Where’s the PCC when Senator Belak needs it most?
So Senator Belak is on the hot seat again. Why? Well she doesn’t seem to toe the CBC/liberal-left line. Since we had our collective re-awakening to the fact that the Aboriginal in Canada had not been treated fairly in many of their dealings with the invaders (I use this term absolutely loosely because in most Aboriginal theology everyone is where they are supposed to be, ergo we in Canada are here because the Creator wants us to be, in fact has placed us, here), we have been falling all over ourselves to, in one generation, correct the issues and assuage our self-imposed guilt. In many ways we are like grandparents who realize that we may not have been the best parents in our younger days and so try to correct it by totally spoiling our grandkids by giving them everything under the sun (and then wondering why they then don’t grow up to be the perfect replicas of our images of what we wished we were).
At the risk of sounding like well-meaning people in the 60’s who would frame arguments about race by starting off saying, well, one of my best friends is black I must confess to having several colleagues who have extensive Aboriginal lineages. Moreover I myself have Mik’maq blood albeit in a fairly limited portion in my system. This, in itself, doesn’t give me any extraordinary license to claim to be all knowing; I do believe though that some twenty-years of professional work within various Aboriginal communities and economic settings does give me a perspective that is worth sharing. And over the course of writing in this Editorialog I have on occasion shared a number of thoughts about the current policies and practices of governments, corporations and organizations on this topic. But today I want to zero in on two issues of growing concern:
• our inability to have a true conversation about the potential for the Aboriginal to enjoy a productive role in our community
• the inconsistency within the Aboriginal community towards their own freedom to choose paths towards productivity
This inability to truly converse is unfortunate. It not only deprives the Aboriginal of a thoughtful interaction with the larger community, but it also prevents our younger generations from truly learning the complex history of the Aboriginal world in North America. There is no discussion of the raids, sorties and even wars between First Nations – sometimes for power, sometimes for wives, sometimes for honour, sometimes for revenge. Today few seem to know how the Iroquois, by lining up with the British in the early days of contact, almost obliterated the Hurons who had hung their luck with the French. No one seems to know that the Haida would travel down the west coast to capture young women to become wives of their young men and thus expand the blood lines (better described as preventing in-breeding). These two examples alone help demonstrate the humanity of the Aboriginal, just as much as the way those first Hochelaga villagers welcomed Champlain and helped his crews overcome scurvy. For make no mistake, the Aboriginal is no more a saint than any other member of any other race on this planet. There are some exceedingly good ones, yes. But there are also many who have the same vices the rest of us have, and these vices were evident in their communities long before the appearance of the paleface. For example, in the Inuit there was a practice of sending a social mores offender (e.g. murderer) out on a special mission and while he was gone the entire community would move so that when he returned, he was alone to fend for himself – if he survived all well and good, if he didn’t, then too bad.
Where am I going with all this? Well perhaps if we would simply acknowledge this reality, we might not get so unglued when someone suggests that Residential Schools were not all bad. Why we can’t have that conversation actually makes a mockery of our avowed committed to transparency, free speech and cultural understanding. Moreover it tends to promote a pity party mentality whereby only those who have sob stories are allowed at the microphone. This in turn distorts the truth, which further enhances the need to be deplorable on the part of the Aboriginal and the need to promote self-flagellation on the part of the paleface. (Note: all other new Canadians really have no part to play because they are not the oppressor and they don’t really learn to respect the Aboriginal because they don’t get to know the success stories, the new generations of Aboriginal entrepreneurs who could be great partners in their ventures!!)
Senator Belak is not a monster. Senator Belak has as much grounded/real life respect for Aboriginals as I dare say most liberal-minded folk have. Senator Belak does not deserve to be pilloried for simply wanting to let people have a voice (including herself) that suggests the world as it deals with our relationships between Aboriginals and subsequent cultural groups is not black and white. And if the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) is to be truly serious about its commitment to justice it should be standing up and defending her rights to the same degree that it argues for better treatment of the downtrodden of any stripe or locale. The PCC has always stood on its belief in firm polity – its belief in good government, belief in the priesthood of all believers, and faith in the wisdom of the laity to help keep the clergy on point. As a sidebar to this, it is one of the ironies of this millennium, that the denomination most committed to control and input from the laity and thus protection for the rights of the laity is losing so many parishioners. (In fact, it is not only losing parishioners, it is shedding congregations at a significant rate.)
