Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Indians

Who let these people in?

There is a fine Christian lady doctor of our acquaintance who believes Canada is letting in way too many people from Asia and Africa. She is originally from South Africa, but left when black people were allowed to form the government. She fears for Canada’s future.

She’s wrong of course. The native people of Canada tell us the problem began when English-speaking people arrived over here. The first white people to arrive, those who spoke French, respected their elders and their women. The second white people, the ones who spoke English, respected neither their elders nor their women.

I am inclined to agree. Many French-speaking fur traders married Indian wives. Some of them brought their wives and children back to Montreal, which was the headquarters of the fur trade. Others settled down in the West with their wives and children. The English-speaking fur traders, mostly Scottish and fine upstanding Presbyterians, scorned such intermingling with non-white people.

Of course, many of them had summer wives in the West, as well as a Scottish wife in Montreal. What’s a man to do after all? Neither family was to know anything of the other. And when they retired, either back to Montreal or to Scotland, their western families were conveniently forgotten.

Other people of Scottish background came to Canada from Ulster, bringing with them their fierce Orange sympathies. The Orange men had a visceral hatred of anyone who was Roman Catholic, did not speak English, or did not have white skin. They did their utmost to make governments conform to their beliefs, leading to numerous riots, the burning of the parliament buildings and military action against the Métis in the West.

When the Canadian prairies were opened for settlement, many of the immigrants came from Eastern Europe and gradually the Orange sentiments became submerged in the new reality. Thousands of Chinese men came over to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway, then stayed to run Chines restaurants in every little prairie town. Eventually, Chinese women were allowed in too. Nowadays of course, Chinese immigrants have money and that makes them much more welcome.

A few years ago a small town in Scotland discovered that there was an Indian community in Saskatchewan whose people had the same last names as they did. After some investigation and a few visits it was found that they were indeed long lost cousins. Their ancestors never would have conceived that such a thing could be cause for celebration, but it was.

Some Christian denominations attempted to transform the Indians into Christians by forcing them into residential schools. That did not work out very well. Then they tried to force the government to make the whole country more Christian through prohibition. That didn’t work either. So now we content ourselves with sending missionaries to all the heathen lands and often express regrets that many countries won’t allow missionaries in.

In more recent years, people from all these countries begin to show up in our towns and cities. We worry about all these strangers in our midst and complain that we can hardly understand them when we encounter them as store and office clerks. We are afraid that they may bring with them much of the strife and animosity that exists in their home countries.

But they left their home countries because of that strife and animosity. We claim to have something better because we know the Prince of Peace. Why not share that acquaintanceship with these newcomers?

Remedy for the Indian problem

Starting in 1701, the government made treaties with the Indians living in Canada. The treaties were rather open-ended arrangements, promising schooling and health care, giving the Indians parcels of land for their exclusive use, but not limiting their right to hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted.

Left to their own devices, the Indians would have found a way to prosper in the new reality of a land dominated by other people. But the government considered them to be a problem. Rather than establishing schools where the people lived, they established residential schools far away. All the better to teach the children how to fit in the new society, so they said.

At the same time, Indian agents were established on every reserve to manage things. Indians were not allowed to leave the reserves without permission of the Indian agent. So the children finished their schooling, where they were taught to be ashamed of their Indian heritage, then sent back to the reserves and not allowed to leave. Here we see the genius that a bureaucracy has for taking a small problem that would have corrected itself and transforming it into a great big problem that will last for generations.

In the course of time, the Indians began to develop their own bureaucracy. On the national level it is called the Assembly of First Nations; in addition each province has its own Indian bureaucracy, here in Saskatchewan it is the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Both bureaucracies have endeavoured for years to find a solution to the Indian problem, most of them involving the spending of large sums of money with little visible results. It is in the nature of bureaucracies to find ways to invent solutions to problems that just make the problem more complex. The Indian problem is money in the pocket for the people in both bureaucracies; if there ever was a genuine solution, a lot of people would be out of a job.

