These blog posts, which have been separated into a two-part oped piece, were originally created as a final course paper for the Hearts Exchanged program that was offered to Canadian students via the lifelong learning centre at Calvin Theological Seminary. I have learned a lot about Indigenous communities and myself as a person from this course, the instructors, and other students. Everyone who would like to learn more about Indigenous communities, including CTS students, should take this course, in my opinion. I owe a debt of gratitude to my teacher, Adrian Jacobs, a Canadian Indigenous elder and leader, for creating a path toward justice and education for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. In addition to his proficiency with the two-row wampum covenant/treaties agreement, he possesses the qualities of a compassionate humanitarian, a father, and a grandfather. Cindy Stover, who is also an instructor and educator in the Hearts Exchange Ministries within the CRCNA and who also works with Adrian and Mike Hogeterp. Mike and Cindy’s lives and hearts have been transformed, and as a result, they are passionate about reaching out to others to bring reconciliation and the truth to both the Indigenous people of Canada and the non-Indigenous people as well. Their shared interests and passions have contributed to the development of unique perspectives on each subject covered in this course, and it is imperative that the message reach as many people as possible. As an MDIV student, I have never taken a class like this one where I got to know each of these professors so well on an intimate level. I encourage you to look into the Hearts Exchanged program via their website and to invest in learning the truth behind the reconciliation movement. (https://www.crcna.org/hearts-exchanged) There will be scholarly citations and footnotes in these blogs; I invite you to investigate them further or to get more information by visiting the aforementioned website. I would also like to thank CTS for offering this course to Canadians and encouraging them, and I hope they will offer it again and that my blog post will inspire you to take this course if it’s offered again in the future.
My name is Amanda Mason (Hamilton), and I am forty-two years old. I now know more about who I am from participating in the Hearts Exchange Course in November 2023 than I have learned in any history class. I am of European descent; I am descended from European Settlers in Canada; I am Canadian; I am Caucasian; and I am a mother of four. And I am a Christian! I am an active member of the Christian Reformed Church of North America and a second-year seminary student at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the US. Although I grew up in a small town in southern Ontario called Cobourg and was raised Anglican, I grew up free to explore my town and my heritage. These are things I know about myself; these are things I used to be proud of; these are things that matter and are components of who I am. But now that I know more, I feel like part of my identity is made up of lies. On the other hand, I have the freedom to be who I was raised believing I was, unlike the Indigenous people of my country, who have been told to deny who they really are or that who they are is “wrong.” Unfortunately, this luxury has not been afforded to my Indigenous brothers and sisters; indeed, they have lost their spirituality, their lives, their families, and their cultural identities in order to be coerced by someone like me from the past to become who I am now and fit into a society that may not have been designed with that in mind. Yet, as I have learned through being taught about the Doctrine of Discovery, and through the Hearts Exchange Initiative, just like my Indigenous friends, I also really haven’t had the chance to be who I truly am, either because my history has been buried upon lies, upon greed, or upon the blood-stained plains of the country I call home, a country I once stood proud to be a part of.
So let me re-introduce myself by telling you the truth about my history and the history of my country, Canada. This history is inextricably linked to the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Permit me to impart to you the lessons this course has taught me and the improvements it has brought about in my heart, soul, and mind. In addition, I hope it will inspire you to reevaluate your own background and perhaps even examine yourself more closely to uncover hidden truths deep within. My name is Amanda Mason, and I live on the territory of the Mississaugas Credit First Nations. This land belongs to the Haudenosaunee, Wendake-Nionwentsio, Mississauga Band, and the Anishinabewaki and was part of the Williams Treaty agreement in 1923. I am still a girl from a small town in southern Ontario called Cobourg, yet now I also know that there are many Anishinabe Waki people living there, where, as before, I didn’t know anything about them personally. I just assumed they were all just Aboriginals, and that was what I had been taught growing up as a child and teenager, and I never questioned this; I had no idea there were different bands or what they were called and why. Even living so close to the Alderville First Nations Reservation and the Hiawatha First Nations, I never asked questions, nor did I know any of the hurt they experienced. I assumed that our histories were the same. That is what I learned from my school history books, so I never questioned or inquired, and for this, I am responsible. What I am ashamed of is the government and the decisions that were made then and continue to be made today, not my European ancestors, whom I never knew, or their reasons for coming to Canada! I grew up around the reservations, which now makes me sad that I had friends who were Indigenous, and yet, due to my lack of foresight and lack of historical information, not knowing anything was wrong or being taught differently, I actually participated in what I now see as the cultural and spiritual genocide of an entire group of people. I realize now that we may have lived in the same areas, but we actually lived miles away from each other in hearts and spirits.
