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.
As an Indigenous Cree person who’s also a follower of Creator Sets Free (Jesus), I tend to look at all issues through both my Indigenous worldview and ancient Holy Scriptures’ worldview lenses. I look at stories from the media with these same two lenses. It’s like when a person has bifocal eyeglasses that provide the ability to focus on nearby and far away.
I want to reflect on the issue of my fellow Indigenous People and the alleged unmarked graves at Residential Schools across Canada. Recently, a news update reported that there were no human remains found in the basement at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church of the Pine Creek Residential School (after widespread sentiment that there were). I use this same set of lenses – Indigenous and biblical – to approach this topic with respect and acknowledgment of Canada’s stained history regarding the Residential School era. Let me take you on a journey.
Reverend Huron Claus, a Mohawk and Kiowa follower of Creator Sets Free (Jesus), who’s also an evangelist and Bible teacher, has helpful insight on Indigenous people in general. Huron, in a Tribal Trails television program telecast, says that, having worked with Natives all over North America from Alaska to Mexico, all the native people he has met believe strongly in relationships. Then Claus breaks that down to (a) relationship to the Creator, a belief in one God; (b) relationship to neighbor; (c) relationship to family; and (d) relationship to the spirit world. Hold onto that thought for a moment. Huron states that this reality is reflected in Ephesians 1:1-14 where the Apostle Paul speaks about our relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.
With regard to no human remains found at the Pine Creek Residential School, we must remember to respect human life in general, that we are all made in the image of God, and we all deserve mutual respect in life and in death. As an Indigenous man who’s a follower of Creator Sets Free, I know that from an Indigenous worldview perspective, traditional burial rites have certain ceremonial and protocol aspects to them. They believe that in order for the deceased person’s spirit to cross over to the spirit world, the ceremonial rites need to be done properly. Through burial ceremony and protocol, the person’s family holds dear to their relationships with the Creator, neighbor, family, and the spirit world. This is all a reference to respecting human life.
When all the sites at other residential schools are properly excavated, I strongly believe there will be bodies found at least at some of them. Why? Because this residential school system was far from perfect, and that imperfection has already been investigated and confirmed as true. There may not have been any bodies at Pine Creek, but I believe there will be at other locations. In 1974, for instance, actual unmarked graves were excavated at the Battleford Industrial School in Saskatchewan.
So, when my fellow Indigenous people are still grieving over the loss of loved ones in the context of these residential schools, they also see these loved ones as lost and cut off from the spirit world because they did not receive a proper traditional burial. This impacts their relationships to family and to the spirit world.
As we respond, or don’t know how to respond, to all the news updates on these residential school sites, let’s look through an Indigenous lens of relationships, which is tied to respect. Let’s also look at these issues through the lens of our ancient Holy Scriptures and the new covenant that has already been instituted. This new covenant enjoins us to love, protect and treat each other as people who are all made in the image of the Creator. This divine image demands our respect in the way we treat human life, dead or alive.
If our response is less than such respect to the Indigenous dead and their families, then we’ve lost our way and are in need of new glasses with the bifocal lenses of Scripture and Indigenous perspectives.