The Christian Reformed churches in Canada have publicly committed “to support healing and reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and non-indigenous people in Canada.” The first question I frequently hear is: “But where do we start?”
Patty Krawec is an Indigenous Canadian Christian who offers us a place to start. Her book, Becoming Kin, is a clear, patient, and personal guide for those who want suggestions for how to take our first steps on the path of reconciliation.
During the pandemic lockdown, many of us re-evaluated our relationships and our place in the world. We became more aware of what was happening around us and how history has shaped the present. We spent more time reading and reflecting on Scripture. We spent more time in forms of prayer that emphasized listening and meditation. Becoming Kin, Krawec said, was one of the fruits of this process for her. She felt called to share some of her personal journey of integrating her Indigenous and Christian ancestry – both of which teach her that from the beginning we’re all related.
Becoming Kin makes the long history of colonization personal. Krawec compassionately shows the reader what complex ideas such as the Doctrine of Discovery have done for Indigenous communities across Canada and the U.S. She explains how she, like many, has felt overwhelmed by reconciliation. For Krawec, “reimagining our future” can only happen when we begin “unforgetting the past.” It’s a common impulse to want to make a clean break with the past and start over afresh. The problem is that the present is a product of the past. So, if we want a future of reconciliation, we will need to “unforget” the divisive past and learn from it.
To “unforget” isn’t just political, though. Yes, Krawec wants us to “unforget” the brutality of colonization; but she also wants us to “unforget” the many commonalities between Christian and Indigenous peoples. Some Christians balk at the possibility that Scripture and Indigenous stories can have common themes.
She points to our common humanity: we are all kin. Our future depends on taking steps towards “becoming kin” again. This is precisely where Krawec is so helpful. The whole book is presented as an invitation to discover, from whatever our starting point is. She explicitly invites readers to read the book in groups and discuss it. Each chapter contains specific suggestions for how to take a small step towards greater awareness of the issues and personal local involvement. She includes examples of how churches have enhanced their ministries by becoming more connected to their Indigenous neighbors.
Reading Becoming Kin made me think that we may be missing an important opportunity for the church’s witness. Christians and churches can easily be captured by a political ideology rather than Scripture’s vision of the reign of God that comes through loving service of neighbors and enemies. It is becoming more and more clear that our right-left political binary is fundamentally part of our problem. Krawec challenges us to more deeply recall the teachings of Scripture that we are people of the land, an inter-related people, a human family called to live in God’s shalom together.
Krawec echoes others when she says that “Western Christians have, as they say, lost the plot.”
Sometimes, to “unforget” our foundational stories, we need to begin like Krawec does: at the beginning. “I am Patty, the daughter of Roy, son of Joe and Lula, who are Ojibwa Anishinaabe from Lac Seul, Ontario.” By returning to our stories – personal, collective, and Scriptural – we can rediscover who we are.
The beginning, as they say, is “a very good place to start.” (Broadleaf)