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.

Part Two

As a member of the CRCNA, I have knowledge of European history, particularly that pertaining to the colonization of Dutch immigrants, even though, to the best of my knowledge, I am not Dutch and am most likely from Scotland, England, or Ireland. Now, many of us simply refer to ourselves as Canadians because we are unaware of our true cultural heritage or identities; however, the Indiegouns are the true Canadians in our nation. It started many, many years ago, in the 1400s, when Europeans came across in boats to find land and new lives, and it’s where they ran into the natives of the land. These settlers worked together with the Indigenous people; they built together, they hunted together, they married each other, they had children together, and they made treaties. In the eyes of the Indigenous people, they are similar to our covenants in Christian terms. And even if you are not a practising Christian, your ancestors most likely were in those times. Upon closer examination of the Indigenous people and their creation stories, it became clear that the treaties represented a peaceful, reciprocal relationship based on respect and care for the lands that both parties now considered to be theirs. 

There are currently 50 bands and 630 communities of Indigenous people living in Canada. Each of these groups has its own sacred creation stories, but they are all based on a set of teachings known as the Seven Sacred Teachings or the Seven Sacred Grandfather Teachings. They get this name because they believe the principles of these teachings will bless the next seven generations, which is akin to the seven teachings found in Revelations.  Each of the different Indigenous tribes, such as the Haudenosaunee, the Lakota, the Inuit and many more, have similar creator stories that mimic similarly to our own Christian creation stories, but the principles that the Indigenous hold on to that we have failed to hold as scared to are the teachings of Wisdom, Respect, Love, Courage, Truth, Honesty, and Humility, and although if we read closely the stories and later parables of Jesus, we can see how closely connected these life principles are to having a peaceful or (Shalom) like experience here on Earth within our own communities but in our day to day lives with others, and so they made what is known as a peaceful treaty with these settlers called the Two Row Wampum, which is similar to a covenant contract that God had with the people of Israel for reference. 

Owing to this manner of life and these culturally distinct yet similar creation stories, the Indigenous people welcomed the European settlers with open arms to the lands they did not think they owned but rather that they were custodians of, and where the Creator God had supplied every tribe with everything they needed for daily survival in numerous ways. The land provided them with many riches, just as the Bible says we would have an abundance for all the nations and tribes. Because of the deeply held values and beliefs of the Indigenous people, they were willing to go into treaty covenants with their new settler friends and families, and the history of these treaty agreements spans many years. In many Canadian places, in fact, our entire country is under treaty agreements that we take for granted each day. Instead of going to war as was accustomed in European ways and did, unfortunately, happen in the stories of the American settlers and Indigenous people in the US, the new settlers of our now Canada made these treaty covenants, but behind closed doors, things were brewing that would now still be in place today. The harsh reality was that the new settlers had no intention of living in harmony with the land, being peaceful, or keeping their word. Instead, they planned to gradually assimilate the Indigenous people and either starve them, drive them off the land, deny them even the most basic human decency and respect, kidnap their children, break our promises, and attempt to bury their identities and traditions in favour of copycat versions of ourselves. Thankfully, through the principles of the scared grandfather’s teachings, these principles I talked about at the beginning of this brief history lesson have outweighed the test of the seven generations, and the stories of the Indigenous have not been forgotten. The teachings of wisdom, respect, courage, truth, honesty, and humility have taken the test of time and anger, and now more and more Indigenous people are speaking up for their rights. The creator God has a way of bringing the light back to where it is supposed to shine, and we now have access to things like the DOD, and the Papal Bulls. We have access to the internet for the stories to be shared and for actions to be taken and heard through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as the cries of the residential school survivors and those who did not survive will no longer be silenced.

