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An invitation to listen

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Back in March, the MB Herald addressed the theme of our Aboriginal neighbours. We surveyed the landscape of Mennonite Brethren and Aboriginal ministry, and were challenged in articles by pastors Norman Meade and Rob Kroeker to consider how much we really care about the Native people of our country.

We didn’t get a lot of response. A number of lovely notes came our way, relating memories of past involvement. There was also a letter suggesting that much more could be said, and that, in particular, the problem as Meade described it regarding First Nations communities was “more complex than presented.”

The letter writer was certainly right about the complexity. Any reality as large as the issues facing Aboriginals today cannot possibly be addressed in a couple of articles. Nor should we imagine that, having made it our theme in one edition, we’ve covered off on it and can move to something else.

The good news is, here and there across the country, there are individuals and congregations forming relationships and interacting with their Aboriginal neighbours.

The bad news is, as Dick Benner put it in his July 27, 2009 editorial in the Canadian Mennonite, there is still plenty of “unfinished business” for Mennonites when it comes to Aboriginals.

Grand new programs are not the answer. It may, in fact, be fair to ask whether the ethos of our denomination is even quiet and humble enough to engage well with the Aboriginal culture. Yet engage we must, in our neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces. And there are invitations open to us to do so.

One such invitation is to listen to the stories and witness the events coming out of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Fear, dysfunction

I recently heard Justice Murray Sinclair, chairperson of the TRC, speak at a public event. I was moved by his articulation of the helplessness, fear, and dysfunction wrought by the systematic determination of earlier residential schools to “take the Indian out of [Indians].”

But, “we have to look for ways to get past this,” he said. He quoted the words of one survivor: “We cannot continue to walk into our future backwards.” It’s an “ambitious project,” Sinclair said; both truth and reconciliation is large.

Everyone who wants to tell their story will have the opportunity, he said. These stories, which together will create an historic account, will be heard in safe and culturally appropriate settings. But there will also be seven national events in different regions to which the public will be invited.

What if every Mennonite Brethren congregation in Canada sent at least one representative to the event in their area, to bear witness, with a prayerful heart (“Oh Lord, have mercy”) and open ears? To hold up with compassion and understanding those (and there may be many) for whom speaking or hearing these stories will unleash new trauma and fears? To simply be present, not as critics or voyeurs, but as Christ-followers also intent on reconciliation, entering into the effort of others, into their space?

Other voices

Since the November Herald was going to press soon after the MB study conference, I wrote this editorial before I went to that event. Unexpectedly, while there, this need to participate in the TRC was twice affirmed to me. I would like to add those voices as well.

I happened to sit at a Bible study roundtable discussion with Stephen Siemens of Hepburn MB Church, a young man who works in restorative justice with Mennonite Central Committee in Saskatchewan. It was encouraging to hear of his passion about the First Nations population of his province and of his participation in a Catholic reconciliation program called “Returning to Spirit.”

Then, during an open discussion session of the study conference, Paul Kroeker, director of CMU’s Outtatown program, stepped to the mic to urge that we be alert to the First Nations people of our country – and especially alert about a window now open to us, namely the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

While in South Africa with Outtatown, Kroeker was told that the TRC there “would have come to nothing if Christians hadn’t been involved.” One reason it’s urgent we participate in this “ministry of listening and engagement,” he reminded us, is that “the injury done was done by Christians.”

Kroeker’s appeal was greeted with applause, and that was encouraging too.

We are called to peacemaking rooted in Jesus. An opportunity to do so lies before us. (For information, as well as upcoming announcements of national events, see www.trc-cvr.ca.) Will we accept the invitation?

—Dora Dueck, interim editor

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