As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Let me tell you my story: the story of a blind man. It’s the story of how I felt like I was born spiritually blind, then learned to walk in that blindness, and then one day I received my sight.
Well, I was born into an era called the Sixties Scoop generation, which followed the Residential School era, which followed 400 years of oppression and colonialism. I had been blinded to the truth that my biological mother couldn’t take care of me and that intergenerational trauma goes much deeper than any of us thinks. My adopted mother died when I was 12 years old—two years after accepting Jesus—and after watching her die through six years of cancer, my subconscious mind and heart couldn’t handle this reality. I lived in denial for years of having issues with trust and abandonment and commitment. These issues carried over into my own family when I got married and seemed to continue the theme of walking blind.
I didn’t know I was blind until after I had already suffered many years of self-inflicted agony. Was it all self-inflicted agony? No. There were circumstances that were beyond my control, but many times I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Many times, it felt like I took two steps forward and three or four back. It was frustrating. I was troubled by many spiritual self-doubts.
Then one day after I had experienced enough suffering and pain, I decided to go out of my way to learn more about my master Jesus Christ. Then I decided to stop binge drinking after a good 20 years. Then I answered the call to go into ministry and see if there was any validity to me hearing God’s voice over all those years. A call that was about learning more about the Bible and working with my people. This led to an era of self-discovery and learning the history of my own people’s oppression.
As I entered a new phase of life of going to seminary and a life of ministry, I learned more and more about my fellow people and their struggles. Soon I found that the story of my people was also a story of not being accepted by many Canadian settlers, wanting us to be good civilized “non-Indian” Christians. The savage needed to be taken out of us. We needed to learn the ways of Europe. The ways of the queen and the pope. But was this the way of Jesus?
As I started to unravel the onion with regards to my own history, the scales of my eyes started to diminish. I was seeing clearer than I had ever seen. I discovered the history of my people and discovered that intergenerational trauma went deep within my people’s story, including my own biological family and my own life. I discovered that when the first model of residential schools was first used by some Jesuit missionaries in the early 1600s, there was resistance right from the very start—resistance from the parents of these children. That led to a long road of resistance that carries over to the present day.
I, Parry Stelter, originally from Alexander First Nation, was adopted by the Stelter family and grew up in the church. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but frequently I chose the wrong. I was learning how deep intergenerational trauma and unresolved grief went. This was the blindness I had experienced for years. Although I had been a high school dropout and then managed to get a college diploma and university degree, I still felt like something was missing. I still felt like there was more. For me, the more meant discovering my roots and what my own people went through. For me, the more meant coming to the end of myself and a life of sin. When I came to realize the heartache of my people and the struggles of my people, I soon came to grips with my own heartache and struggles.
Currently in my life I network with fellow Christians from a wide variety of denominations. Within that web of people, I work in a ministry that is associated with understanding Indigenous people more and leading by example when it comes to reconciliation or as some have called it, conciliation. Many of my people believe that when you use the word reconciliation in light of 500 years of oppression, it means to go back and re-establish a connection that was once doing well and then became broken. Yet many of my people don’t feel that things were ever that great with the settlers that came to Canada. That’s why some chose to use the word conciliation, because that refers to re-establishing ourselves in Canada with the settler community for the first time. One scholar said that if we use the word reconciliation, it should only be used in re-establishing ourselves with other Indigenous people. So conciliation is a better term to use when it comes to relations with non-Indigenous people.
These are the scales that have fallen off my eyes and created clear eyesight for the first time. Eyesight that sees the history of Canada for what it was: a complete disaster. Yet within that disaster I want other people to develop clearer vision. Whether these people are Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we need to see our history for what it is, but also cling to the risen Christ that Paul saw on the road to Damascus. Cling to reconciliation. Cling to conciliation. Cling to second chances, mercy, and grace. Without mercy and grace and forgiveness, there can be no sight given to the blind for such a wretch like me. I was lost, but now I am found. I was blind, but now I see.
Now I dedicate my life to issues related to my own Indigenous people and making the bible come alive. Coming alive in Jesus! Because once I was blind, but now I see. I love my fellow Indigenous people, but I also love all Indigenous Peoples across this globe and all people, no matter their ethnic roots or the color of their skin. How can I not love others with the love of Jesus when Jesus lifted all these different kinds of scales off my own eyes? Everything seems so clear now.