Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events, there has been limited movement and engagement for local churches with regard to first nation relationship development. Many have been asking, “What can we do next?” The better question is, “How can we be better in walking out this talk of reconciliation with our indigenous neighbours?” There are three levels of engagement we should pursue.
The first level is “talking about” first nation issues, history, culture, spirituality, language and the like. This level does not demand much in the area of relational development with our host indigenous peoples. We can watch videos, listen to music or informational CDs, and read books. This is where you pique interest in a future discussion with indigenous people.
The second level of engagement is “talking with” indigenous people. As local congregations, invite indigenous people to share their story. This may pique some interest in future relationship-building, but it is not real relationship development yet. It might be considered tokenism if that is where your engagement ends. This means moving past fear and stereotypes that need to be shed, in preparation for the hopes and plans of walking with indigenous neighbours.
The last level of engagement is “walking with” our indigenous neighbours. There needs to be self-examination individually as a congregant and as a church body on whether to venture forward in committing to the process of being a good neighbour. This is where real healing is done. It might simply be visitations to soccer games, a gym night of volleyball, a fishing trip or hiking, longhouse gatherings, pow wows, someone needing a ride or meeting for tea. It’s about being together, building trust and long-lasting relationships. This is the vital stage where you will be watched more closely as to how you are a representative of the Jesus Way. Indigenous people want to see Jesus in you, not the old negative stereotype that comes with a hierarchical paternalistic evangelical colonialism. This is the stage to be genuine about your heart with people as you walk together.
You need to be process-people without an agenda. Remaining flexible and teachable will help you to make better strides as you move toward walking with indigenous people and representing the Jesus Way more effectively. II Timothy 1:7 encourages us: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
By understanding that you are a learner and listener, it will give you the power to move forward in relationship without fear and will give you keen insight into the cultural protocols and distinctives, to be better relatives to indigenous people, and show that you are a person of the Jesus Way, maybe without even having to open your mouth. Blessings on your journey.
Brander Raven McDonald is Mennonite Church B.C.’s indigenous relations coordinator.