Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was the light. In the beginning the Word became flesh and lived among us and from this grace came our salvation. Now if you asked most anyone what the word salvation means, they would likely talk about being saved. They might say Jesus Christ is their salvation and if pressed they might clarify that Jesus brings salvation from hell, from Sin. Even some may say, from suffering.
However, Salvation goes much deeper. The word Salvation comes from a Greek word which, in essence, means health, healing, wholeness. That is, in part, what we are speaking about as we honour the National day of Truth and Reconciliation…bringing health, healing and wholeness. Salvation. Because it has often been in the name of ‘salvation’, that thousands of Indigenous children were ripped from their families and communities to attend Residential School.
The first religious boarding schools for Indigenous children date back to the 1620’s. They were run by French monks with the aim to convert young children to Christianity so that they, in turn, might convert their Indigenous communities. As time passed the evangelistic aims of the authorities became less important than the social and political aims. The purpose of residential schools shifted…and this was made abundantly clear in the widely held beliefs of the Indian Affairs Department voiced by Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the early 1900’s who wrote…
“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object...”
Deputy Superintendent Scott’s opinion and that of Canada as a Colonial government, would be easily summed up by a phrase coined by Richard Pratt in the early 1900’s “save the man, kill the Indian”. Save the man…kill the Indian. Save the man…Salvation…that is what they claimed to be their aim. But some would say…this was the 1600’s surely people have gotten over it by now? We don’t do that sort of thing now. No one converts people by force. We know better. That is true! And yet not so true.
Perhaps the schools of the 1600’s with their goal of conversion to Christianity have gone. Perhaps the residential schools of the late 1800’s and the goal of ‘save the man, kill the indian’ are gone. But that doesn’t mean that Indigenous people were finally able to work towards salvation, that is health, healing and wholeness, unimpeded. Nor that those representing church and government were finished ‘saving’ the Indian. As the residential school system was being dismantled, thanks be to God, a new abuse took its place and once again in the name of salvation. This time not eternal salvation, but social salvation.
In the late 50’s and 60’s there was a drive by governmental agencies to ‘save’ Indigenous children from the ‘horrible circumstances’ they were wallowing in. Conveniently forgetting the part that governmental agencies had played in creating those circumstances over the course of 300 years. As well, the eyes which surveyed and evaluated the situations that indigenous children were in, were the product of 300 years of racial bias, ignorance and western European culture. These were eyes that saw children under the care of grandparents as being neglected, eyes that saw children eating traditional foods rather than European foods as starving, eyes that saw the community banding together to care for children as a sign of failure rather than a sign of strength. The result was the 60’s scoop.
Now a reminder that this isn’t long ago and far away… this was 1960…how many here were alive in the 60’s through the 80’s? how many of you had children of your own? In the 60’s scoop thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their homes, regardless of whether their parents were there or not. Scooped up from aunts and grandparents, taken while playing, taken by thousands.
The white social worker, following on the heels of the missionary, the priest, and the Indian agent, was convinced that the only hope for the salvation of the Indian people lay in the removal of their children (Fournier & Crey, 1997).
This time though, the children were not taken to a school. Rather they were sent to foster homes and adoption agencies. In 1981, the year I was born…as many as 55% of apprehended aboriginal children were “shipped out of province for adoption”. Some stayed in Canada, many were sent to the states, and some even sent abroad. Adoptions of Manitoba Indigenous children were advertised in the states and abroad, and lucrative adoption fees were charged and absorbed by agencies.
According CBC archives: Marlene Orgeron recalls the day her adoptive Louisiana parents told her they bought her for $30,000. Her brothers, they told Marlene, were "freebies." Carla Williams, also from Manitoba, was adopted by a family in Holland for $6,400. Manitoba twins Alyson and Debra ended up in Pennsylvania. They said they were valued at $10,000 as a pair. Salvation…health, healing and wholeness. It was never about that.
And this didn’t happen generations ago…it happened to my parent’s generation, your generation. The abuse and misuse of our brothers and sisters under God by our forbearers and by the generation before us…and still continuing… began in the 1600’s and now continues into its 400th year. Even now if we claim that we are not a part of a system of abuse, that we are aware and sensitive to Indigenous issues. Consider the current news coverage…215 Children’s graves garnered shocked attention…how many children have been located now? When did you last hear about the ongoing searches? The number of children’s gravesites located now exceeds 4000 and is still climbing.
How was this salvation? How are we who ignore the pain our church caused to be saved? Can we all be saved together? It is time to participate in real salvation, in health, healing and wholeness. In truth and in reconciliation, in story telling and in listening, in humility and in self awareness. In speaking out and in encouraging more voices to be heard.
Indigenous Awareness is an opportunity to participate in the good work of salvation, to encourage and take part in our own health, healing and wholeness and to ensure that salvation is available to all. Being saved doesn’t simply mean giving your life to God, it means living the life of God. A life of righteousness that follows all that Jesus took a stand for, and in the end was killed for. Health, healing and wholeness. We are called to do the same.
And in light of what we did as the church, as the Anglican church, as people of privilege either of ancestry, or social status or both, are responsible for, is to ensure everyone is accorded the dignity, rights and honour that inherently belong to them as children of God. And that cannot be done if the majority of society brushes off 400 years of systematic abuse, that is still continuing,… as mere history.
Generation after generation of children grew up without family, loving parents, sense of self, sense of identity…sense of being a beloved child of God. We as a church, and as Canadians are responsible for helping the children of the Creator, who we damned in the name of salvation, to achieve salvation. To help in their journey to wholeness, because whether we acknowledge it or not we have been a part of the system, and we have been hurt too. Harming another always, always hurts the aggressor … humanity is born to be in community and it harms all of us to cut off one of our members, just as much as it would if we cut off a hand or foot.
We are all interconnected, members of the body of Christ and we are all members of creation. It has been made clear that even small actions against the environment have had an impact across the whole earth. Cannot the same be said of the impact which occurs when entire communities have been oppressed here in Canada? We need to work together, Indigenous and non indigenous for the salvation of all, for health, healing and wholeness.
And we need to work in hope, not just optimism, but real hope. Optimism believes that things will continue to go well for you, because the way things currently are works well for you. Hope on the other hand, is belief that something from outside the system will make all things well, because the system that exists… is failing you. The system has failed, there is no cause for optimism if we carry on as we are. We must journey on in hope…in the hope and faith that comes from outside the system. The hope that, despite the horror of the past, and the injustice of the present … the future will bring salvation. And hope does not disappoint…not God filled, faith filled hope. But neither is hope passive.
We cannot simply hope and watch to see if salvation happens. We need to participate in salvation.
(Jesus) was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus came to bring all God’s children into God’s own salvation. All who were born of God, our creator. We are participants in this world, we have the power to be children of God…a family, indigenous and non indigenous. We all have access to salvation; to health, healing and wholeness. We can all be healthy in mind, body and spirit. We can all experience healing, victim and oppressor, individually and systematically, church and state. We can all be made whole…with a confident sense of who we are. Beloved children of the creator, joint heirs with Christ, equal by God’s Grace and redeemed by God’s love incarnate.
It is a long journey ahead, the journey of knowing truth and living reconciliation. It is a journey that doesn’t always look too optimistic, but is always, always full of hope. We are all in this together. We are all children of the Creator and we can all …hope for salvation.
Health Healing Wholeness amen