In a recent adult Sunday school class, a member of my church spoke about her quarter-century journey of relating to Indigenous people. Twenty-five years and still learning, she admitted. Given the centuries of injustice and pain our neighbours have experienced, that doesn’t seem like such a long time.
Mennonites in Canada have shown an interest in righting wrongs perpetuated on the first inhabitants of our land. We have tried to make a difference in places where we felt called. As individuals and as groups, we have been involved in education, church planting, community development and advocacy. Perhaps reflecting our growing understanding of colonialism, the names of Mennonite outreach programs have changed over the years: Mennonite Pioneer Mission, Native Ministries, Aboriginal Neighbours, Indigenous Neighbours, Indigenous Relations, and Indigenous-Settler Relations.
This issue’s feature on page 4 tells the story of Henry Neufeld, who began his journey of reconciliation back in the 1950s, as a teacher in an Indian Day School. The obituary of Oliver Heppner on page 21 includes his involvement as a pastor in an Indigenous community in the 1980s.
Canadian Mennonite has helped to tell stories of Partnership Circles between Manitoba churches and their northern neighbours. Mennonite farmers in Saskatchewan are learning about the original inhabitants of the land where their farms now stand and are building relationships with their descendants. On the Walk for Indigenous Rights in Ontario, Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants called attention to the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights. In British Columbia and Alberta, Mennonites are responding to concerns of Indigenous communities along the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
In spite of our good intentions, it’s easy to get impatient: Let’s just fix the problems! But our mentors in this process remind us not to get stuck in the European ways of solving problems. As guests in societies that are quite different from ours, we must allow our hosts to guide us on the path.
We are learning the importance of building respectful relationships with people in Indigenous communities. That requires us to listen, observe and learn from our Indigenous sisters and brothers. We are learning to let our actions flow out of those relationships, at the invitation and guidance of the ones we walk with.
The task of reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbours comes with persistent and intentional cycles of learning, action and reflection—over the long haul.
There is no instant reconciliation. It takes time. And commitment. We educate ourselves about the past and present realities, we apologize, we offer gestures of support, we falter, and we try again. We celebrate the small successes.
On the path of reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbours, let’s take advice from the Apostle Paul and bring along the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). It will be a long road.
Possible late arrival
As we prepare this issue of CM, a postal strike is looming; we don’t know if the magazine will arrive on time after we mail it on Sept. 24. If it doesn’t reach you at the usual time, we apologize. If you’re reading this editorial online, please check out other selected content on the CM website at canadianmennonite.org. Our digital subscribers already received the entire issue of the magazine by email, as a PDF document. If you would like to make sure not to miss future issues, you can add a digital subscription to your current print subscription, at no cost. Visit canadianmennonite.org/subscribe/subscribe and sign up for the digital version, using the subscription number on the mailing label from your past issues.
Introducing Virginia A. Hostetler, Executive Editor
For as long as she can remember, the church has been a part of Ginny’s life—from the days of little magnetic church toys to worship planning and leading, biblical storytelling and teaching in a congregation as an adult. In addition to worshipping at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, she finds that books, podcasts and films help feed her mind and soul. Ginny has lived in Virginia, Indiana, Brazil, Pennsylvania and Israel. She now lives in Kitchener, Ont., with her husband and enjoys time with their two young-adult children and their partners.