Love and grace needed in aboriginal issues

We recently heard about the state of emergency in the aboriginal community of Attawapiskat. Many of its residents live in unsafe and inadequate homes, and with winter approaching the situation looked especially bleak. News headlines screamed the tragic facts, while the usual blame shifting took place. The federal government suggested that local bandleaders were to blame for mismanaged resources. The band replied that they simply did not have the money to provide adequate housing and community services in their remote community.

It seems every year the media focuses on a new aboriginal community in crisis. The issue may be inadequate housing, lack of clean water or an epidemic of suicides. We can think also of situations like the Caledonia development in Ontario, which dispute still simmers between natives and non-natives.

If there is ever a political issue in Canada that needs Christians, it is the plight of aboriginal peoples and the need for reconciliation and healing between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. There are no easy solutions. Even just throwing money at the problem, as governments are often accused of doing, isn't enough. But it is very easy to blame others, turning up the heat and promoting the endless and escalating cycles of blame. Anger and frustration often become the norm for aboriginal issues, rather than grace, peace and love.

The Attawapiskat controversy is terrible, not only in the conditions in which people were living—even the local school is closed because of environmental concerns—but in the particularly bitter game of blame that resulted. It's hard for moderate and healing voices to be heard in such situations, when the issues are so urgent. Yet they are badly needed, especially from Christians.

Too often, aboriginal issues stem from broken communities and cycles of abuse and despair, sometimes even perpetuated in the name of Christianity. Aboriginal communities themselves often identify their plight as a spiritual crisis. Money, land and self-government are important, too, but at the heart of the issue are questions of identity and purpose. A disturbing number of aboriginals, especially young people, struggle with the question of whether life even matters.

The question becomes even more difficult in places like Caledonia where there are clashes and confrontations—sometimes violent—between aboriginals and non-aboriginals who may both have genuine claims to land and resources. Again, there are no easy solutions, and both sides need to learn the language of compromise and forgiveness. But of course this is much easier said than done.

Like me, you probably know Christians, aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike, who have devoted their lives to healing aboriginal communities. Yet so much more remains. And we desperately need Christian voices of love, forgiveness, grace, and spiritual healing and rebirth: especially in places like Attawapiskat and other communities that have yet to make the news headlines. Whether you are aboriginal or non-aboriginal yourself reading this, I trust that this reminds you how much these issues need Christian love, not more anger and confrontation.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jonathan Malloy is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.