why these attitudes need to be adjusted.
First, settler friends find themselves in a position of discomfort. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when my Christian friends stop talking to me and other First Nations people, it puts us in a precarious situation in which we lack Christian support. After the graves of our lost children were found, people were inviting people like me into their homes. They did not do this to ask how we were doing with all of this, but to cajole us into teaching them in our time of grief.
Spaces that were once places we could go to for support suddenly became places of work and ministry. They were no longer places in which we could have our spirits replenished. This puts us in a place of thirsting for spiritual nourishment, of spiritual starvation. Nobody cared that our mothers and fathers attended Indian Residential School. Nobody cared that some of our relatives never made it home from the Residential Schools. They simply stated their thoughts and expected us to respond by teaching them. All this was done in our time of grief.
However, turning to First Nations groups left me feeling just as forlorn. Some of my own relatives spew hatred towards the church regardless of denomination. To them, I am following a dark path because in their mind, Satan has nothing on those who would kill children in the name of Jesus. The word ‘God’ is spoken with hatred as it is a colonized word that is associated with torture, pain, and death in the name of assimilation, colonization, theft, and genocide. I have spent countless hours with First Nations groups relaying the message that the people that killed our children were not following the way of Jesus. If they had, they would not have hindered our children, they would have loved us as they loved themselves. They also would not have coveted our land and resources, stolen our land, murdered our people, and then lied about it.
The actions of the people who did this are as far from the teachings of Jesus as one can get. Jesus taught us to love one another authentically. He sat with the prostitutes and tax collectors and was even referred to as a drunkard and a glutton (Matt 11:19). Jesus frowned on the Pharisees who lived by the letter of the law, and not the spirit of the law, which is to “love the Lord your God with all of your, heart, mind, and soul” and to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matt 22:37,39).
Yet, it is hard to convince many FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) people of this, since they see so many settlers living off the avails of stolen land and lives. Especially when so many of our people are living an existence of squalor. The church sends vast amounts of people and money to help people overseas but do little to help the people in their own back yard that are living without adequate food or clean drinking water. Many people in the church send their children to private schools and universities while many First Nations children don’t have adequate resources to succeed in school. I know of teenagers that have to work part-time to support themselves while attending high school, because Children’s Services stopped covering their needs on their sixteenth birthday. Yet, I have settler friends that pay exorbitant amounts of money because, in their mind’s, their children ‘need extracurricular activities.’ To them, this is their God given right. It sounds like prosperity gospel to me, but who am I to judge?
Then I think of those FNMI (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) People that are angry at churches that have opened their doors to smudging. They believe it is wrong because settlers have always told them it is wrong. They have never ventured to ask Our Heavenly Father to show them if it is right or wrong, or if it is permissible or even necessary. They have never queried if what the settlers told them is wrong.
They fail to understand that our people crossed over on the land and ice bridges thousands of years ago, which places us within the context of the Old Testament, that was a time in which God stated he found the smell of incense pleasing (Ex 30:7). They fail to understand that the smell of incense, eg., sweetgrass or sage, mixed with the prayers of God's people are pleasing to him (Rev 8:4). They fail to ask if an omni-benevolent God would create a people just to be hated and destroyed, because if they did, they would know the answer is a loud and resounding 'no!'
God loves all cultures; he just wants us to be wary of worshiping false gods. It is not how you worship; it is who you worship. If you are praying to Our Heavenly Father—Creator when you smudge, sweat, or drum then it is all good. Yes, some of our people worship false gods...demons even, but so do many non-Indigenous people. There are good and bad in every culture and ethnicity. We need to take the good, and cut away what is bad. In my mind, we all need to do better at loving our neighbour as Christ first loved us.