I am a Canadian Indigenous man who is a Sixties Scoop survivor.
Like many Indigenous children in the 1960s, both I and my wife were removed from our families and communities and placed into non-Indigenous families. Today my wife and I make an excellent team, and we are best friends. We go together like tea and bannock or like maple syrup and pancakes.
The two of us have been through a lot, and although we have been married 20 years, we are still trying to make a future together with stable employment and right living in the here and now. We still plan to become homeowners rather than renters. We have dreams for the future and have goals to work towards.
When I look at our individual lives and our family life together, I see some things about our personal histories that parallel bigger stories from Canadian history. Our personal lives before we met were unstable, and in our early years of marriage, I made a mess of things because I was a binge drinker and didn’t sober up until a few years after our marriage.
Canada’s early years also included some major mistakes. Colonists from a variety of places began to settle here back in the 1400s. To make a long story short there were many diseases that the early settlers brought with them and other unwelcome aspects such as the use of alcohol, the fur trade, the greed for land already occupied, and the desire to turn the take away the supposed uncivilized ways of these savages and replace them with new settler ideology of being a civilized Christian.
That’s the bad experience that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are still trying to work through. Just like our marriage went through some trying times, our history in Canada isn’t something to brag about to anyone.
Celebrating Canada Day?
Three years ago, when Canada was about to celebrate 150 years, I encountered some hostility from some fellow Indigenous people. Not hostility towards me, but towards this celebration. Towards this country. The people I had heard from didn’t want to celebrate with the rest of Canada, because of all the historical baggage through what has been termed colonialism.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation are a few groups that have tried to work with and for Indigenous people for the last number for years. Many Indigenous organizations and communities are also working at the local, provincial and national level.
This has been an all-consuming task for many Indigenous people that have been part of this process. Why? Because most Indigenous people have been affected in one way or another. In my case, for example, my uncles and aunts and my biological mother went to residential schools as did my grandparents.
The painful heritage of colonialism is evident in the statistics of Indigenous people – their higher than average involvement in the child welfare system, suicide rates, addiction rates, incarcerations rates, homeless rates, pregnancy rates, infant mortality rates, diseases such as diabetes, and skin conditions such as eczema and lateral violence against each other. There are also several prominent mental health issues such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This is a look at the present situation. My present situation in our marriage feels good, but with Canada it still doesn’t feel that good yet. I still try to be hopeful, because without hope you have nothing.
Choosing to break the cycle
As Indigenous people move forward, we are all at different levels of healing and understanding what has happened. We are all at different levels of acceptance. As someone who was adopted out, I suffered with addictions in the past, and have dealt with issues such as depression and anxiety and adult ADHD.
I could find a handful of reasons to not be happy with celebrating Canada Day, because of the negative domino effect of colonialism. But I have chosen a different path.
First, I am a Christian, and Christians are to be full of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-26 says:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
As an Indigenous person and a Christian, I have chosen to break the vicious cycle of resentment and enter the realm of the Spirit of the Creator of the universe.
Jesus who was part of the creation of this universe, in all its plethora of wonder and awe, saw what happened in the history of Canada and knows all the details. Nothing has gone by the eyes and ears of God.
Yet, at some point someone must step forward and break the mold. Someone must blaze a new path. Someone has to say, “Yes, colonialism was terrible and outright abusive as a genocide, but I still have to live my best life in the time I have left on this earth. What will I leave behind as a legacy for my children and all those that come after me?”
Racism still exists
Notice is this passage in Galatians the apostle Paul is telling us to be filled with fruit of the Spirit, so that we don’t become conceited, provoke one another or envy one another. I witness, on a regular basis, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people pointing the finger at each other. I see my people filled with racism and anger. I see non-Indigenous people filled with racism and anger. I see racism when I am out with my family.
It does exist. But will we always be in a reacting mode rather than moving forward mode? This is a decision that every individual must make. Not just in theory but in action as well.
We must acknowledge the past for what it is and not sugar-coat it. The early years of our marriage weren’t great, but we have moved forward.
Or consider what the Old Testament tells us about the stubbornness and rebellion of the people of Israel. Pharaoh and his people enslaved the people of Israel and held them in bondage for 400 years. Yet, Israel was guilty of their own rebellion against God. Moses and his generation didn’t enter the promise land, but Joshua’s generation did. Both generations had their good qualities and bad qualities. Both generations had their own story of injustice to tell.
Even the Egyptians had their own story to tell. They had to suffer by losing what they had. Pharaoh, in the end, lost his own son. The people gave away all their silver and gold when the people of Israel left Egypt. The Egyptians had great loss after the tables were turned.
Everyone has their own story of injustice and loss and trauma. Yet, we get caught up in only our side of the story.
I heard it said once that there are always two sides of the story and then there is the truth. As an Indigenous Christian I want to celebrate my marriage with my wife for what it is now and what it can be.
Things to celebrate
I want to celebrate Canada Day for what it can be not for what it was. I want to celebrate Canada Day for all the positive things I have encountered here in my life up until this point. I want to celebrate the health care and education I have received all these years. I want to celebrate the fact that each province is uniquely beautiful with their own unique geographical attributes. I want to celebrate the beauty of the mountains, but also celebrate the rolling hills of the Prairies.
I want to celebrate the fact that I can share my story with you and encourage you to join me in celebrating Canada. Not for its sin-stained past, but for what we can all learn from it and make in the present and the future.
When the settlers came, some of them said, “Burn the ships, we are here to stay.” I am one who says we need to burn the anger and resentment and unforgiveness. Of course, that can’t happen instantly, and even if we manage to do it that won’t instantly create more healthy relationships, healing and peace.
But I say let’s move forward together doing everything we can to bring out the good fruit that the Spirit might cultivate in us based on the finished work of the Cross. I see no other way for my own life, my marriage and my country. Will you join me?
Parry Stelter is president and founder of Word of Hope Ministries and lives in Stony Plain, Alta., with his family. He is also a doctoral candidate with Providence Seminary and University specializing in contextual leadership.