First person, by Jimmy Thunder
Some of my earliest memories are long drives through Northwest Ontario, riding shotgun with my late father in our white 1989 Grand Marquis. If it wasn’t Lac Seul First Nation, it would be another First Nation in which my dad had been invited to minister. My worldview was not only shaped by my father’s integrity, but also, unfortunately, by the racist myths and stereotypes prevalent in Canadian society.
A few years ago Forever Families of Canada invited me to reflect on my journey. I chose to present a spoken word poem called "Dear Younger Me: An Open Letter to My Younger Self." The poem begins by reflecting on the healing power of commemoration.
It’s not about the guilt. Like 9-11 or Remembrance Day. It’s about remembering the children who were taken away and were lost forever, buried in unmarked graves. It’s actually about mourning a national tragedy annually and gradually, as mutual love and respect convey this truth that love paves the way to discuss what’s next to do.
This poem has opened invitations for me to speak at churches, conferences and workshops, and has been shared extensively online. It resonated. The video of the spoken word poem can be found on Facebook by searching for Reconciliation Thunder, the name of the nonprofit I started to "make reconciliation thunder."
What kinds of relationships will bring Canada closer to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples? These are ongoing questions the EFC’s Joel Gordon and I continue to explore through a Reconciliation Through Relationships video project in which we’ve invited five pairs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous believers to journey together and learn through relationship. We keep asking the question: What are transformative relationships?
Transformative relationships allow Christians to wrestle through our national and spiritual identities, resulting in a richer Christian worldview. A transformative relationship is one in which we can be open and vulnerable with each other. We can openly examine any attitudes, ideas, or beliefs that should not be part of a Christian worldview, and are free to acknowledge our national and spiritual identities as having separate functions. We can commemorate and mourn losses together.
Transformative relationships are built on the foundation of mutual love and a commitment not to hide any aspect of our heart as we are shaped by the Holy Spirit.
Transformative relationships are unafraid to tell a whole, true story. Truths like the fact Canada is a federal state and not a unitary state because the four founding provinces fought for self-determination and recognition of linguistic, cultural and spiritual differences.
Ironically, these were the very things negotiated in the numbered treaties. Unfortunately, Canada’s plan had never been to fulfill promises to nations. Its goal was to assimilate Indigenous Peoples as individuals, as I wrote in the poem.
At Canada’s creation it was a nation surrounded by Nations stationed since the dawn of memory, but it wanted to be the only one and use the land from sea to sea to build their own economy. They tried telling the First Nations that they weren’t Nations using legalese. It’s what colonialism means, "absorbing a nation by erasing its identity."
For years, without even being aware of it, I lived by political avoidance norms which caused those around me to view me as a "good Indian" because I wouldn’t mention the treaties or make them feel guilty over Canada’s colonial history, as if our sole agenda as Indigenous Peoples was to inflict guilt on Canadians. I don’t live this way anymore.
You are invited to share this dream to see transformative relationships spring up around the country to move our nations ever closer to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Jimmy Thunder is an Oji-Cree, Asper MBA graduate serving as a business development officer at a First Nation provincial territorial organization in Manitoba. He encourages public engagement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action as adjunct professor at Horizon College, treasurer of Circles for Reconciliation and cofounder of Reconciliation Thunder.