Do I see a hand?


February 22, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 4
Will Braun | Editor
Photo by Alex Woods/Unsplash

I was sitting on Dave Scott’s porch on the Swan Lake First Nation a few years back when he started talking about a handshake treaty between his Ojibwe ancestors and Mennonites.

I had never heard of this. Later, I discovered no Mennonite historians had either.

Last year, a group of southern Manitoba Mennonites went to Swan Lake, located 160 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, for an afternoon to hear Dave—an historian, language expert and unofficial ambassador—tell the story in more detail.

Our latest feature flows from those conversations. The story captures a moment of possibility and neighbourly respect, and then its passing.

Why publish such a story?

To make us feel good that our people got it right at one point? Or, conversely, to wallow in the guilt of relations gone sour, as if endless deconstruction of our history, worldview and identity will somehow absolve us? To fill pages?

The story of treaty is the story of land, and land touches something deep and inescapable within us, even for urbanites. We all need somewhere to belong.

For white Mennonites, our land stories are usually tainted by us benefitting—always unwittingly—at the expense of others. But let’s move past beating ourselves up over that.

Activist rhetoric sometimes implies that we are simply cogs in an inherently white supremacist colonial machine—that we don’t belong.

Is that who God made us?

Menno Wiebe, the late elder statesman of Mennonite-Indigenous relations, said this: “If we can accept the history of Mennonite migration to this country as God-willed, then our coming also presents the opportunity to treat our neighbours with justice.” Otherwise, he writes, we would become something like what Adrian Jacobs calls “chaplains of empire.”

Can we claim a divine calling in this land?

Too often, our efforts toward reconciliation do little more than make us feel like we are on the right side. We get mad. We point fingers at governments. We draft intricate acknowledgements. We listen to stories.

Or we quietly reap the benefits of fertile soil.

What we don’t do is sacrifice, even though Jesus’ sacrifice is at the core of our faith.

If we’re committed to change, there is so much more we can do (including grappling with the real concerns of skeptics).

Fifty years ago, this magazine reported on Mennonites having displaced Indigenous people in southern Manitoba. What substantive change has happened since?

In 2007, Six Nations proposed a new covenant with churches. One Ontario church is now moving on it.

The programs and relationships of the last decades count, but they are limited, without sacrificial-level change.

We have much to lose. That’s scary. But we stand to gain in proportion to what we lose. It’s the paradox of sacrifice.

We are the beloved of God, here in this land as heirs of infinite love.

Menno Wiebe would sometimes punctuate his impromptu sermonettes by invoking the genre of the altar call, saying: “Do I see a hand?”

Who is willing to step forward? To lay their heart bare at the altar? To repent?

Who is willing to commit and be transformed?

I pray the feature story plants seeds of transformation and that 50 years from now our neighbours will tell new stories.

More magazine changes

With this issue, we complete our transition to new columnists.

Thanks to Randy Haluza-DeLay, whose column wins the prize for eliciting the most reader response. Randy’s easy style, approachable tone and choice of topics have resonated with readers.

On page 9, you will find the first installment of “‘Te’let’/Woven Threads,” a joint column by Barbara Nkala and Tigist Tesfaye.

Barbara is a Zimbabwean writer, teacher and elder who served as Southern Africa area representative for Mennonite World Conference (MWC) from 2016-2022. Tigist serves as secretary of the MWC Deacons Commission. She also runs an NGO in Ethiopia, her home country.

We are honoured that these two church leaders have agreed to share with us.

Te’let’ is an Amharic word that refers to beautifully woven threads of traditional Ethiopian cloth.    

Will Braun welcomes feedback at

Read more editorials:
Four tributes, two announcements
Brave birds still fly through fog
Highlights from 2023

Photo by Alex Woods/Unsplash

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