Wednesday was National Aboriginal Day. Sometimes we forget that the history with First Nations in Canada is tied in with our theology and how we read scripture.
Passages like Galatians 4:1-7, 5:16-26 contributed to some of the history. The passage begins by saying, “heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.” In the early relationship, Europeans saw that even though First Nations lived on the land they didn’t use it or manage it in the way Europeans would. This led to an understanding that they needed guardians and trustees to manage their land and resources. This, in turn, led to the Indian Act and reserve system which is still in place. One of the first pieces of legislation related to First Nations was the “Civilization of Indian Tribes Act” in 1857. According to this legislation, if an Indian man could prove English language skills and the ability to manage his own affairs he would be able to vote and own land as long as he gave up his identity as an aboriginal person. Our scripture could be interpreted to support this belief.
This passage also makes reference to people who are enslaved by elemental spirits. In Paul’s time, there were some who wanted to return to local deities and worshiping the sun, the moon, the animals. In early Canadian history, the traditional aboriginal teachings were seen as worship of the elements. This worship was seen as against God and therefore needed to be stopped. There was genuine concern for the souls of aboriginal people, a want to bring them into Christianity and to “civilize” them. Out of these beliefs and values came the residential schools.
Christian theology was instrumental in creating and supporting the broken relationship that has developed between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Christian theology also holds hope for a future that looks different from what currently is. This passage goes on to tell us that the fruits for the spirit, the things that come from living faithfully are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the things that lead to healthy communities and relationships. We need to love our aboriginal neighbours. We need to seek peace. We need to have patience with each other as we tell stories, listen and learn from each other. We need to be kind. We need to be generous as we seek to live faithfully with our current reality. We need to speak and act with gentleness and compassion. We need to practice self-control as we look for ways to walk in a good path.
We need to understand that, as Christians, we do not have a monopoly on the sacred or on God. The traditional teachings of indigenous spirituality are very necessary as we learn how to care for the earth. Those of us who are immigrants and descendants of immigrants have much to learn from indigenous peoples. Our scriptures and theology have been used to tear down and destroy. Now we need to use those same scriptures and a new theology to build and to heal.