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Native Ministries Summary Report
Patricia Vickers, Ph.D.
BC Conference Minister, Native Ministries
September 4, 2014
In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)
In my previous employed position of Aboriginal Psychologist, with Vancouver Coastal Health, it became apparent early in my employed position that the struggle for Indigenous people continues to be against oppression and the dehumanizing impact of oppression on not only us as Indigenous people, but also on those in decision-making positions and on the fundamental, conscious and unconscious beliefs of superior/inferior relationships.
Conditioning through oppression spreads over two hundred years in the history of governance, religion, health services and schooling in Canada. Through the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Law Commission and numerous publications by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, we have begun the dialogue concerning the dynamics and impact of oppression. We are in the early stages of the dialogue where we continue to believe ourselves to be separate from each other. Where the oppressor continues to believe that their practice of religion, schooling, health care and governance is superior to Indigenous ancestral ways of knowing and being.
Internally, we continue to separate ourselves from each other as Indigenous peoples. We separate ourselves through differences. Differences in language, religious practices, rituals, protocol and social relationships. In our collective psyche, our insistence on differences perpetuates our unconscious belief that we are inferior beings. We disregard ancestral teachings of respect. Not tolerance, but respect. Respect is to see the other as an aspect of ourselves and at the same time, they hold a gift, an opportunity to see the world from a different vantage point. This separation amongst ourselves perpetuates internal suffering. Although we have our differences, it is the differences that we can own as one people, meeting in the common territory of respect. As Indigenous people who believe in the Gospel of Christ, it is an opportunity to enter the paradoxes that our ancestors knew so well: dying to live, letting go to receive, emptying to be filled and many more teachings from the heart of wisdom.
Externally, we continue to see the problem as ‘us and them’ when the true problem is a human one. The true problem is in the absence of wisdom, knowledge of the Supernatural, and spiritual balance. The problem in a religion that could cause unthinkable harm to generations of children. In such a religion, there needs to be a spiritual awakening. Not a massive one. The one that happens one person at a time. It is living the awakening.
In gratitude for the opportunity to enquire deeply into the “Indian problem”—the nature of oppression in the United Church, BC Conference, it has become apparent that here too, there is the frantic rushing to stamp out fires. Fires such as: a non-ordained Church leader culturally unprepared; Church leaders taking sides in a community creating and re-creating suffering; Indigenous theology students with a history of trauma that does not receive appropriate consideration; Clergy ignorant of basic Indigenous protocol; Clergy ignorant of Indigenous spiritual teachings, to name a few of the fires. As one problem is extinguished, another arises or the same fire returns over and over again. This is the nature of oppression, of spiritual imbalance. To use a water metaphor, if the vessel has a hole, it has a hole and no amount of bailing will solve the problem of the hole. How did the hole get there? Why is it there? What needs to be done to repair the hole? How do we work together?
This last question, the question of how do we work together, not together in the sense of the separation of us and them, but as in Acts 17 verse 28, this is about the collective. This is about “Our Father,” until we come to this place of togetherness, the hole will remain in the vessel and on land, the same problem, different version will continue.
BC Conference develops and facilitates a brief (three weekends or five day) program in partnership with VST that gives an overview of the dynamics of cultural oppression and founded on the teachings of Christ in a way that encourages transformative change and is:
- required orientation for all clergy serving Indigenous peoples;
- required introductory orientation for all Indigenous students entering programs at VST who are serving the UCC in any capacity and
- required for any and all leadership working with Indigenous peoples:
- BC Conference develops, co-ordinates and sponsors webinar discussions on “Right Relationships.”
- BC Conference develops and co-sponsors a physical space that offers compiled resources relevant to current issues related to Indigenous relationships and the teachings of Christ (Gitxsan feasting system and how it relates to the teachings of Christ; impact of residential schools from a Tsimshian perspective; Northwest protocol regarding involvement of local elders, teachers, use of traditional songs and sacred stories)
- Further discussions on addressing social issues such as youth suicide, family violence and generational suffering
- Developing short term programs for villages in the Northwest founded on ancestral principles and the teachings of Christ concerning right relationships
In discussion concerning relationships with my eldest son, he stated that he observed one of the shortcomings of those born and raised with extreme trauma is the presence of excitement or depression and a lack of happiness. There are numerous psychotic symptoms that have been written about in individual charts of health professionals concerning the well-being of Indigenous peoples. This is not to discount that through faith in the teachings of Christ, miracles happen. Miracles do happen. What we are lacking as a people, oppressor and oppressed, is the knowledge of how to live after the miracle.
What do we do once the acknowledgment has been made? What are the practices once there is a superficial recognition of wrongdoing?
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,
and is discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Going to the heart of the problem— to the truth frees a person. For in such a place there is no shame, only truth, the way and light. The manner in which we need to enquire into right relationships will benefit not only the relationships themselves, but also our understanding of the teachings of Christ and living the teachings. Ancestral principles will assist with going past superficial recognition to a place of healing for all beings, right to the bone and marrow of human existence.