‘Reconciliation in action’ in next book up for Knowing our Place

Many Christian churches have apologized for their role in the oppression of Indigenous peoples. The Mennonite Church has gone one step further by publishing a book––a courageous search for what reconciliation might look like.

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land, Justice and Life Together, is edited by Steve Heinrichs, director of Indigenous Relations within the Mennonite Church. But there is very little that is “churchy” about this book––our fall choice for the Knowing Our Place Book Club. 

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The conversations in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry include an equal number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers engaging in storytelling that interrupts old ways of seeing and peels the layers of the colonial mindset in order to heal our broken relationship with Indigenous people, as well as our broken relationship with the land.

There is poetry by Lee Maracle and Di Brandt, essays by Leanne Simpson and Tomson Highway and a brilliant and amusing tale by Peter Cole, a member of the Douglas First Nation in Southwestern B.C., who takes us on a trip to the underworld with his friends Raven and Coyote, where they meet a two-spirited Jesus who encourages his red relatives to hold fast to the Original Instructions. 

Heinrichs lives up to his decision not to welcome just the “good Indians” into the discussion but “those voices that would push us to think differently and perhaps more critically about our worldviews.” 

For example, Tink Tinker, a member of the Osage Nation, professor, theologian, and author of American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty, challenges the belief in one god in Why I Do Not Believe in a Creator

“Indian people are dualistic,” Tinker writes, “in the sense of paired reciprocity, and two represents the number of balance and wholeness…two paired halves necessary to make a whole while the number one is dysfunctional … extractive rather than reciprocal … a monolithic image of power.” 

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry is reconciliation in action, suggesting new ways to dream together, to restore wholeness to our society and our planet. A book full of truth, hope and promise. 

Knowing Our Place is a reconciliation initiative conceived by Pauline Le Bel and supported by the Bowen Library and Bowen Arts Council. We began two years ago with the Blanket Exercise, followed by Building Bridges Through Art, a first celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day and other well-attended events. The purpose is to educate ourselves about our true history with Indigenous peoples, and to build mutually-enhancing relationships in the spirit of reconciliation. 

Heinrichs writes: “Don’t feel guilty. You didn’t ask to be born into a colonial state that dispossesses Indigenous peoples for settler well-being. Feel responsible for bearing your piece of the burden.” 

Heinrichs knows there will be no quick fixes, no facile solutions to soothe the conscience. It took us seven generations to get here. It will take time to heal. All the more reason to get started now. 

I began the book club two years ago as a labour of love and have been inspired and supported by the thoughtful reflections of those who have attended. I will be leading the first session in September and Erica Olson, who has been with us since day one, has generously agreed to lead the other discussions. 

We will be spending four sessions on this landmark book: Introduction, Naming the Colonial Context (Sept. 21); Unsettling Theology (Oct. 19); Voices of Challenge and Protest (Nov. 2) and Where to From Here (Nov. 23). The book club runs between 11a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The Bowen Library has two copies and you can request an interlibrary loan. You may also purchase the book from Indigo Books or the publisher: Mennomedia.ca.

All are welcome to engage in these thoughtful conversations. Space is limited in the Library’s Flex Room. 

Please register for one or more sessions through the Bowen Library: bit.ly/bookclub2019-3.

There is an Athapascan creation story about a midwife, Asintmah, who weaves a fireweed and willow blanket to cover Earth’s Great Belly as she gives birth to everything. Asintmah sings her songs into the blanket to ease the labour pains as she pulls out plants, animals, and humans from under the blanket. Buffalo Shout Salmon Cry is one of many midwives needed today as Earth cries out for the birth of a new way of living on the land together. 

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