First Notions #6 - How We Get Lost in "Helping"

First Notions #6 - How We Get Lost in "Helping"

When I think about how much people want to help us as Indigenous People, I wonder sometimes if every gesture is actually necessary? This is not a slight on genuine support, or the willingness of people wanting to help by moving towards undoing some of the wrongs done to Indigenous people.

During a discussion with a non-Indigenous colleague, she said that she was tired of people trying too hard to indigenize everything they did with Indigenous people. I had to think a minute about that statement. It had not occurred to me, but I realized that sometimes people were seeing it as a case of  ‘over-egging the pudding.’

Remember how little toddlers are definite in what they want to do and insist on trying out new ideas on their own?  Our daughter, when she was toddler, always told her mom and me “Do by own self!” Reconciliation is about equality and independence.  It is about living the walk together, today.  We are not here to fix a problem or to over-correct for past wrongs; we are here to live as equals.

So when I am asked to find Elders, or Knowledge Keepers from a certain territory to do opening prayers, it is sometimes difficult. I am asking them to welcome us to their territory and do an opening prayer, but then, they leave the gathering.  They don’t get another call until someone needs them to do proper protocol.  I don't doubt that people are sincere about wanting to do the right thing, but is this all that Reconciliation is about?  

What do I mean by that last statement? My daughter has thought about this and asked some questions through her Twitter account.  In her work as an Indigenous librarian and archivist, she always asks herself who is benefiting in an interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Were Indigenous people included from the beginning of a project?  Was it their idea or yours?  What is the relevance to the Indigenous community, or is it a ‘check-the-box’ exercise to show we are doing Reconciliation? 

For example, who is benefiting from asking an Indigenous person to welcome us to their territory?

We want to have say about whether it is appropriate for us to attend a gathering for welcoming to the territories we are in, and we hope that when we do a welcome and prayer, the work being done in our territory will benefit us as well. Working together is not just a welcome, but an inclusion of our hearts to share with each other, and I know many are doing it.  But it is a way of life, not a 5 minute welcome and prayer. In the end that supports neither of our needs.

We must also think about readiness.  It is an important word for us all, because some of our Indigenous friends may not be ready for a partnership or a prayer or a welcome from our churches.  It is still too painful, and still very scary for some residential school survivors to enter a church. So when we ask for an individual to speak at an engagement we have to show interest in who they are, and not ask them just because we are on their territory. We have to do our homework and get to know them before we ask for their support.

We are trying very hard as a church to respect Indigenous territory and protocols, and ceremony is a start, but we must go beyond that to find ways to share our hearts and our lives with each other.