Text: Isaiah 43: 1-7
The tone of my reflection today was shaped by what I saw last week. Militarized police confronted unarmed Indigenous people with assault and sniper rifles and made 14 arrests. Those who were arrested were doing what their ancestors had always done, protecting their sacred lands and upholding their laws. This image, however disturbing it is, is something we can’t ignore or pretend not to know. This is what’s happening in Canada in 2019. I don’t know much about the background of how the pipelines in this country came to be with the cost and benefits of them or the politics and economy around the tar sands. (also known as oil sands) I also don’t know much about the history of Canada around the Indigenous and settler relationship. My limited knowledge, however, doesn’t stop me feeling the pain of our Indigenous sisters and brothers have been through, and are still going through.
My very first experience with Indigenous people took place interior BC not long after I came to Canada. A group of environmental activists from South Korea came to visit a First Nation community. A Korean-Canadian elder from the church I was serving invited me to go with him. We drove more than a half day through a lonely road. The first thing I noticed, upon our arrival, was the smell of dead salmon. They were everywhere on the riverbank. The stink of the place showed the deep connection to the natural world. Everything that made life sacred was there: the forest, the stream of water, the clean air, the fire, the salmon and the community. Nothing was missing. It was a complete picture of how everything was connected. Women and men and children from the First Nation community gathered together for a ritual in collaboration with the people from Korea. The ritual was about interconnectedness of all living things. The chief gave us a teaching. He expressed gratitude for everything and everyone. He also expressed his concern about destruction that was happening in the name of development all over the places. I was struck by his limitless concern. It wasn’t just about his own community. Instead, it reached out far beyond any boundaries I could think of. I realized that the world he lived in was far more organic, whole and interconnected than mine. I was curious to find out more.
Since then I have observed how our Indigenous people in Canada struggled for various reasons from the lack of opportunities and resources, including the basic necessities that many of us take for granted – clean water, proper housing, and wholesome foods – to the systemic racism and ongoing colonialism. They have lost so much: their culture, spirituality, community and land that sustained their lives for thousands of years. Throughout my time of living in Canada, I identified with the struggles of the Indigenous people, because seeing them was like seeing my ancestors who suffered from colonialism. It’s my confession that the identification or empathy I had was a half-truth because I forgot about my location as a settler which comes with a certain privilege. Our society has been designed for those of us who are settlers in a way that a certain group of people can benefit while others don’t. We may think that there is nothing wrong with what we have because it works for us. But we must not forget those who are excluded and marginalized just because who they are or because their way of life is different.
It took me an intense learning week to acknowledge the deeply imbedded settler privilege in me. Last June, I took a course, Conflict and Development Issues in Indigenous Communities at Canadian School of Peacebuilding. Tabitha Martens, the instructor was one of the most gracious, patient and intelligent teachers I’d ever met. Throughout the week, we learned about the complexity of the Indigenous and settler relationship, the systemic problem and what we could do to change the situation individually and as communities. There was not a single soul in the class who was not moved, challenged and changed by the course.
The turning point for me was when I asked Tabitha about the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. I love indigenous spirituality because it comes from the land in which we live, and it speaks to my heart. I usually feel the need to use some of the things I learned from Indigenous people such as the model of sharing circle and the talking stick to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Given my limited social network, it’s hard to find an Indigenous person to work with. Tabitha challenged me with the argument that if it’s not with them, it’s not for them. The point she made was so much more than acknowledging the territory, or giving copyright credit. It was about our deep commitment to walk together in relationship with Indigenous people. She was pressing the issue that even in the name of reconciliation the work we do can benefit us, settlers, but not indigenous people if we are not intentional about equal distribution of power and privilege.
Once again I was struck by the difference in our worldviews. Her worldview was a radical land-based approach which involved everything and everyone else in it. There was no mine or yours, but ours which meant to be regenerated. I discovered that my worldview was influenced by consumerism and individualism. I was disillusioned by the embedded settler privilege which came with a belief that I had the right to use and utilize resources for my benefit or for the benefit of my own community, without thinking of how to regenerate them for the sake of the whole. I came to realize that it’s in her worldview that we can find hope for our planet.
Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and social activist has been opening up collective spaces in which to confront the raw terror of ecocide. She is challenging us to look deeply into the embedded mindset that has caused the climate change. She said, it’s not humans that cause climate collapse or carbon. It’s capitalism, the whole point of which is to find resources and exploit them. It’s a habit of mind, a form of behaviour based on a particular worldview. As such, it can be changed.
The disturbing image I saw last week was a conflict of two different worldviews. And it’s a wakeup call for all Canadians. We must ask ourselves. What kind of worldview do we have? Does it benefit only a certain group of people or does it involve the whole creation? Which worldview can save our planet our home, the mother earth, the body of God therefore everything in it?