Jun22TueA sermon for Indigenous Peoples' Sunday June 22, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
(Please note that this sermon may be triggering for some.)
We have two main readings today that complement each other,
the poem from indigenous author Dr. Redbird
and the story of the stilling of the storm from the anonymous
1st century author.
Now normally we don’t read poems in Sunday worship,
but I felt it important on this Indigenous People’s Sunday
to give equal space to an indigenous text as well as to a Biblical text.
At first glance they seem very different, and have a opposing theology and worldview.
But then there are some similarities as well.
Both authors are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour.
Both have similar high quality to them, since they are evocative and help us think of higher ideals.
Both have much to tell about our role in Creation and with the Creator.
The first reading is a piece of beautiful and poignant poetry
that reminds us that the
“spirit of the people is equal to the power of the land”.
We are reminded that Mother Earth is amazing because she gives life
to all: to flowers, trees, birds, to every creature.
In return we must pay attention to the land and honour the land,
and tend for the environment.
Taking care for nature and respecting nature is a way forward for society.
Yet, human nature is to pollute our very existence and destroy our future.
We have a lot to learn from indigenous reverence for land and creation.
As Christians, we have misinterpreted the Genesis command to
“fill the earth and subdue it” and we poisoned land and Creation with the trash of our industrial and agricultural pursuits.
Our stewardship of the environment has been poor
and we are suffering through global warming as an effect.
Unbridled consumerism growth has been at the expense of the land.
We have not considered the effect of our decisions to the seventh generation.
All our wealth in Turtle Island or North America depends on the land stolen in large part from First Nations.
We underestimate what we get from the land and falsely believe all our riches come from technology and human achievement.
Now when we compare the poem with the story from Mark,
we can see that both readings are talking about the role of power… between people, then Creation, or the Land,
and finally Jesus, or in the poem, Mother Earth as the most powerful.
Jesus shows he is more powerful than the wind and the waves,
which are metaphors for the primal forces of chaos and evil that threaten to destroy us.
The bystanders are in awe at Jesus’s great power,
just as the readers of the poem are invited to be in awe of the power of the Land.
The second thing that catches me is the disciple’s impassioned plea when they feel they will be drowning:
Do you not care that we are perishing?, the disciples cry out.
This phrase really stuck out to me,
And echoes the cries of indigenous people these days:
Do you, white folks, not care that we are perishing?
Are we, like Jesus, asleep in the boat,
completely oblivious to the hardships that First Nations are enduring,
since we are comfortable, curled up asleep on our cushion?
Do you not care that we are perishing?,
indigenous people cry out in our wealthy country of Canada.
Indigenous people carry a grossly disproportionate burden:
poverty, incarceration, police-involved shootings, homelessness, and racism in health care,
First Nations have poorer health and education levels, inadequate housing, and higher rates of suicide.
We all probably know this, but do we care?
Do we care about the residential school victims?
“For more than 100 years Canada removed First Nation, Métis and Inuit Children from their families and forced them to attend residential schools, where they were barred from speaking their languages and suffered widespread physical, sexual and psychological abuse”
Children died of disease, malnourishment, in accidents, fires or by suicide.
Some estimates are at over 150,000 children in such institutions, who were forced to assimilate to Canadian society.
Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission five years ago identified at least 4,000 children who died at residential schools,
it took the discovery of 215 bodies last month in Kamloops to bring a sustained media and public opinion interest in this horrific topic.
And now 104 graves in Brandon, and 35 in Lestock.
Residential schools are a deplorable part of Canada’s history that has lasting effects to this day,
including into the current foster care system which sees indigenous children placed into care disproportionately more than white children.
It has seen anger recently turned against the Anglican and Catholic Churches as well as visible symbols of the assimilation and cultural genocide system,
resulting in the removal of the statues of John A. McDonald in Kingston and Eggerton Ryerson in Toronto.
Yet, there have been a few positive developments this past week I have noted:
First, we heard the helpful news that the Ontario government had committed $10 million to search for unmarked burial sites at residential schools.
Then Bill C-15 passed on Thursday,
which is a milestone for indigenous rights and reconciliation here in Canada.
Bill C-15 is legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and it affirms Indigenous people’s inherent right to self-determination.
“It rejects colonialism and the doctrines of racial superiority,
including Terra Nullius and the Doctrine of Discovery,
long used to deny Indigenous people’s fundamental rights.”
On a smaller, more local scale, also on Thursday,
we had a dedication service for our new permaculture garden on the vacant lot beside the Fellowship Hall,
with prayers said by indigenous elders, as well as by Pastor Carey.
Then we heard of the City of Waterloo and Wilmot Township quote cancelling Canada Day “festivities for citizens to set aside time
to learn about Truth and Reconciliation,
to identify and take meaningful actions to bring about reconciliation.”
What are things we as followers of Christ can do?
A great place to start is to educate ourselves about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and see that progress have been very slow in implementing them.
One of the calls that pertains to churches was #59,
which aims to ensure that congregations learn about the… church's role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools,
and why apologies to former residential school students, their families,
and communities are necessary.
Urging politicians to follow up on calls 71-76 pertaining to missing children and burial information is especially relevant at this time.
June is National Indigenous history month,
a good time to read a book written by an indigenous author or to watch a film on indigenous history and culture.
And at any time, it’s always helpful especially for those of us who are settlers, to reflect on our own roots and histories,
and examine our own prejudices and anti-Indigenous racism.
One particular cause that we really should get behind is the lack of drinking water in First Nations Communities.
Currently there is a water advisory in 33 First Nations,
with some advisories going back as far as 20 years.
In 2010 the UN declared water and sanitation as human rights.
So send a letter to the Prime Minister!
Tell him it’s time to end all water advisories now.
He promised to resolve them all by March 2021,
but that still hasn’t happened.
It is a travesty.
As we ponder all these things,
Let us commend our thoughts, learnings and actions to the Spirit of God, who transcends boundaries of race and origin. Amen.