“Familiarity breeds contempt.” Did you ever notice how we take so much for granted? Whether it is places, routines, or persons, the longer we know or are around them, the less attention we pay to them. In some ways, I wonder if that is something of our country’s malaise, with regard to our indigenous communities. We know they are all around us, in Fredericton area, there are three First Nations communities. But how much do we Canadians really know or pay attention to them?
The history of Canada’s relationship with our First Nations has been a long and painful one. It has involved conquest and colonization. For the most part we pushed them off their ancestral lands and settled ourselves there. Our ancestors aimed at “civilizing” and Christianizing them, which meant that as did so, we ignored and even tried to erase their cultures, their languages and their spiritual traditions. Much of this began when we were part of the French and English colonial empires. When Canada emerged as a nation in 1867, this treatment of the indigenous peoples simply continued. This has been our history.
The story of the residential schools that has now come to light, is a wakeup call to all of us. It cries out to all Canadians to open our eye and our hearts to what our nation has done. In a specific way we Catholic have been forced to confront the part our church has played in this story of conquest and colonization. We were sometimes the vehicle by which the state acted, especially in education. This is a painful time for us all. But it can also be a time of promise and new hope.
If we are open to listen and be transformed in our relationship with First Nations and their culture there can be healing and renewal. Canada has often been referred to as a multicultural nation. What an irony that we say this, but have largely ignored perhaps the most significant culture among, that of our indigenous neighbours who were in this land long before our ancestors arrived. This may be a great challenge for us but it can also be a great blessing.
Our blindness is not unlike what Jesus faced as he entered his own hometown. The Gospel writer Mark tells us the story (Mark 6:1-6). He is a man with a message and he begins to teach in the local synagogue. People are astounded by what he is saying. They are even more astounded by the fact that it is him who is teaching. They resisted him and his teachings. He was too familiar.
Jesus recognized that like the prophets before him, he was taken for granted, not listened to, even rejected. “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house.” Familiarity stood in the way of recognizing the message and the messenger who had come among them. This is the blindness that characterizes us at this time.
The presence of God is all around us always. The spirit of the Risen Jesus is ever present with us. All of this is - too ordinary. Jesus reveals and speaks the message of the Kingdom in every act of love, every experience of compassion, every moment of mercy and care. But it can be just too ordinary and so we cannot see what is right before our eyes.
At this time in the story of our nation, and of our church, we have an opportunity to be transformed. It is time to meet the First Nations of this land again, in a new way, without the conquest and colonization. This is a time for listening and learning from one another. It calls for openness and respect, compassion and love. In this, is healing.