A little Indigenous doll sits in the corner of my mother’s glass cabinet in my childhood home. The crocheted regalia and the leather headband adorned with wooden and glass beads share a story of healing.
Kwe’! Ni’n teluisi Crystal. Hello! My name is Crystal, and I am on a journey to reconnect and reclaim my Mi’kmaq heritage as a follower of Jesus. I am thankful for the people before me who have walked in both worlds and created sacred space to deconstruct, learn and listen. I am thankful because they have created a path so rarely walked.
For a very long time Spring was my favourite season. I loved the idea that each year there was the promise of new growth. But after spending five years of ministry in Labrador and now living on Treaty 1 Territory in Winnipeg, I’m hopelessly in love with autumn. I love the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet and the beautiful colours that transform the tree in front of my home. I love the sudden shift to cinnamon and comfort foods – but most of all I love when we experience the beauty of fall with the brash winds of winter. There is something powerful in standing between the transition of two seasons.
It’s a feeling I’ve experienced only once before and it involves the crocheted regalia and leather headband.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I heard my grandmother share her stories. I held tightly to her words as they travelled through the room. I listened for hours as aunties recounted memories and grieved for the journey that led our family to this place. And yet, as much pain and grief as those stories shared, they offered hope. Grandmother’s wrinkled hands began to create dolls for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren – a powerful reminder to reclaim what was lost and continue the journey to healing. In the last years of her life, Grandmother walked a powerful and painful path of healing, a path our family continues to walk today.
"In the last years of her life, Grandmother walked a powerful and painful path of healing, a path our family continues to walk today."
I hold these stories as I navigate through my faith journey. I experienced the love of Jesus as a child, and now as an adult I’m attempting the difficult work of decolonizing what it means to be a follower of the Jesus way. There is a tension that lives in this space.
The legacy of colonization and the ongoing injustices that continue to face Indigenous Peoples reveal a truth about Christianity many would hope remains hidden. And yet, truth is essential for reconciliation. Under the guise of Christianity, the Doctrine of Discovery caused genocide. In the name of Jesus, sacred ceremonies were outlawed, families broken apart and homes destroyed. This is a truth that needs to be spoken and it is a truth that can guide us back to Jesus. Wendy Peterson in A Gift of Sweetgrass: The Reclamation of Culture Movement and NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community explains. "The gospel is reconciliation – to Creator, to creation, to one’s self and to one’s neighbour."
My journey to reclaim my Mi’kmaw identity has never caused me to question my belief in Jesus, but it has motivated me to begin to deconstruct the systems and structures we place around Jesus. Patriarchal structures that say we must act and look exactly like each other, listen to the same music and think the same way. Colonial systems that separated us, and took away Jesus and replaced Him with religion. I’m learning the gospels are not as complicated as we sometimes make them. They are stories that speak about Creator’s Son Jesus – they are words that reveal the path of healing and words that will guide us into reconciliation.
I watch out my window as the trees turn to bright oranges and vibrant yellows, and I know creation is preparing for winter. Once again, I find myself waiting for that powerful moment where beauty and pain are held together as the seasons transition. Except this year, I think about my grandmother as she crocheted tiny pieces of regalia, holding space for her own pain and beauty, and I find hope and healing as I deconstruct my faith and reclaim my Indigeneity.
Crystal Porter (Captain) is the associate territorial Indigenous ministries consultant of The Salvation Army Canada & Bermuda Territory, divisional Indigenous ministries consultant and divisional children & youth secretary of the Prairie Divisional Headquarters.