Indigeneity at Concordia’s Theological Studies

Have a look at what we’ve been doing in our department at Concordia Montreal’s Theological Studies!


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/190139931″>Indigeneity at Theological Studies Concordia</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user32514305″>Matthew Anderson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

And I Have Felt a Presence

2015-07-26 10.57.57

For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man

 

(William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, July 13, 1798)

How I was Saved by a Sense of Belonging

through the trees onto prairie

My dilemma: I know from my own experience that being a pilgrim on a certain bit of the planet helps a person identify better with that bit of the planet. I’m not Norwegian. But I feel more of a connection to Norway having walked several hundred kilometres of the mountains and streams my ancestors knew. I AM a prairie person – sort of, still – even after thirty years in Quebec. Remembering my appartenance (belonging) to the prairie was hard-won with every gust of wind, every blade of speargrass burrowing into my foot, every sunburn, every call of the coyotes at night and every Pils beer consumed in a prairie tavern. If you haven’t tried it, do. It’s great. Not just the Pils. The whole pilgrim experience.

So my thesis for the conference to be held at the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, is simple: walking pilgrimage helps ‘ground’ people like me as Canadians, in our land, so long as we are mindful of the land’s history and of its First Peoples (in other words, so long as we walk honestly).

Then I remembered that “pilgrim” actually comes from the word ‘foreigner’ or ‘alien’. How can a foreigner gain more of a sense of belonging by practicing their pilgrimage (ie foreignness)? I thought my paper was ruined. I stewed on this for several days before it occurred to me. For Newcomers like me, being a pilgrim describes my status EXACTLY. The foreigner (pilgrim) doesn’t own land. Pilgrims only go on by humbly accepting generosity from the land and its inhabitants. The pilgrim needs to be in relationship with others, or they perish. Belongingness (if there is such a word) is reversed. Not the land to me, but me to the land. For a non-First Nations person like me, it means seeing that my belonging to this land in Canada has always been by hospitality. It ONLY comes through recognizing my foreign-ness and the ways in which I have been invited to share in belonging TO the land, by those – ie First Nations – who have belonged to it for so long already.

That makes a whole lot more sense. I think I can present that at the conference.

Lyndon walking with paint

Listening to the Land

NWMP post Wood Mountain post

It would be presumptuous to say that we’ve learned how to listen to the land on this prairie pilgrimage. Some – Hugh for instance – already know the flora and fauna very well, and Rick from his Metis and First Nations background has a sense for how the ever-changing terrain contains messages and directions, and listens intently for them. Hayden has the stamina and openness of youth, and the local people gravitate naturally to his enthusiasm. Me? I’m not sure. I’m listening, but not yet sure what I’m listening for, exactly.

The barmaid/waitress/innkeeper at our first hotel stop last night is from Australia, near Brisbane. In talking with her we spoke about walkabouts, and it came up again this morning as Rick talked about his trip to central Australia some years ago and his contacts there. I guess in some ways this is a prairie walkabout. Or if not a walkabout, then perhaps what the Lakota elder who smudged us the first day called it in Lakota. I cannot remember the term, but he described us as taking a voyage as they once did, where a group of people simply pack up and leave the safety of the camp to go out and explore. He said it was a good thing to do, and smiled at us.

And so we walk, and listen. Yesterday, as the wind abated, we heard so many different bird calls – the eagle, the killdeer, the lark bunting, the meadowlark. The cattle were speaking to us at times, not always happily. And the wind, as it changed, and moved over the terrain, was always new.

A pilgrimage, among other things, is a journey of transformation. Yesterday as we started out Rick started humming some old classic rock tune. Then another came up. Then Hayden sang the first few lines of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”. I guess this is a bit of a prairie wild-side walk, but the transformations in our case are quite different from the classic song! They say there might be some rough weather today. Should be an interesting time of listening.

Smudgings and Graveyards

country church

This is day two without electricity so I will keep it short. We’re camped right now beside a graveyard, at a small Greek Orthodox church on the NWMP trail. When he could see us far off, struggling through the heat on the final stretch of our 15 miles or so today, a man at the church rang the bell to call us home. Now it’s dark. The graveyard beside our tents overlooks the vast open prairie. There are little solar lights beside the graves, which is perhaps nice, but a touch freaky for us in the tents.

Today was also the day that we were sent off by two RCMP officers, one in serge, and then smudged at the Lakota First Nation as we walked through. Not only that, but we happened to arrive at lunch and were given a wonderful hot meal by them.

So much to say, but not now. After all those miles, many of them through thigh-high grasses and rough pasture (fell into a badger hole once), it’s time for sleep.

field walking

Making Medicine Pouches

I love my aunt. She’s always been like a second mother to me. Especially these last years, when my own mother failed, my aunt, as so often, was forced to be the safe harbour in which our family finds shelter.

My aunt is surprising. She stays up late and at 88 years old, still likes to travel. If there are potatoes to dig, she just might go dig them. She’s tough – and still, in the ways that count, old fashioned.

But not old fashioned in many other ways. We did something together tonight that I never thought we would do. We made and tied medicine pouches, with elk leather and sweetgrass from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. The pouches are destined to be used as gifts here in Saskatchewan.

A big part of pilgrimage is learning how to receive the kindness of others. We haven’t even really begun our local Camino – this North West Mounted Police Patrol Trail pilgrimage – and so far there have already been meals, a donated vehicle, and beds to keep us sheltered until we put up our tents.

But part of pilgrimage is also recognizing what gifts we strangers bring with us to these lands we cross, and bringing physical evidence of such gifts with us. That is why I have the sweetgrass and the red string from the Mohawk, for some of the First Nations and Metis people we will meet here. I read recently that even though the Mohawk almost never came this far west, there was a group of them that overwintered, in the 19th century, in the Cypress Hills, where so many other First Nations gathered in the final, collapsing days of the bison hunting economy.

I wonder what those Mohawk saw, and thought. My aunt and I cut the leather and together wrapped up the sweetgrass. It felt like something blessed to be doing this with her, my aunt with whom so often I’ve gone to church and sung hymns as well. Someone with whom I hold this land, this prairie, in common. I held the pouch up to her nose: that smells so good, I said. Doesn’t it. That smell of leather.

She smiled. Or maybe what smells so good, she answered, is the sweetgrass.

Isabelle and the pouches