You may be wondering why this matters so much, how much it affects my past, and how it relates to your life. And I’ll tell you the sad truth is that this past is my present reality and the future of my children and the country we live in, and it’s also part of yours as well. Being ignorant is not an excuse, especially nowadays when there is more than just the local paper or 6 o’clock news; there is social media, the internet, access to documents and documentaries, and public records that both collaborate and communicate what our history books deny us access to! The explanation of my identity and the ownership of the land I live on is significant to me now, and it ought to be significant to you as well since the land still needs to be cleaned up and we need to own up to our mistakes before we can live in perfect harmony on it. In order for me to reclaim some of my history and my own heritage and culture, I must first acknowledge the lands and treaty agreements that were violated. Then, I must move forward to accept not only the portions of my past history that I now know but also to accept and walk in a future of truth and reconciliation, both with my Indigenous neighbours and within my own spirit as a mother, an honest person, and a believer that we are all equally created and gifted. Finally, I want to move forward and assume my role as a Christian pastor while maintaining my freedom to know the truth and honour it. As you should, for the sake of not only our forefathers and neighbours but also our offspring and the offspring of their offspring, all the way up to the seventh generation. A lesson I have learned from their grandfather teachings about the indigenous peoples is why they made treaties with us newcomers on the land in the first place. We cannot erase the past, and some of us, including myself, never knew the full extent of colonization and the impacts it’s had and placed on each and every one of us, but to benefit from the misfortune of others, when if we had just kept up our end of the covenant promises we made to one another, our whole history could have been wrapped up in the peace and love of the creator and how he intended us to be.
Why did I take this course in the first place, you may be wondering, and what did I hope to learn or get from it? I had heard a brief story on the news about the residential schools and how they dug up some bodies of indigenous children and some of the horrors these children and families endured, as well as how the church was involved in this. To say this is what sparked my interest now, as I have been privy to the truth, actually shows me how arrogant and ignorant I was. What drew me to enroll in the course was the testimony of my CRCNA friends who had completed the 8-month Hearts Exchange course and were raving about how it transformed their lives and perspectives. I was curious to find out how my friends and colleagues had gone from being informed about the deaths of hundreds of innocent children and having their lives profoundly changed. But the innocent deaths are what made me want to uncover the story, and that is where shame kicks in a bit—not the times I have seen the indigenous battling on television for their basic rights of survival like clean water or fuels or missing women, but the deaths of children. I would love to point the finger at the government’s propaganda for creating an inaccurate impression of what a native person should look like in my mind. They have a right to do so by disguising the identities of certain groups of people as something other than who they actually are by using terms like “Indian,” “Pagan,” “Native,” and “Aboriginals.” However, I must admit that my ignorance prevented me from realizing the truth behind these labels. The truth is that the death of children is what it took to open a crack in my heart and make me want to learn more. Perhaps this is because, as a mother, I cannot begin to comprehend the anguish or sorrow that a parent whose child was unexpectedly taken from them would experience if they were never allowed to see or speak to their departed loved one again, or if they were never given the opportunity to bury or grieve for them. Although I cannot fathom the destruction and trauma to a family and a culture this painful and damaging, after reading in-depth information about it and watching videos of survivors and their families, I am able to see and feel the pain with my own eyes and ears, which breaks my heart. What is more troubling is that this is what it has taken for so many who live each day in our beautiful country under a pretence they don’t even realize they are living in to actually wake up and want to learn more about our country and the true history buried in the grounds with these unmarked graves of children.
As a Christian, I find it even more upsetting to learn that the churches and the government plotted to not only assimilate but also exterminate the Indigenous peoples if they did not become like us. I also find it inconceivable that the theology and biblical passages I was raised with could justify such actions! Would this God permit these things, or would the God I worship be different? As I have learned more and more about the suffering that Indigenous people have endured, I have struggled to answer this question. But as I discover the truth about their and my own histories, learning the creation stories from the Indigenous people’s point of view has also given me courage, wisdom, respect, love, and humility. So let’s dive into this history of who we are as Canadians and the misconceptions we have had for so long, even if it may be filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly, but ultimately the truth is what will set us free.