The teachings that brave Indigenous people have started to share and draw attention to, such as Martin Brokenleg about the trauma and the damage this has caused to an entire population of people, have made headway with others like myself, truly understanding the importance and impact this history has had on the Indigenous and myself as well. There have also been cries of anger that have been placed towards the churches, the CRCNA included, and thankfully, my denomination has not shied away from the calls of those hearts and has opened up to hear the truths and work towards understanding and reconciliation, hence why I am able to take this course and learn about this part of my ancestor’s heritage and that of my countries and how these two have been so interwoven in time. The cries of a heartbroken and beaten-down community have not been silenced; they have risen like Jesus, demanding truth be told and judgments be made. And through the semi-acceptable apology by the catholic church and the calls of action and the doctrine of discovery being shared among denominations, others have stood up for what is right and I am proud of being part of one who is not turning a blind eye to truth.

What I have learned about is not my history to tell; it belongs to the Indigenous people of my country that I live with. Their story has a history that is linked to mine and my children’s. The course has altered me in a great many ways. Although it pains me to think that perhaps my own ancestors were complicit in the oppression and poverty of others, I still want to think that they were just common people trying to start over somewhere and avoid potential poverty or oppression. I do not think my ancestors fully understood the depth of the suffering they would eventually cause another group of people—we are not talking about a small number here—we are talking about a thriving population of millions between the US and Canada. I want to believe that my own ancestors were just simple people looking for a new life somewhere else, trying to escape possible poverty or oppression, but it’s hard for me to believe that maybe they participated in causing poverty and oppression to others. There are so many genuine truths that I have learned through the course and its readings, videos, and documentaries, as well as live conversations and the experiences of my friends who have taken this course as well.

I had no idea I would experience an identity crisis as a result of enrolling in this course. I was drawn to the stories I had heard in the media over the years, and I wanted to stand by my friends, but what I have gained from this experience is a complete transformation of who I am. Before this course started, I was invited to attend a concert in Belleville, Ontario, that my friends were volunteering at. I took my children to experience and support this Indigenous community and the music, and we had the time of our lives. We listened tentatively to the chief, who spoke first, even though I didn’t truly understand what he was saying. We joined in dancing and singing as the band played the drums and the dancers came out in their regalia, and my young sons and two daughters, ages 15 and 4, went around the church dancing hand in hand with the dancers. My daughter was given a hullhop-looking circle to play with that belonged to one of the Indigenous entertainers. We had a blast; no colours were seen, no history was spoken, no anger was shown, and only blessings, music, love, and acceptance filled the air and the room, and I had no worries as my children danced happily away from me. This is what I wish it could be like in every room and in every church in the country I call home.

I have discovered so much more about the people who approached my kids, held their hands, and danced for hours with them since that concert. When I made that CD purchase that evening, I had no idea that my kids and I would sing along to every word loudly and proudly when we played it repeatedly in our van later on. They also started asking me questions for which I had no answers, but as I progressed through this course, I became more adept at responding in a way that was true and wise. Although I understand that they are still young, as they began learning more in school in November, they would tell me about what they had learned about Turtle Island when they got home. Here’s where our shared history has always caused division—from dancing together to miscommunication and hostility. The truth cannot free us if we do not impart it to the next generation, but we have to tell the whole truth right from the start at all times—at home, in the classroom, in universities, and in the media. As a mother and prospective church minister, I cannot watch helplessly as the education my kids receive now resembles that of my childhood, rife with false information and unspoken realities about colonization and settlement. The whole truth must be known, and it cannot be a part of my future, my children’s future, or their children’s future.

As I wrap up this essay, I want to draw attention to one more aspect of our true North history that, in my opinion, has the potential to one day solidify the idea that the true North is strong and free: the 94 demands for action that the Indigenous community made of the Canadian government and, more importantly, the Canadian people.  There have been 94 calls to action that are reasonable and still peaceful in nature, yet only 13 out of 94 have been completed. As a country, we need to wake up and work together to make these wrongs right, and this isn’t even about giving back land. Some may think it’s about making things like the Indian Act from the past right, and it’s about acknowledging the UN decision to liberate the Indigenous and the wrongs that have been done against them for years, which have stated that the rights of the Indigenous people to have access to things like healthcare, education, resources, child care, not child taking, land acknowledgements, treaty agreements upheld, and things like just saying “We are sorry!” aren’t enough; we need to be providing proper restitution for the past mistakes and working to complete these calls of action as a humanitarian country that we claim to be.

