A number of years ago, I was the Assistant Priest in an inner city Parish. We had quite a few visits from First Nations people and someone in authority came up with a rule that we should not be handing out sandwiches etc. I presume it was to discourage attempts to keep us busy, or better, to focus our “busyness” in a different direction. A few times, I was able to give lip service to the rule, but attempted to make connections with First Nations people; I would simply walk them across to the A&W and we would enjoy a cup of coffee together, or perhaps even a burger. I have a distinct remembrance of doing this with a group from the reserve to the west of Lethbridge. We had a good conversation with each other as we talked and listened.
As I reflect on this it has made me wonder if the knocks on the door were not so much requests for services, as attempts to build relationships. Yet as we look at our history, the doors to a respectful relationship between Europeans and First Nations have been closed; the Indian and Northern Affairs Acts have made that quite clear down through the years.
Somehow, we have never really got past the labelling and the proverbial “straight arm”. Our collective past shows an unofficial system of “Aparthood” in operation which has killed any possibility of a respectful relationship.
This, of course, is not one directional; racism comes in many colours.
Yet our shared faith is all about relationship: a relationship with God and a relationship with our neighbour. Mark 12:30-31 sees this as one commandment;
love the Lord Your God … and your neighbour as yourself.
As we look behind this recent crisis in our dealings with First Nations, we can see the fruit of poor decisions in our past history. I believe we need to re-align our political life with the Gospel and purposely begin again to build respectful relationships with them.