AFNJohn Ralston Saul argues in “The Comeback” that Canada’s government is colonial and Eurocentric — racist, actually. But the majority of Canada’s people are not. I wish this was less obvious.

Saul also argues that this experiment in pluralism and cooperation we call Canada would never have been possible without the generosity and humility in our FN peoples. That something of the way they see and engage with the world transferred to the first European settlers – particularly the French – and made Canada possible in a way it would not have been in a purely Western, analytic and linear worldview. We genuinely learned from and embraced something of their generosity of spirit, moving beyond the individualism and self-interest that characterized Western cultures. Our exercise of tolerance and our pluralism — our success as a nation — owes something to FN peoples.

It’s a fascinating claim because it’s about much more than land. I’m not a social historian but it is clear that FN peoples readily extend the privilege of family to strangers in a way white Westerners do not. They are an enormously generous people. The boundaries of family are more porous and for our aboriginal peoples.

It appears that, as the years go by, the circle of the Ojibway gets bigger and bigger. Canadians of all colors are entering that circle. You might feel that you have roots somewhere else, but in reality, you are right here with us. I do not know if you feel the throbbing of the land in your chest … you may not feel the spiritual anguish as I see the earth ravaged.. but you can no longer escape my fate as the soil turns barren and the rivers poison. (Grand Chief John Kelly, 1977 quoted in The Comeback, 220)

My question today is this. Aboriginal thought grasps life and reality as a circle, pays more attention to context, sees humanity as a family, and adheres to a holistic worldview. Western thought is linear and analytic, pulls things apart, and our culture is expressed in Cartesian individualism. The popular claim — the Enlightenment lens — is that the bible best represents the latter. Certainly those in government who claim allegiance to Christian faith and make decisions about land and people seem to justify that argument. And the colonial practices of the Church in the last few generations — not only in North American but worldwide — also appear to support that reading.

But the reality is that both Old and New Testaments were written within an ancient eastern worldview. Jesus was part of a small, tribal, ethnic minority.

coverWhile that has largely been obscured by modern lenses (and the hegemony of European theology), it’s increasingly obvious that the bible is more amenable to a pre-modern and tribal reading. As the center of Christianity shifts to the global south, other (and older) readings are gaining ground; as we move into a post-secular and post-colonial age, we are suddenly discovering that the bible speaks incisively to colonial issues. How could it not, with the Jews and Christians in the first century held under the oppressive domination of a Roman governor? Jesus, part of a marginalized culture at the edge of civilization, was crucified by the dominant powers.

And I believe that’s one reason why so many FN peoples, in spite of the oppressive legacy of the colonizing Church, have embraced Christian faith. They have intuited a deeper truth about Jesus that the white, Western church has often obscured. If we can retire the white, European Jesus long enough to see the real man, we might find “the Comeback” has impact we never dreamed of, and that even Christian faith can offer resources for healing and reconciliation that we did not anticipate.

Part II of this look at The Comeback will look more closely at the contrast between these two readings and two worldviews. I will argue that a false eschatology and a false reading of Genesis 1-2 are largely responsible for the distortions in practice that have mired much of the Protestant movement, and still influence church and government policies today.

Btw, beginning at page 180, Saul includes indigenous voices – the last 90 pages of the book is from letters and articles and submissions made to government officials over the years. The following poetry is not found in The Comeback. This is by Armand Garnet Ruffo — “At Geronimo’s Grave” —

This morning at Fort Sill I saw the windowless cellar
they held him in (not open to the public)
and the other building they transferred him to,
the one turned into a museum and whitewashed.
A notice said he really spent little time in his cell
since he had the run of the place,
like a bed and breakfast, I am led to believe.
Yet, with wilted petals between my fingers soft as grace,
soft as old sorrow, and an even older sun overhead
guiding me beyond this arbor and back onto the highway,
I am left wondering about who he really was.
Oilfields and prairie flowers, barbed wire and distant mesas
red as a people locked behind aging vision
telling me it is the land that will have the last word.
For him whom they also call Prisoner of War.

Go to Part II