A justice-oriented church community

New Order Voice

May 4, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 10
Katie Doke Sawatzky |

I haven’t been to the dump before. The route is unfamiliar. My father-in-law and I drive east, now on the outskirts of Regina, and eventually pass the oil refinery, a mammoth mess of tangled pipes behind a sea of parked trucks.

As we pull up, I look upon the hills and see the plastic bags. Some are floating on the breeze, lots are trapped against the fences. They dot the land like candy sprinkles. We find the right place to dump our dirt. I get out and smell the methane, but quickly forget about it as we set to work.

This is the third time I am shovelling this gumbo into a different pile. We just dug out space for two garden beds in the backyard, removing sod and soil a foot deep. I volunteered to help get rid of it, while Glenn stayed at home with the kids.

Afterwards we drive by the jail on our way to Peavey Mart. My father-in-law is a contract renovator who makes this trip often. “Sometimes I see people working out in the fields over there, doing their service,” he comments. I turn around to catch another glimpse of the sandy brick building lined on both sides with short trees.

The refinery, the dump, the local prison. These are places I don’t ever see in my life. And now that I have, all I feel is sadness. I am confronting the markers of our consumption, our supremacy and our colonialism, all in one trip across town. It’s unsettling to return to my backyard and try to think about planting potatoes.

Later on in the week, I read a piece in Briarpatch magazine about female inmates in Canadian prisons. In August 2015, Breanna Kannick, incarcerated only for failing to make a court date for a former drug charge, died in her jail cell five days after arriving. She wasn’t given any proper medical care—any care at all—to ease a drastic withdrawal.

Last fall, I saved a clipping from The Leader Post about the incarceration rates of indigenous people in Saskatchewan. They’re staggering. “While indigenous people comprise 15 to 17 percent of the Saskatchewan population, 80 to 90 percent of the men in the province’s jails, 90 to 95 percent of the women and 80-plus percent of the youth are indigenous,” Barb Pacholik writes. A third of the female prison population lives with mental illness, 13 percent for men.

The realization that I live in a racist, white supremicist state is heavy. When I contemplate such injustice, I automatically try to figure out what I can do about it. Something practical, helpful. I read and educate myself, but I need help thinking of next steps. Could the church be a place where I can do this?

I think it can, and it must. The church is a non-commercial space, it welcomes an unrestrained Spirit in worship and it draws inspiration from a Galilean who undermined empire. It’s the perfect place for social-justice initiatives to be born. When I encounter structures that keep fuelling oppression of land and people, I want to be able to share that burden with other believers and then act. Volunteering at the penitentiary or advocating for waste-to-energy initiatives isn’t as daunting when I’m doing it with a community.

I crave this kind of space and support. I pray I’ll find it.

Katie Doke Sawatzky (katiesawatzky@gmail.com) writes and edits from Regina.

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