In these recent years of walking with our Indigenous neighbours, I have been both blessed and intrigued by the words of encouragement often expressed at the end of a talk: “All my relations.”
My understandings of this saying come mostly from the reflections of Richard Wagamese, the Ojibway author of the book Indian Horse, who says that it means everything. It has the solemn sense of being a benediction, a blessing and a call to unity. It means that we recognize everything as alive and essential to our being, so there is nothing that matters less than anything else.
When a speaker makes this statement, it is meant as a recognition of the principles of harmony, unity and equality. It means that we are all related. It means that all living things are connected to each other and to the Creator.
It is to say that I cannot exist without you and you cannot exist without me. What I do affects you and others, and what you do affects me. Everything we do has an effect on others and on our world. The place where we may have differing beliefs in Christian and Indigenous worldviews is in the understanding that it means everything has a spirit, and in this way we are connected to each other as well as to the Creator.
“All my relations” seem to carry a very similar tone to the Hebrew word “shalom.”
Now when we are committed to living into all our relations, we engage in a journey of discovery that has the potential of great joy and peace. Acknowledging our relations certainly gives us a deeper appreciation for caring for God’s creation. In our human relationships, it calls for an approach to each other of love and respect. It gives us a curiosity to know the other rather than dismiss the other as different and pass certain judgments on the other.
From the lens of our missional perspective, it affirms the approach of looking for what God is doing in our neighbourhoods and seeking to align with God’s activity, bearing witness to the love of Jesus as we go.
When we encounter challenging times in our communities of faith, it leads us to believing the best in others, and finding our way through challenges wearing this lens of “All my relations.” It says, “I am with you and for you rather than against you.”
If we appreciate the understandings of “All my relations,” we should walk with all peoples as fellow learners along the way.
A Scripture passage that I am drawn to is Colossians 3:11: “Here there is no gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Garry Janzen is executive minister of Mennonite Church British Columbia.