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Bringing Forth Fruit Worthy of Repentence

We noticed her standing just inside the front entrance looking up. While she was waiting to load her bus with the summer camp kids, she had stepped into the church foyer and saw the land acknowledgement: The Community Christian Reformed Church of Meadowvale is located on the Treaty Lands and Traditional Territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

We noticed her standing just inside the front entrance looking up.

Intrigued, she divulged, “My family has been in Canada since the 1800’s. We’re from the east coast.” And then she added, “I think my great-great grandmother was Indigenous. I need to know more about her.” And so on that midsummer’s day, we had an opportunity to tell our own story of needing “to know more” too of the history and ancestry of the land on which we find ourselves.

Few of us will have such a personal response. Nonetheless, it is true for all of us who occupy Turtle Island (North America): we live on Native land—land to which we were all once strangers and aliens.

We live on Native land—land to which we were all once strangers and aliens.

At its heart, our posted acknowledgement is a confession that we dispossessed the earliest inhabitants-nations of people—of their home-lands. It is our declaration that while God “had determined the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:26),” we came in pride and arrogance to rule, to have dominion, and to occupy this ground. It is our admission that we came to settle, not to share; to own, not to steward. It is our avowal that we have been complicit in the expropriation of this territory and that we benefit daily and unfairly from its richness. It is our admission that we have broken every treaty. It is our way of owning the history of colonialization and assimilation. It is a visual reminder for us that there is a more ancient story than we have been taught about this land we now call Canada, voices that have yet to be fully heard.

And yet, this land acknowledgement is also a grateful recognition that, notwithstanding our Doctrine of Christian Discovery, we have been welcomed here to share in the Creator’s gifts of land, air, water, and fire. Finally, it is call for us to be in genuine relationship with real, living people—the descendants of the Chiefs and Clans whose totems mark the treaties of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowlands and whose wampum belts testify to covenants still in force. They are here, still honouring the sacred trust given to them by the Creator to care for and protect the Land.

It is our admission that we have broken every treaty.

Today, the recognition of the traditional homelands of Indigenous Peoples seems ubiquitous (at least in the Greater Toronto Area). You will hear acknowledgements at public meetings of school boards and city councils, at the provincial and federal levels of government, at award presentations and fundraisers, at meetings and events of colleges and universities, at mainline church denominational gatherings, and even at professional hockey games. What may seem newly pervasive (and meaningless) to us has been respectfully practiced for generations among Aboriginal peoples (cf. Stephen Marche’s provocative reflection “Canada’s Impossible Acknowledgement” published in the New Yorker Magazine, September 7, 2017). Thus, the challenge is to do more than simply recognize those who are “walking gently on the earth” (Karen Armstrong) and “living in the tall grass” (Stacey Laforme, Chief of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation). While the meaning of land acknowledgements, like reconciliation itself, can be complicated, if it is predicated on mutual respect and honouring, we can be hopeful.

Our hope is an ancient one. And here is the great paradox for the Church: We have already been given the pre-eminent land acknowledgement. A land recognition that has also been exchanged by tribes and peoples for generations and generations.  It is located in Psalm 24:1: “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all who dwell in it.” Since the earth is the Lord’s, then all of us are only caretakers. In His Wisdom, the Creator called the First Peoples all over the earth to this sacred trust. Ironically, it was a friend and Cree Elder from Alberta, Carol Lovejoy, who taught me this from Psalm 24.

What may seem newly pervasive to us has been respectfully practiced for generations among Aboriginal peoples.

The Christian Reformed Church of Meadowvale is situated on Lake Waybukayne. Waybukayne, a Chief of the Mississaugas, was murdered along with his wife and her sister by British soldiers on the shores of Lake Ontario, near the Toronto Islands. In a service of reconciliation held at the Meadowvale CRC in 2001, the Church of the City of Mississauga identified publicly with that offense and many others associated with colonization and we repented to Chief Larry Sault and other representatives of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. That day, Chief Sault and His People graciously released us.** Since that day we have worked to become friends and partners, as by grace, we “bring forth fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt 3:8).

Today there is a fence around parts of the lake. Perhaps you’ve seen such fences in environmentally sensitive areas. They’re often high and include a sign: “Restoration in Progress.” We need fences there to protect the lake, the embankments, the nesting birds, and the native vegetation against our indiscretion and abuse. It is our best effort, in partnership with the city, to protect and conserve this unique ecosystem in the heart of our community.

That day, Chief Sault and His People graciously released us.

The Mississaugas, who, according to archeologists, “lived so lightly on the land” that there are frustratingly few artifacts to uncover, knew how to steward the Land and its resources. The Creator, who made the heavens and the earth, has taught them. We, on the other hand, need fences. And we need simple statements of acknowledgement to protect, honour and respect the “unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous People and their traditional territories” (   

This is the fourth post in our The Land We Stand On series. Find the other posts and subscribe here

*This wording comes directly from the Media and Communication department of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who have developed recognition statements “to assist organizations in the acknowledgement of Treaty lands and Territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.”

**To see video from this historic gathering, visit this page and use the password "reconcile". 

[Image: Anita Van Zeumeren]

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