Rev Ted Hicks ‘Remembering’ (June Postcard)


Okay. So I wear an every-child-matters orange t-shirt when I go to the gym. And one of my jackets has some indigenous art on it, as do several of the protective masks I wear during this pandemic. And maybe any of those fashion choices might cause a casual passer-by to pause and think for a moment. But, really, it is tokenism at best or, worse, a sop to my guilty conscience as a Canadian of settler descent and as a minister from a denomination that directly collaborated with the government in the operation of residential schools.

There are a number of critical issues facing Canada and the whole global community these days and any one of us will have an opinion as to which is the most crucial. Certainly, for Canada, one of those is how we face up to the legacy of systemic racism as it has affected indigenous peoples since first contact. How we face up to that challenge will be a defining chapter in what kind of nation we turn out to be. I think a lot about reconciliation and its implications not just for Canada but for me personally. What am I called to do in my own small corner?

Certainly the big stuff has to happen at a systemic level, things like: how the churches put arms and legs on their apologies; how the government amends the Indian Act or scraps it altogether; how land claims are dealt with in the courts; how social programs such as education, health care, child welfare, corrections, and others become more culturally sensitive and, above all, more effective in serving real human needs for everyone equally; and so on. The recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report are pretty exhaustive and specific in filling out that list.

At the same time, the word “reconciliation” implies “relationship” to me, especially for those of us on the ground – a person-to-person matter. The question is, though, how do we initiate that kind of relationship with particular individuals? In the way that our communities and our own lives are organized, we don’t often meet persons of indigenous descent on a personal level. And, if we do, why would any one of them trust us or even want to seek reconciliation with us? (Sadly, “us and them” is built into our language because it is built into the way our society is ordered.) Our well-meaning attempts at reconciling relationships just might be another form of paternalism, which any indigenous person can smell a mile away. It seems to me that, if we are able to find an opportunity for person-to-person cross-cultural dialogue, it needs to be on a truly peer level that, right from the beginning, transcends the endemic paternalism of such interactions.

Here is one suggestion that came to me recently while reading about Martin of Tours whom our pilgrimage guides consider to be the father of the Celtic stream in the history of the early church shortly after the church’s raw beginnings in the Middle East. The corruptions, vicious internal divisions, and outright atrocities that soon became part of that history were sobering to read about. And, if I were to read on about further eras in the church’s checkered history (some of which I remember from my seminary days and some of

which is being written anew as history continues to unfold), that pattern of corruption, divisiveness, and atrocity repeats itself over and over again in different but just as disillusioning ways. It occurred to me as I was reading about then in the context of now that a common theme for indigenous and Christian-settler folk is remembering.

Amongst indigenous leaders and elders these days there is a significant emphasis on remembering: remembering traditions and language and culture and stories and ceremonies and values and patterns of family life from pre-contact days. Culturally, as indigenous communities, it means remembering who they were before the newcomers tried to obliterate those memories and assimilate “them” into “us”. Individually, it means remembering who they are in their essence and living into that identity with confidence and pride.

It struck me from my reading that those of us who are Christians of non-indigenous descent also need to remember: remember what was raw and original and brilliant about the movement started by Jesus before the corruptions, divisiveness, and atrocities began to distort things, especially after the Roman Empire decided to domesticate the church by adopting Christianity as its official religion rather than trying to persecute it out of existence. Christians – in the churches or in government and public service – who could devise, plan, and implement such paternalistic and racist policies vis a vis the original peoples of this land had certainly forgotten who they were and were thinking and acting out of a very compromised and distorted form of Christianity that bore little resemblance to its origins and its founder. And Christians in the general population who actively approved of or passively acquiesced in such strategies had equally forgotten what it meant to claim such a name.

Perhaps the need to remember could be a common starting point to develop relationship and begin a dialogue between contemporary persons of indigenous and settler ancestry. Is it possible that even a few of us could come together in covenant to compassionately listen to and support each other as we each try to remember something original and deeply true about our identity – for indigenous persons, who they were before contact; and for Christians of “old country” descent, who they were before the Christian movement became an agent of empire in those early centuries of its development? I am not sure how to find persons willing to enter into such a covenant and dialogue or how to establish enough trust to begin but I do sense that we are each trying to remember something true and essential about ourselves. Could that be common ground on which to meet humbly and vulnerably as peers on the road to reconciliation?


This mural, designed by Jackson Beardy and depicting a traditional pipe ceremony, is on the outside wall of the Indigenous Family Centre on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg’s North End. One of the formative experiences in my life was serving as its Interim Director during the founding director’s sabbatical. I learned much from the staff and participants there about leadership as collaboration, servanthood, and empowerment.

Peace to you Ted Hicks

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