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A Tale of Two Wives Part II: Scenes of System Racism and the Original Wife

In the first post of this tale, I used a metaphor from Pastor Norton Lages to describe systemic racism: “Canadian culture treats other cultures like an abusive husband who sends his wife to counselling expecting her to change.” 

Now let me add another character to the scene: Indigenous culture is like the first wife of the husband whom he has confined to the basement. The husband came in with force, made her sign the deeds to her beautiful home. While she was under the impression that this covenant would allow them to share the home as partners, he redecorated it into his own image and culture.

There is fierce competition for the husband’s affection

You would think that the two wives (newcomers, and Indigenous peoples) would be friends and support one another. At times they do. Other times, there is fierce competition for the husband’s affection; for more space and say in the home.  The husband (and the structure of the household) pits the two wives against each other knowingly or not.   Since I am not Indigenous, I have little right to recount the history and their experiences. Instead, I will share my own experiences with this tension. I am a part of the community of the “first wife” – both my parents are newcomers to Canada. While we were excluded growing up, at least we were not Indigenous. I gained acceptance when I participated in jokes degrading Indigenous Peoples. Our family heeded the advice of Canadians to avoid reserves during road trips. 

To this he started to cry. I assume he was thinking of his own daughter. 

My friend Johnny Lee, an Indigenous social and environmental activist, has experienced much discrimination from security officers. The majority of people I’ve met in this entry level job are people of colour. I was working at a day shelter set up for those in homelessness during the pandemic. One of the security guards had just come from India. He was a kind, intelligent man and a father of a young daughter. He was also very ignorant of Indigenous issues. Dumbfounded by the amount of homelessness in Canada, he asked me about it. I talked about colonization asking him, “What if Britain never left India and wanted to transform it into the culture and people of England?”. He understood that. Then, I explained Residential Schools. To this he started to cry. I assume he was thinking of his own daughter. 

Another helpful metaphor of this relationship comes from Aladin El-Mafaalani​. Imagine the husband the two wives eating together at a table. The husband has the seat of honour and authority. The second wife sits at a lesser place. The first wife is on the floor. Good cultural integration will shift the seating arrangements: the two wives will start to take more prominent seats and; the the husband will need to shift. Conflict is inevitable and even necessary as we try to give everyone a place at the table. The two wives, however, experience this conflict in different ways. 

How can I, a follower of Jesus, participate in God’s reconciliation?

While newcomers – and any organizations and businesses they create – jostle to take positions the husband has held for generations, Indigenous peoples are not concerned mainly with the table. Their concern is the house itself. It was their home to begin with – the one given to them by Creator God – and they would like it back; they are concerned with stewarding it..  Johnny Lee has created a campaign Protect the Indigenous Narrative and explains it like this: Indigenous suffering stems not so much from racism (rearranging the seats of the table), but colonialism (reordering the whole home of turtle island).

I find myself at this table and I do not know my place in it. It was ingrained in me to worship the husband; but, I also empathize with the immigrant community trying to find a better life for their children. At the same time, this is not my home. I too am a colonist perpetuating the subjugation of Indigenous peoples by my very presence at the table. How can I, a follower of Jesus, participate in God’s reconciliation?

Mark Charles imagines Indigenous peoples as a grandmother who has been locked up in a room upstairs. One crucial step towards conciliation, Charles says, is to go to the grandmother, hold her hand, and say ‘thank you’. This simple act is a great reversal. It recognizes the grandmother as host and keeper of the home. It recognizes that our place in the home and at the table is because of her. It reminds us, as Miroslav Volf contends, that the story of North American inclusion for some has cast a dark shadow of exclusion on her. Such a gesture is not enough, but it is a start. O Spirit we are darkness, forgive us we pray. 

If you missed Part 1 check it out here!

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash


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