My point is that if the PCC were truly committed to its roots it would be arguing vigorously for Senator Belak’s right to be heard. Moreover it would be articulating the importance of dialogue and conversation around the perspectives that she shares. This is not the same as advocating for each and every position that she might espouse. By defending Senator Belak, obviously the church would run counter to the CBC and the politically-correct. But that wouldn’t make its position wrong. And even if such a position were to be deemed unpopular by the majority, that too wouldn’t be a sin. Many Protestant denominations emerged from a desire to promote the concept of grace and forgiveness based on faith rather than good works – the intent was not to be popular but to seek the truth. At a time when truth seems to be at a premium, it would seem most appropriate for at least the PCC to be standing in all its individual and collective pulpits and preaching openness and conversation towards reconciliation as at least a two-way street if not a multi-faceted intersection.
If the church is going to fade from public view and perhaps even the public consciousness, it should not do so whimpering and sniffling and seeking shelter in the closets of correctness. It should be helping clarify conversations by demanding respect for all reasonable positions. Differences in opinion are not by definition hate speech. In fact, obnoxious opinions are not to be automatically equated to hate speech. Once again, the PCC might recapture some of its reforming fire of Jean Calvin and John Knox by going against prevailing popular media by demanding fair treatment of Senator Belak, by insisting on a full history of the Aboriginal community, by helping educate people as to the nature of society in the time of John A. MacDonald and how the residential school was seen to be a potential gift to the Aboriginal youth – a better schooling than many of the settlers were getting for their kids. It might even point out that in that era the Presbyterians in Ottawa actually had to go to the provincial legislature to get approval for their church (St. Andrew’s) because at the time the only Anglican churches received state support. It was a much different time – it was a much different perspective on what was appropriate.
Are we a better nation now? I would like to think so, but only because we have built on the past, challenged popular opinions of the past, welcomed new perspectives on how to re-focus the future in ways other than simply continuing the past. In many of the changes that have happened along the way churches have played a significant part – defending those who thought differently, helping articulate a more reasonable middle course, and arguing for greater respect for those who appear to be a minority. It is time once again for the PCC to assert a leadership position that is truly based not just on good polity but on the promotion of grace and salvation through faith. Cast off the desire to be seen as mainstream and take on the mantle of thoughtfulness, openness and transparency. Take up the causes that would enable an individual like Senator Belak to speak without fear of retribution especially financial punishment. Set a pattern that will ultimately protect those in the future that determine that our policies and actions were wrong and need to be summarily tossed. Determine a pathway that is respectful and respects diversity, even if that means accepting those who are not politically correct or in the favour of the CBC.
As for my second point (at the outset above), perhaps the PCC could also prod some of its considerably wealthy members to do more to invest in the Aboriginal community — in many locations this could start with a vigorous recycling program to reclaim old cars, trucks and equipment and turn them into valuable scrap metal which would provide new sources of income for the reserve while at the same time helping the community restore its environment to a more healthy state and thus become a dynamic example to others of their underlying commitment to mother earth and the goodness of the Creator and thus creation. And once this attitude of investment began to truly take hold, the PCC could help facilitate other economic partnerships between Aboriginals, their neighbouring communities and the larger Canadian economy including those involved in the energy resources industries (e.g. oil, gas, electricity, water, wind and solar). For one thing, having a church broker some new inter-connectiveness could be a real step towards reconciliation and show actual contriteness. And with more wealth within the Aboriginal community, there would be more opportunity for the Aboriginal community itself to invest in cultural restoration, preservation and enhancement.
See, the PCC has so much it could be doing that might actually help lead to a better world. And who knows, maybe if it started down this path, other churches might also do the same. It might even foment a new reformation — and that would be so much more effective that the current whimpering around the term reconciliation that is simply breeding more skepticism and in some cases anger.