Last week, the Act Five students spent each day on the Six Nations Reserve, just a short drive south of Hamilton. The students learned about the cultures of the First Nations people and were faced with the realities of the injustices done to them by colonists. We are very grateful for our hosts from Oshweken Baptist Church; it was a rich week of deepening our understanding of what it means to be people following Jesus in our place.
She:kon, hello. This week we went to the Six Nations reserve and had the honour of listening to and learning from Brian Chiki and his wife Andrea. We started the week off with learning a little bit about the history of the place and going on a tour of Ruthven Park. Ruthven was very beautiful and the house was extravagant and many of us were filled with awe at the beauty, but we later learned that this house was built on stolen land using stolen money and the beauty and grandeur of the place seemed to fade.
The whole week was filled with stories and lessons about things we wouldn’t have been able to learn from anyone else. There are a lot of hidden pieces of history, and it’s important that we take the time to look deeper and listen to the different sides of the story. This week was very eye opening. A lot of us didn’t know very much about the history of the First Nations people and it was very interesting to hear history from another perspective. We met a lot of people during the week and they all shared a small piece of their story and history as a people. I think we were all able to find a deeper understanding of the value of listening.
I’m not sure that we ever truly know something until we experience it, knee-deep in the real life of history. We’ve spent this last week on the Six Nations Reserve with Brian and Andrea Chiki, where we learned a few phrases in Mohawk, worked with leather and clay, and toured historical places like the Mohawk Chapel and Ruthven Park.
We all interacted with this week a bit differently, but this history took me apart and inserted itself into my storyline as I was put together again. Land has been taken, given away, and renamed. Place for the Six Nations kept changing depending on whether settlers wanted to inhabit it. Identity was stripped away through the loss of home, names, and language. The residential schools are another holocaust of suffering that we either don’t know about or shrug off because it’s in the past and we had nothing to do with it — though for many of us, it happened so close to home.
To summarize what we’ve done this week at the reserve, I would say we’ve listened. We’ve listened to indigenous stories of creation and the Great Law, we’ve listened to the other side of history. We listened to truth. We listened to heart-loads of pain. We listened to forgiveness and invitations and redemption. Without trying to fix anything, we’ve been the ones healed. It’s been the greatest honour to sit at the feet of elders and potters and teachers and storytellers with a posture of emptiness. We’ve been filled this week, I think that’s the only way to put it.
I think most of the time we avoid feeling too much. Either it hurts or it overwhelms us; we’re good at numbing our feelings. We prefer to work on something, to fix it. For this, though, what we needed to do was experience this past and feel it. We can’t hammer a couple nails of “I’m sorry” into this and paint a fresh coat of “we’ll do better next time” — we need to sit in this story, let it break us, listen past the point of “I don’t want to hear this anymore”. The amount of times that people told us how much of an honour it was to have our attention was mind-boggling. Something that Andrea continually reminded us of was that we can’t break the cycle, but we can strengthen the circle.
Being a small part of life on the reserve for a brief time was so important to me. I think we’ve all been challenged and inspired and touched by the things we experienced this week, and we’re all encouraged to keep this history alive for others.