Canada150 Home on Native Land

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Outline of workshops for the Mennonite youth groups at Fraser Lake Camp, May 2017, including a discussion of Canada150 and colonization, CPT Emergency Prayer Vigil Kits, and nonviolent action training, in three sessions.

Theme Scripture: Micah 4:1-5

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
    in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
    our God for ever and ever.

Session 1 – Saturday Evening

Introducing the theme scripture – The prophet Micah, generations before Jesus, one of those dreaming of God’s plan. Looking ahead to what was to come – just like we do. We’ll be referring to this scripture at various points of the weekend, and unravelling some of its message. For now, it reminds us of the longing for unity, peace and wholeness that is a part of our inheritance.

Asking questions to guide our thoughts – I have seven questions I will be asking today to develop our line of thinking.

“What is awesome about Canada?”
“What is bad about Canada?”

I love it in Canada. I came here on a 1 year work permit, seven years ago – and I married a Canadian last year and became a permanent resident earlier this year. One of the things I love is the history of community activism that has shaped social institutions. Places like this camp which have been built and loved by generations of a community. What about you? Talk with people at your table and brainstorm some things you love about Canada and your experience of it. Write on sticky notes and bring to the front.

Read some of them, comment, collect them together. AND – we acknowledge that Canada is not a perfect place. There are a lot of bad things in our past, and bad things happening today. Has anyone here done the KAIROS Blanket Exercise? You will know some of the specific things done to Indigenous communities, as well as the general process of land theft by the state. You will know about some of the racism faced by newcomers to Canada, even those whose families have been here for generations. Talk to the people around you and find some of the shameful things about being a Canadian, and the bad things about living here. Write them on sticky notes and bring them to the front.

instead of using sticky notes, each table group could have a sheet of paper and different coloured markers.

“How do good and bad things relate?”

Both of these lists are true. Even though we feel very differently about them. That’s part of the reason we began this weekend with a land acknowledgement – to name that we know where we are, and who we are, and that our reality is complicated. We may ask ourselves – how do good things and bad things relate? Is there a connection? Do good things excuse the bad things? Do bad things invalidate the good things? Is there anything SO good that it would wipe out anything bad?

What if it was your name and a list of good and bad things about you? What would people know about, and what would they focus on to say ‘this is who you really are’? If there are bad things, does that mean you can’t celebrate the good things?

What these question tell us is that these are spiritual issues, about deep identity, and who we are. When we think about Canada’s 150th anniversary, the spiritual response means asking these kinds of questions – so well done, we are all very spiritual people!

The main question to ask – religion says ‘that you should do. So a religious response to a situation is to work out what the rules say, asking the question ‘what should I do?’ What we really need to ask is ‘what COULD I do? What are my options? What are my resources?’ You need to be able to brainstorm, so that’s what we will practice.

Imagine you are at home. Think about the kitchen. Imagine that you are coming home. The front door is open. There is garbage strewn around. And there are noises coming from the kitchen. Someone is in your house. They are in the kitchen. You take a look. Someone is in your kitchen, with the fridge door open, pulling things out.

“What could you do?”

Not ‘what should you do’ – we are not looking for the right answers, but for what might be possible. Don’t think about what the rules say, or what Peter would do, or what the best response would be. This is a brainstorm.

You can use more sticky notes for people to write up their suggestions and place them on a violent-nonviolent line (and an effective-ineffective axis). Or simply gather responses.

Let me tell you about some friends of mine – the Algonquins of Barriere Lake…

(Story about ABL resisting logging, and the possible responses they might have made. Demonstrating how the destruction of Algonquin land is like someone violating your home.

Session 2 – Sunday morning

“How do you disable a military convoy armed only with candles?” – the last question.

On Sunday morning, we sang some songs and read the Micah passage from the Message. I talked about the three figure wampum belt, then some more singing, and then I talked about Christian Peacemaker Teams Emergency Prayer Vigil Kits. The rest of the time was creating these kits and decorating them.

Session 3 – Sunday evening

Two groups read Micah. We acknowledge that it is triumphalist, and also does not have a lot to say about how this will all happen. One mystery about the prophesy is how it also appears in Isaiah, which is the version most of us know. Very unusual to have this kind of exact repetition where it is not an exact quote.

In Isaiah, the mountain is a metaphor, but in Micah it’s a literal mountain. How do we know? We read Micah 3: 9-12. Our theme passage is part of a condemnation of a society which is doomed to fail. The mountain of God is a literal mountain which will be freed of the literal structures of injustice. And peace will come, but first a lot has to change. Swords turned to ploughshares, but only once people stop using swords.

So, we need to get involved in that work. Developing the skills of peacemaking, of de-escalation and nonviolent intervention. A lot depends on this.

Form two lines facing each other. The person on the other side of the line is your neighbour. Reach across, shake hands with them. And hold. You by getting them onto your side of the line – now GO!

What happens to the body in stress and conflict? Fight/Flight/Freeze/Faint. Which are you most predisposed to? It takes hard work and practice to turn each of these into positives. For example, I tend towards ‘freeze’. I have worked to transform my body’s desire to freeze at danger into a move towards analysing my situation, taking stock of my possible actions and routes, and knowing my surroundings. In other words ‘What could I do’.

Your body does not know about online arguments. I have spent enough of my life engaging online with strangers to have come up with some helpful things to consider. I engage online when it may generate something positive in my offline life. If I argue with strangers, there is no impact on my real life. I have nothing to lose, and nothing to gain. But I do argue with friends online, because I want those conversations to have a good resolution. If I interact with strangers, I might want to learn from them, to understand how they feel. I can adopt a respectful learning posture. I don’t, on the other hand, need to explain my position to them unless they are also interested to learn. I can tell them that I disagree, without having to exhaust myself giving an argument that will probably have no impact. I can ask lots of questions, I can say thank you for the information, and I can still say ‘I disagree’.

In any situation of stress, online or in person, you can remind yourself that it is not all about you. Especially in situations of racism or oppression it can seem like you are responding to the whole historic weight of a situation. In one sense this is true, but in another sense you are simply one person choosing to act. So relax! It’s not all on you. No one act will end all oppression.

This person can teach you something. You might not like what they say, and you might disagree with their ideas or conclusion, but you can at least learn something about their motivation. Even if it is not what they say, but what they do not say. You can be open to receiving that as a gift, without taking on the obligation to resolve every question.

Likewise, you and your presence are a gift – but a gift without imposing an obligation. You can feel dignified even if you are not received. And regardless, you can remind them of their humanity. Either challenging if they are acting inhumanely, or by affirming when they make a good connection.

Open stance. Good eye contact. Asking questions of curiosity.

Short Hills – a description of the CPT accompaniment of Haudenosaunee and allied hunters at the annual Deer Harvest, protested by non-Indigenous land-owners.

Hassle line to experience something of this and experiment with responses. Opening line suggestions:

“You kids have no idea”
“Why are you wasting my time?”
“You should get a job!”
“The natives should hunt somewhere else”

I invite feedback by passing out copies of the CPT newsletter, each of which has a different question and my email address – so people can be in touch with me to continue the conversation.

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