In Luke 7:36-8:3 we read the story of Jesus’ dinner at the home of a Pharisee. When he had arrived he was given none of the regular special treatment that would normally have been given to an honoured guest. When the woman he considered to be a sinner bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment the host complained that the woman shouldn’t be touching him. The host went even further, saying that the fact that he allowed it was sure proof that Jesus was not a prophet. In response, Jesus told story about two men whose debts were forgiven and Pharisee agreed that the one forgiven more would be more grateful, he then showed how the woman had honoured him according to her great gratitude, while the Pharisee had not been very grateful at all. Jesus told the woman her sins were forgiven.
My friend and colleague Ron has much to forgive, and I feel honoured that he has given me permission to share a little of his story with you…Ron is from the Tobique Nation and used to teach with me at the High School in Oromocto. He is a keeper of the sweat. Growing up was a real combination of family and culture on reserve and discrimination off. He had friends who were taken to residential school. He went to day school with the nuns in his area for four years, and then to the regular local schools. His mother taught him to run home if he saw the RCMP and priest together. Ron tells of the culture shock of the school system and people assuming that he was stupid. Any time anything went wrong at the school they would round up all the native kids and line them up in the gym and demand a confession. They would leave them there for hours as there was most often nothing to confess. Ron and the other kids from the First Nation were treated just as the woman in the Gospel reading. And yet they had done nothing to deserve this. They were born, as were we all, just as God had intended, loved by God just as much.
At the General Assembly in 2010 time was spent looking about issues of the indigenous peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One speaker was Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Chief Paul offered a glimpse into his painful experience with the residential school program: “For me, the residential schools issue is very difficult to think about, let alone talk about, to go back to that five-year-old that I left behind. I blamed government, religions, even God for what happened. But it was people that did this. And here I am today, ready to forgive. I am not only a survivor; I am a witness to this horrible history.”
Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Marie Wilson then shared with the Assembly some insight into the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “A huge part of the story of the Commission is about our failure in the past to see the universally sacred, and revisit that,” the commission “is not a national guilt trip, but Canada’s chance to breathe new life into what the Constitution says.”
Wilson stated that “the point of residential schools was to remove the Indian from the child, so within a few decades there would be no ‘Indian problem’,” with the result that “three and four-year-old children were removed from their families and put into isolated communities, going months and years without family contact.” She asked the Commissioners, “What would you do if they came to take your child, just learning to talk, barely out of diapers?” One of the seven Truth and Reconciliation national events is coming up October 26-29th, 2011 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We continue to need to promote healing and reconciliation.
gkisedtanamoogk is a member of the Wampanoag Nation from Mashpee, “Massachusetts.” He is married to a woman from the Mi’kmaq Nation and lives with his wife and children at Esgenoopotiitj. Both the Wampanoag and Micmac Nations are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy of Nations. Gkisedtanamoogk works hard to educate and guide his people on the red path, and to open the eyes of non-aboriginal people to their unique way of viewing the world. In his book co-authored by Frances Hancock, Ceremony is Life Itself, he expresses what it is to live your life spirituality better than I have found it almost anywhere else…
“We structure our life on a Ceremonial Cycle…Our whole way of Life, Ceremonially speaking, is one continuous Song, one continuous Ceremony. The way we move is a Dance. Ceremony is Life itself. It is the way we do things. Ceremony, to us, is the daily Life; everything we do, everything we think about is all part of that same expression. From Planting the Corn to raising the Sacred Bundle, the Children, we are conscious that all Life is Sacred, that all Life is a Song; and we are thankful for it.”
“The construction of Giving Thanks is literally: I am exposing my enoughness, my fullness. It expresses that my needs are met. The condition of expressing that my needs are met, that the needs are met, is what we call Thanksgiving…I am up this morning. I have Life. I have risen/ I have come from the Sleep Time, the Dream Time…All that should govern us as Human Beings is our Honoring of the Creator, our honoring of all our Relatives….That is the whole meaning of our Existence: becoming one with the Great Mother and All Our Relations.”