Twenty years ago a French language news magazine ran pictures of Cree Indian communities around James Bay. The communities in Ontario consisted of dilapidated housing and the text explained that in these communities most people were unemployed, there was rampant alcoholism and crime, and school attendance was sporadic at best. On the Québec side, the houses were neat, clean and well maintained, there was very little unemployment, crime or alcohol problem and the children were faithfully attending school. The article asked why there was such a difference, but offered no answer.

The difference is that on the Québec side evangelical missionaries had brought the gospel and it the people had received it. The majority of the people in those communities are now Christians. Once parents are converted, they stop drinking and begin to take responsibility for their homes and their children. They want to work and provide a living for their families. Those communities were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The communities on the Ontario side were not.

Billy Diamond grew up in one of those Québec communities at a time of 100% alcoholism, 100% unemployment and 100% welfare (his description). He went away to university, came back and was elected chief at the age of 21. Shamanism was the people’s religion, until an Indian preacher came and began holding services. A few people went at first, then one of the most powerful shamans got converted. News spread like wildfire and more and more people came and got converted. Billy Diamond and the band council cut off the welfare of those who got converted. This only seemed to make them happier.

About this time Hydro Québec began planning the huge James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of their hunting grounds. Billy Diamond became Grand Chief of all the Cree in Northern Québec and negotiated a very good settlement with Hydro Québec. Suddenly he was national news; he travelled across the country, sometimes speaking three times a day, appearing on talk shows and lapping up all the attention.

Billy Diamond was a big man physically and he became a very big man in his own eyes. Too big for his backward little community. He went home to say good-bye and cut his ties. His wife had become a Christian; too bad, she could stay if she wished.

A friend came to tell him that he wasn’t running away from his family, he was running away from God. He began to think bitter thoughts: “How dare these preachers come into my community and take over my people? We were doing okay before without them.”

Then he remembered the 100% alcoholism, unemployment and welfare and how that had changed after the preachers came. He began to get curious and the next meeting he went to church for the first time in his life, sitting near the door to make his escape if things got too uncomfortable. He began to shake as soon as he sat down and as the preacher spoke, the tears began flowing down his face. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for his sins against God and for the way he had persecuted His people.

Billy Diamond says he walked into that meeting a drunk and walked out a sober man. He is still living with his wife in that community and manages a local business.

There is the remedy to the Indian problem, the same remedy that worked for me and everyone else who comes to Jesus. It is not something that can be done by bureaucracies. It is not something that starts at the top with a Grand Chief. It starts with the little people at the bottom, but as their lives are transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sometimes even a Grand Chief will abandon his pride and ambition to become one of God’s children.

Pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction

My personal observations, perhaps not very scientific but still quite realistic I believe, have convinced me that a substantial portion of humanity is afflicted with a strange malady.  This malady manifests itself when a person meets, or even hears of, someone with a different colour of skin.  The symptoms are that this person then seems to become unable to absorb any more information about the person of a different colour.  I have chosen to call this pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction.

This is not really the same thing as prejudice.  Many people afflicted with this disorder would profess nothing but good will for people of another colour.  They just seem unable to understand each other or to relate to each other in any meaningful way.

I know that a great many white people are afflicted with this.  Here in Saskatchewan, when a white person encounters an Indian (or First Nations) person, he tends to instinctively think of all the stories he has heard of Indians with broken homes, a drinking problem and an inability to hold a job.  Of course there are many Indians who are hard-working, responsible and sober.  We tend to identify them as being white people, thus not allowing their example to change our “knowledge” of what Indians are like.  It may take years of acquaintanceship before the white person is able to absorb any other information about what the Indian person is really like.

Many Indian people have their own knee-jerk reflex perceptions of what white people are like, thus both groups face major hurdles in learning to know each other.

No group of people is immune from this malady.  An Indian couple on a reserve in Eastern Canada adopted a black child.  The band council passed a resolution denying this child membership in the band and the privileges that would go with it.  A Christian Indian lady of my acquaintance says that her mother, who is of 1/8 white ancestry, is known as “White Woman” on the reserve.