I want to have a voice when I start my future ministry work in Canada. I was not given the correct information about my own history by the government, the churches, the schools, or even by my own ignorance. I hope I can lend a voice to my Indigenous friends as we collectively call out the past wrongs and bring about the last 81 actions that need to be rectified. As a Christian and a mother, I want to be able to use my words and my voice, along with the spirit of Christ and the compassion and love of the God in whom I believe and serve faithfully, to help change the future of my country alongside my countrymen. We have stories about our Creator that tell us that one day all nations and tribes will sit down with him equally and peacefully as one creation made of many tapestries. I want to acknowledge the land I live on or serve a church on, and I want to share meals and music with my Indigenous community. My heart has been forever changed and as I walk in the knowledge I have of the true history of the Indigenous communities. As a European immigrant, a woman, a mother, a Christian pastor, a wife, a writer, an animal lover, a music lover, and the daughter of wealthy parents, I have shared bits of my own knowledge. I hope that one day this will also be the case for the Indigenous people, and the 81 remaining calls for action will have been fulfilled with compassion, peace, love, forgiveness, humility, hope, and truth. One day, when I look at my country, my children, and my grandchildren, and our heritage, our culture, and our history,  I can once again add to my list of qualities that help make up my identity and who I am. I can once again say that I am proud to be Canadian.

References (this portion contains references for both part’s 1 and 2 of this blog)

Brokenleg, Martin. n.d. Martin Brokenleg – cultural healing and resilience. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://martinbrokenleg.com/.

“Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen lands, Strong Hearts.” 2019. The Anglican Church of Canada. https://www.anglican.ca/primate/tfc/drj/doctrineofdiscovery/.

“Hearts Exchanged | Indigenous Ministry.” n.d. Christian Reformed Church. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://www.crcna.org/hearts-exchanged.

“Highlighted Reports.” n.d. NCTR. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://nctr.ca/records/reports/.

“How Residential Schools led to Intergenerational Trauma in the Canadian Indigenous Population to Influence Parenting Styles and Family Structures Over Generations.” 2020. Canadian Journal of Family and Youth 12 (2): 26-35. 17189748.

“Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations | United Nations For Indigenous Peoples.” n.d. the United Nations. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/about-us.html.

LeBlanc, Terry, Danny Zacharias, Jennifer Boone, David Koyzis, Nick Loenen, Roland De Vries, and Sonya V. Feddema. 2020. “What’s with the Kerfuffle about Lobster?” Christian Courier. https://www.christiancourier.ca/whats-with-the-kerfuffle-about-lobster/.

“Pope Francis apologizes for forced assimilation of Indigenous children at residential schools.” 2022. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-pope-alberta-apology-1.6530947.

The Sacred Grandfather Teachings, various video’s telling stories of the seven sacred teachings of the Indigenous. n.d. http://www.otc.ca/public/uploads/resource_photo/The_Seven_Grandfather___Sacred_Teachings.pdf.

Tomchuk, Travis. n.d. “The Doctrine of Discovery | CMHR.” Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://humanrights.ca/story/doctrine-discovery.

“Two Row Wampum – Gaswéñdah – Onondaga Nation.” n.d. Onondaga Nation. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/.

“Williams Treaties | Treaties | Whose.Land.” n.d. Whose Land. Accessed November 21, 2023. https://www.whose.land/en/treaties/williams.

“Yellowhead Institute 1.” 2022. Yellowhead Institute. https://yellowheadinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/TRC-Report-12.15.2022-Yellowhead-Institute-min.pdf.