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We're Indigenous People Too

In 2018, I was gifted to be one of one hundred and fifty First Nations people chosen to fly to Scotland to be featured in an internationally acclaimed television series. Upon arriving in Glasgow, we were loaded onto a tour bus and given a tour of the city. Our hosts welcomed us by stating, “You’re Indigenous, we’re Indigenous too. You were taken away from your families and put in residential schools; we were taken away from our families and put in industrial schools. You weren’t allowed to play your drums; we weren’t allowed to play our bagpipes. You weren’t allowed to speak your language; we weren’t allowed to speak ours. You weren’t allowed to wear your traditional clothes; we weren’t allowed to wear our kilts. We are all Indigenous. There is no racism here. We welcome you to Scotland.”

The speech was eye-opening. I had never thought of anyone other than the global BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community as being subject to severe and ongoing racism and discrimination. Yet, as I lived and worked with the local Scottish community and toured their nation throughout the summer months, the tell-tale signs of colonialism lay front and centre. It was not differently coloured people that lay homeless and destitute on the city streets; it was the Indigenous people of Scotland with their light-coloured skin, blue eyes, and ginger coloured hair that lay broken and addicted, homeless, and destitute. They filled the bars and drank more than their fill in an effort to forget the trauma of colonization. They slept in the streets and begged for coins so that they might merely survive.

We celebrated our differences by coming together in song, dance, and musical expression

On June 21st, National Indigenous People’s Day, the production company we were working for set out a variety of cupcakes and other treats to honour the many First Nations that had traveled to work in this foreign land. They did it, so we would not be missing the one day of the year that recognizes and honours the First Peoples in Canada, a day that is important to us. We were away from home, and we were doing our part to boost awareness of this great thing the production company did. 

It came as a shock when we compared it to our treatment at home on Canadian soil, where, outside of government programming, many from mainstream society were only vaguely aware the day even existed, and certainly did little to acknowledge it. Yet, we had been treated as royalty abroad. We found the Scots to be very accommodating, and many did their best to make us feel welcomed. One local man brought us more than a hundred smoked fish for us to feast upon. We were also treated to a tour of Braveheart’s castle in Edinburgh, to a shopping trip in the picturesque town of Pitlochry, and many other excursions during our stay in Scotland. We roamed the Scottish highlands and were offered Scottish hospitality on our days off.

With over twenty First Nations represented in Scotland, we learned from one another, listening to the stories and teachings of Elders from other nations. We celebrated our differences by coming together in song, dance, and musical expression through rattles and drumming as we expressed our joy in the presence of our employers, who watched us in awe. However, not all was well.

Let us radiate the love of Jesus to the global Indigenous community

While it was truly a blessing to be a part of a gathering of the Nations in an Indigenous setting not our own, the few of us that follow Christ were not entirely welcomed by the First Nations people we were working with in Scotland. We were thought of as  traitors, turning our backs on our elders that had fallen victim to various kinds of abuse implemented by the church in the Indian Residential Schools. They did not understand that the people that harmed them might have called themselves Christians but were not following the teachings of Jesus. 

Jesus said, “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” yet they hindered our children. Jesus also said, “love your neighbour as you love yourself,” yet they clearly did not love us. The Old Testament says, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not murder, and thou shalt not lie. Yet, they coveted our land and natural resources, then they stole our land, natural resources, our children, and our way of life. Then they raped our women, children, and sometimes, even our young men. They murdered us and our children, and then they lied about all of it, and they did it all in the name of Jesus. The very people who claimed to be followers of Christ blasphemed his name by committing these atrocities. 

As Christians, we need to do better, so let us represent Jesus by caring for the least of these, by loving our neighbour as Christ loves the church, and by asking Jesus to reform our attitudes and circumcise our hearts from sin. Let us radiate the love of Jesus to the global Indigenous community, especially those in Scotland who so readily expressed hospitality to Canada’s First Nations, who were foreigners in their land.

Consider celebrating Indigenous Ministry Sunday as part of marking National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Photos provided by the author.

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