The same symptoms are manifested, though to a slightly lesser degree in Canada, in the way whites perceive black people and the way black people perceive white people.  I recall an incident while we were living in Montréal and worshipping in a small mission congregation.  One Sunday morning a young black man stepped into church, saw only white people and immediately became very nervous.  I went to speak to him and invited him to join us, but he looked at our literature rack and seized upon that as an excuse, saying he had only come to get some information and he would come back another time.  He never did.  I have often kicked myself for my slow thinking, for there was a black lady seated on the side of the church that was not visible from the doorway.  Would it have made a difference if I had quickly called Esperanza and asked her to help this young man feel at home?

How would I have reacted if the tables were turned and I was the only white person walking into a church full of black people?  I would like to think that while I may not be totally cured of pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction (it seems to be a congenital disorder in most of us), I have had enough experience in being around black (and other non-white) people that I would not immediately panic and run for the nearest exit.

We might like to think that a disorder such as pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction could not exist among Christian people.  Yet I observed in Montréal that most evangelical denominations had separate congregations for blacks and whites.  There were only a handful of congregations where black and white people seemed able to worship together.  No one seemed to have a valid reason why it didn’t work in other denominations.  I would suggest that it is due to the undiagnosed presence of pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction.

The first step toward being cured of pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction is to admit that one has it.  This is pretty hard on our pride, for we like to think of ourselves as warmhearted, magnanimous people without a trace of prejudice.  But how do we react when we meet someone of another skin colour?  What if we meet a whole group of people of that colour?  Or do we perhaps do our best to avoid such a situation?

We can avoid any but the briefest contact with people of another skin colour and convince ourselves that we are entirely free of such a thing as pigment triggered cognitive dysfunction.  That is self-deception.  I don’t know of any other cure but to spend time with people who look different that we are and discover that they really aren’t very different after all.

Fur traders and Indians

The fur trade, in which millions of Canadian beaver gave their lives to provide felt top hats for European gentlemen, was the major impetus for the exploration and settlement of Canada.  The fur traders employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company were of French and Scottish origin.  They fanned out across the country, establishing trading posts to buy furs from the Indians in exchange for tools, weapons and other items.  One by-product of the fur trade was the maps and descriptions of the country which were sent back to headquarters and provided information for future settlement.

The fur traders were based out of Montreal, but  spent years at a time in the Canadian west where white women were loathe to go.  As a result, most of them took Indian wives.  There was a major difference in the approach of the French and the Scots.  When a French man took an Indian wife he considered himself to be married for life.  He would either settle down in the west permanently, or take his Indian wife and their children back to Montreal with him.  A  Scottish man generally had a Scottish wife in Montreal and an Indian country wife.  When he retired, he abandoned his family in the west and returned to his Scottish wife and family in Montreal.

The descendents of the French-Indian marriages became known as Métis and were themselves a potent force in the exploration and settlement of the Canadian West and established the first farming communities.

Some descendents of Scottish-Indian liaisons blended into Métis society, but most of them adopted the  Indian identity of their mothers.  Thus there are numerous Indian people today with names like McKay, McLaren, McDonald, etc.

A few years ago, folks in a small Scottish town discovered that there was an Indian band in Saskatchewan with the same last names as themselves.  After a little investigation, it was established that they were in fact related.  The Scottish fur traders who had given their names to these Indian families had come from this village in Scotland.  Thus began a round of visits where some of the Scots came to visit their long-lost Canadian cousins and the Canadians visited their Scottish cousins and were welcomed with much fanfare.

One thing that was never mentioned in news stories about this reunion is that there would be another group of cousins in Eastern Canada who most likely do not wish to be made aware of their Indian cousins in Saskatchewan.

The Indian people of Canada are known today as the First Nations.   There is a saying among them that goes like this: “The first white men who came respected our elders and our women; the second white men who came had no respect for either our elders or our women.”  Need I explain that the first white men were the French and the second white men were the Scots?

Yet when I was growing up, the general attitude was that all people of French background were good for nothing half-breeds and the Scots were all fine, upstanding Christian people.  Of such perceptions are prejudices born.

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