John Grundy reflects on his time with First Nations communities in Canada
I was sitting next to a fellow student at Northern College, Manchester, who was from the Democratic Republic of Congo, when he quietly said to me: ‘You do know that we are Christians because the Belgian King decided we should be… don’t you?’ As a 40 (ish) year old, the realisation that everything I thought I knew about empire, cultures and the global spread of Christianity wasn’t as I assumed, was shocking and destabilising. I wanted to discover how it feels to have empire arrive and make decisions that destroy culture, understanding and sense of self. So, after a lot of fundraising, I spent five weeks in Canada visiting indigenous communities connected to the United Church of Canada (UCC) around Lakes Huron and Erie and in the cities of Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg.
Arriving in Canada, I felt suddenly that as a white British man, I was carrying the weight of European empires with me. A minister from an indigenous community told me that one of the revered community elders had expressed scepticism about my visit, saying: ‘His people came here, took our land, our traditions, our children… All I have left is what I know and now he’s coming to take that too.’ This was quite a thing to hear and it changed the way I approached the placement.
I was shown around this community by a 22-year-old indigenous man. When I told him why I was in Canada, he paused for an almost uncomfortable time, and then offered me profound wisdom: ‘You mustn’t take any guilt for everything that you see or learn while you are here. This is not your guilt and you won’t help us if that’s what you take away. What we need from you is to take our story and tell the whole truth.’ For Haudenosaunee people, as I understand it, an elder is a person who has the insight needed by a community. On that day, I found my elder. He gave me the balance to that initial challenge…
John Grundy is a student at Northern College, Manchester
This is an extract from an article that was published in the April 2018 edition of Reform