‘REACH­ING’ ABO­RIG­I­NALS IS A TWO-WAY STREET

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FAITH - JOHN LONGHURST

WHEN I heard a ma­jor Canadian evan­gel­i­cal de­nom­i­na­tion had char­ac­ter­ized abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple as “least reached” by Chris­tian­ity, sev­eral things came to mind.

The first was in­for­ma­tion from the 2011 Na­tional House­hold Sur­vey, which found more than 63 per cent of abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans iden­tify with a Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, most abo­rig­i­nals who say they are Chris­tians are Ro­man Catholics, fol­lowed by Angli­cans, United Church, Pen­te­costals, Bap­tists, Luther­ans and Pres­by­te­ri­ans.

That doesn’t sound like “least reached” to me, un­less the de­nom­i­na­tion in ques­tion con­sid­ers it­self to be the only true ex­pres­sion of Chris­tian­ity — which may, in fact, be the case.

The se­cond was a com­ment made to me last year by Kyle Ma­son, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the North End Fam­ily Cen­tre, about the ter­ri­ble legacy of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem.

Back then, when I asked Ma­son — who is abo­rig­i­nal and a cre­den­tialed Chris­tian min­is­ter — what he would say to churches that want to reach abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, he replied: “We have been reached by Chris­tian­ity. It’s not that we haven’t heard. We have heard, and we have been dam­aged.”

To me, that also sounds like abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple have been reached, but not in a good way.

The third thing that came to mind was a pre­sen­ta­tion I heard in June by John Ral­ston Saul at Canadian Men­non­ite Univer­sity.

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the au­thor, he spoke about how abo­rig­i­nal and non-abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans had reached out to each other in the ear­li­est days of Euro­pean ex­plo­ration of this coun­try — how Euro­peans had reached out for help to learn how to live in this land and sur­vive, and how abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple had reached out to give it.

He went on to sug­gest we could learn lessons from that en­counter by once again reach­ing across the di­vides that sep­a­rate abo­rig­i­nal and non-abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, dis­cov­er­ing in the process what it means to be a Canadian to­day.

That idea in­trigued me. I won­dered what that reach­ing might look like, es­pe­cially for non-abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple of faith.

For an an­swer to that ques­tion, I turned to Terry LeBlanc, a Mi’kmaq Chris­tian who di­rects the North Amer­i­can In­sti­tute for In­dige­nous The­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies.

For Leblanc, there is much those of us who aren’t abo­rig­i­nal could learn from our abo­rig­i­nal neigh­bours about things such as the en­vi­ron­ment, the econ­omy and pol­i­tics.

I asked him for an ex­am­ple, es­pe­cially for me as a Chris­tian. He spoke about the en­vi­ron­ment — an im­por­tant is­sue to­day.

If Chris­tians want to learn from abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, he said, they could be­gin by “chang­ing the start­ing point” of their the­ol­ogy from the third chap­ter of Ge­n­e­sis which is about the fall, to Ge­n­e­sis’s first chap­ter, which is about the cre­ation of the world — a cre­ation, he re­minded me, that “God called good.”

“The start­ing point de­ter­mines the des­ti­na­tion,” he said, adding that by start­ing with the fall Chris­tians have come to see the world as a place that is evil and needs to be es­caped.

This, he said, has placed us on “a tra­jec­tory to­ward the degra­da­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment.”

An abo­rig­i­nal view of cre­ation, on the other hand, starts with the idea of the Earth as good, not as a place that is evil and that we need to es­cape.

It is, he said, “some­thing that God loves. Cre­ation is good, not evil.”

Chris­tians could also ben­e­fit from how abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple see all of cre­ation as con­nected, and how it has a spir­i­tual na­ture, he added.

God de­sires for all of cre­ation to “live in a right re­la­tion­ship with each other and with God” — not just hu­mans, he said, adding that this doesn’t mean that cre­ation is to be wor­shipped.

“The Earth bears God’s im­age,” he stated. “It was cre­ated by God, it has God’s spirit in it, but it is not God. Not ev­ery­thing is God, but God is in ev­ery­thing.”

Leblanc cau­tions Chris­tians who want to reach abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple. They need to move away from the con­cept that “mis­sion is a oneway street. The evan­ge­list should also be open to be­ing evan­ge­lized.”

Chris­tians, he said, “need also to be learn­ers, not just teach­ers,” and have “a deeper hu­mil­ity about the mes­sage” they carry.

Pon­der­ing all these things, I find my­self won­der­ing who, ex­actly, is re­ally leas­treached. It may not be those who some peo­ple think.

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