An Aboriginal Christian perspective on illuminating sin and creating new unity
Written by Diego Bascur
To be Aboriginal, to be Christian. These identities conflict with each other; brokenness defines their relationship. A break that should have never occurred, a manipulation of faith that scars one people and stains the other. This dark part of the Church’s history in Canada includes land taken and souls wounded.
Yet this does not mark the end of this story; assimilation has not won. Ephesians 5:13 says, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” The light of Christ has shone through the darkness of assimilation; healing is beginning to come.
As an Aboriginal Christian, I have seen how these identities reflect upon each other. The history of Aboriginal people is rich and colourful. Stories that are passed down orally contain more than history, they contain identity. Identity for peoples, identity for the land, identity for creation itself.
The creation stories vary slightly between each tribe; however, all contain the same foundation. The earth is called the Mother, ‘Askiy’ in Cree, and all animals are spiritually tied to the people. A world of spirits, all interconnected by the Creator.
Nothing is done without a spiritual aspect tied to it. From the rearing of children to the hunting of a bison, to weaving a basket—all fall into the cycle of life, never-ending. In every task, tradition is passed down, this is the preservation of culture from one generation to the next. This is what was robbed.
That is a sin of the government and churches, a destruction of Indigenous cultures to become absorbed into European ones. The lie that was the bedrock of residential schools was this: you must be European in order to be Christian.
This egocentric idea that Indigenous cultures were the opposite of Christian values rocks my very being and makes me feel light-headed.
There are indeed clear differences between Aboriginal spiritualities and Christianity, yet there is still much to learn from Aboriginal cultures. Colossian 1:16-17 reads, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and one earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
These words, written by Paul to the church of Colossae, show close ties between Christian ideology and Aboriginal spiritualities. This is an ode to God’s creation, and a calling to be stewards of this creation. To hold creation precious and embody God’s love in every interaction with it.
There are Aboriginal people who have felt this link between their own people’s spirituality and Christian values, choosing to become Christian themselves. Unfortunately, this natural link has been stained by an unnecessary sacrifice of Aboriginal traditions to fit a preconceived idea of the “Christian mold.”
As a result, anger and disdain remain among many Aboriginal people, discouraging interactions with Christianity. Especially since the uncovering of unmarked graves of children near residential schools, this relationship has become dangerously strained.
However, with these uncoverings comes a chance for reconciliation and healing. “Everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
This is a time where unity must come to the forefront, condemning sin and moving forward in like-mindedness.
Personally, this has also been a time to interact more with my Aboriginal heritage and navigate through it as a newer Christian. My Métis background has always been known to me, but I’ve now become more familiar with the struggles of my people.
The Métis people were born largely out of the fur trade, as many colonizers traded for native women. Some were given away for goods or stolen from their homes. This history has brought conflict in my heart, as the origins of my people come from the products of colonization.
Yet this union was formed and blossomed into a beautiful harmony of French (Catholic) and Aboriginal cultures, which can still be seen today. For example, a festival held in Batoche, Sask. every year, celebrates Métis identity. The festival is filled with the sounds of fiddlers, accompanied by traditional jigs that capture the beauty of the music. Stories are told pronouncing the struggle for freedom which defines my people.
This culmination of culture makes me feel proud to be a part of something larger than myself. I see this as a victory, and the overcoming of a dark past. And as a person whose story reflects living in a sinful way and now sharing in everlasting salvation, I can strongly relate to this.
There can be healing and restoration between Aboriginal peoples and the Church, but it must come from a heart of forgiveness, and a desire to understand one another. The mutilation of faith that occurred can be cast away as true faith is restored. There is common ground. Christians and all Indigenous peoples can unite over a shared love for Creation and a calling to be stewards together, in peace.