Great Spirit, may the words from my lips be ever pleasing to your ears. You who are before all else and who dwells in every object, in every person and in every place, we cry unto you. We summon you from the far places into our present awareness. (Prayer composed by Elder Noel Knockwood).
Weliegsitpu’g. Welta’si na’ nike’ pekisan. Ni’n na Mi’gmewa’j aq teluisi sespewo’gwet gopit anoogwa’ pegoon. Ula ji’nm Listugug tle’iawit.
Good morning. I am glad that you came. I am Mi’kmaq. I am called Chattering Beaver Greyfeather. I am originally from Listuguj, which is known to you as Restigouche or Salmon River, on the south shore of the Gaspé.
In recent days, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report. I, like so many of you, attended the meetings here in Montreal and heard the testimonies of survivors and the impacts of the residential school experience that have extended down into the current generation. I also heard the regret expressed by the Anglican Church and others. I also gave my own testimony of my own experience with residential school. Fortunately it was a relatively short experience. But, I am not here today to dwell in the past, a past none of us can undo, but to offer a vision for the future, where everyone walks together as equals.
Today is a step on the way to building a better relationship with all peoples, especially the First Nations and Inuit peoples. “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth, we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2nd Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 2).
And where do we go from here?
As we saw in the Litany, “we have the same spirit of faith,” and we uphold the same values. Now, that strikes me as a good place to start. It’s a good place to start to develop a new understanding. And our Gospel reading from Mark speaks to exactly that. Jesus asks who are his mother and sisters and brothers. It is interesting to see that no-one comes up with an answer. So, Jesus answers his own question,” Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
How do we answer Jesus’ question?
In Jesus’ lifetime, “those who do the will of God” was very narrowly defined as those who obeyed the letter of the Law. Throughout history, “those who do the will of God” has continued to be very narrowly defined, oftentimes as “those who look, think, act and believe exactly as we do.” That is not what Jesus says. And it is exactly that narrow definition that led to so many wrongs, that we cannot set right by just apologizing and leaving things where they are. Now, in my case, I have a foot in each camp. I am an Anglican Christian, an Education for Ministry graduate. I also follow traditional First Nations ways as a holy man, and, as I look out on you today, I see my sisters and brothers in all of you.
We are all made in the image of the Creator on this place we call Turtle Island.
As we are taught in the Seven Sacred Teachings, the spirit of humility is captured through the acceptance that all beings are equal and through recognizing and acknowledging the greater power, the Creator. It was the Creator’s messenger, the Great Spirit, who gave our people the name “human beings.” In 2nd Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 7, we see Paul expressing this same humility when he writes “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”
Today, we have an opportunity to come to a better understanding of ourselves and each other. The way I have tried to put to rest the wrongs done to me is to go back to Paul’s statements and to the Seven Sacred Teachings. I learned that the rage and frustration that had built up in me was not doing me any good. When I attended the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings, I realized that what I was doing to myself was what the residential school system had tried to do to me, and to others. It was time for me to clear the mechanism. I realized I was going the wrong way. Since then, telling the church how I felt and having clergy and church members understand and welcome me into community, has helped. Priests like Reverend Jim Pratt, Reverend Karla Holmes and your own Dean, the Very Reverend Paul Kennington, and lay people too numerous to name, have earned my respect and I hope I have earned theirs. I realize that I’ve been given an opportunity, an opportunity to seek and learn and grow, both as an individual and in community.
Now, when I get frustrated and I don’t know where to turn, I’m brought back to a simple teaching of my grandmother, an elder, a teaching I still practice. Before I go to bed, I look in the mirror and I think of all the things I’ve done that day and I ask myself, “Is there is something that I could have done better?” There’s always something, so I go and I make another effort. I find I sleep better and I say a prayer thanking my grandmother and the Creator for all the people who have taught me about wisdom, love, understanding and respect, and for my wife, who teaches me every day.
Now, you see, that’s exactly what we need to do! We all need to make a second effort! That doesn’t necessarily mean giving an Aboriginal person on the street money. But by saying hello, giving them your name and asking what they would like you to call them, asking about them, and by letting them know they are not alone, you are telling them that they have a friend who will talk with them. Now that’s a start!
To listen respectfully and thoughtfully, to respond respectfully and thoughtfully is to grow in the values of wisdom, respect, courage, honesty, humility, truth and love that overcome old prejudices, attitudes and behaviours handed down to us by history. We can change future history by making the extra effort.
What is the reconciliation spoken of in the reports? For those of us who bear the collective burden of past Eurocentric arrogance, it is reaching out to the First Nations and Inuit in Jesus’ love and building a new relationship of mutual sisterhood and brotherhood based on real values and real understanding.
In our old ways, the traditionalists, elders, taught us that: “no,” “can’t” and “won’t” don’t exist. If you said “no” or “I can’t” or “I won’t,” it’s probably because you were afraid, you were not taught, you did not have the knowledge, or you did not have the opportunity. The good news is that it’s not your fault! Now together we can teach you, we will help you, together we can find a way, and together we can find the answers.
When you see the written words “no,” “can’t” or “won’t” on a wall or on a rock, like, you know, graffiti…
To an Aboriginal person, whey they look at the “apostrophe t”, it is a symbol of a tomahawk. We all know nobody is allowed to walk around the city with a tomahawk in their hands. So that leaves us with “can” and “won” and they equal: you can, and together, we can, and you won, and together we’ve won! Oh, yes, that leaves us with the rock and the “no” written on it. If you and I together roll the rock over, the “no” becomes “on.” You are not alone, we are not alone, we are all on the same side, and together again we can and we’ve won.
Who are our brother and sisters? All human beings are our brothers and sisters. And the answer . . . Jesus gave us the answer . . . and the answer is love.
Thank you, Holy Spirit. Wela’lin, Wejuli Nisgam. Amen.