We just moved – packed up all we own and migrated across the Rockies and across the Georgia Strait. We’re now in a town that shares borders with two reserves. I admit that I don’t know a great deal about these neighbours. That’s not entirely true; at a certain level, I’ve learned a great deal. I know that they are the first residents of this land. I know that through a series of treaties and promises and no shortage of sneakiness and partial truths, we managed to squeeze them onto small reserves. I also know that we put many of their parents and grandparents through residential schools which have done awful intergenerational harm. I know that somehow this wonderful country has to find a better way for First Nations and the rest of us Canadians to live together. At about 40,000 feet, I’m quite an authority on these things. It’s time for all this knowledge to hit the ground.
So here’s what I’ve done so far: An old and fine tradition calls for newcomers to the land to bring a gift to the chief. Tobacco or tea is a suitable gift. I brought tea to the chiefs and to the director of a local friendship center. I went with some trepidation. Surely they will think this is really corny, I thought. Surely I will appear patronizing with my lame effort to honour their traditions. Surely these are all busy people who don’t need some hayseed from the prairies coming to interrupt their day.
Here’s what my neighbours have done so far. They welcomed me with simple and authentic kindness. They welcomed me to the Island and to our town. They asked questions about my family and how we are adjusting. They thanked me for paying attention to their ways and bringing a gift. I’m not going to oversell my little adventure; I haven’t accomplished much. But one thing that I’ve suspected has been further confirmed in me: among my new neighbours, there is a willingness to build a relationship. I can’t say how it will look in coming months. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m not going to make my neighbours my new project. All I can say for sure is that I have been welcomed and it’s all much easier and more natural than I thought. No surprise—people made in the image of a social and triune God are made to get along. Reconciliation may not be easy but I know it is possible.
[Image: Flickr user nomadic_lass]