Foreword by Graydon Nicholas
I was privileged to read these testimonies of twelve Indigenous persons of different Christian traditions and other faiths and how their faith and Indigenous spirituality coexist. It reminded me of some early steps of Christian evangelization in Canada.
Evangelization began in the Atlantic when the priest Abbé Jessé Fléché baptized Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Henri Membertou on June 24, 1610. The early missionaries taught the Indigenous peoples who Jesus was. Our Catholic faith teaches us that he is God incarnate. The early catechism asked the question, When did Jesus become Indianized? Or, when did he become one of us? This is crucial because St. John Paul II reminded all of us on his visit to Huronia on September 15, 1984, that “Thus the one faith is expressed in different ways. There can be no question of adulterating the word of God or of emptying the Cross of its power, but rather of Christ animating the very centre of all culture. Thus, not only is Christianity relevant to the Indian people, but Christ, in the members of his Body, is himself Indian.” Pope Francis said the same when he spoke at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton on July 25, 2022.
I want to offer another quotation of St. John Paul II when he canonized St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in 2002 with these words: “‘The Guadalupe Event,’ as the Mexican Episcopate has pointed out, ‘meant the beginning of evangelization with a vitality that surpassed all expectations. Christ’s message, through his Mother, took up the central elements of the indigenous culture, purified them and gave them the definitive sense of salvation’. . . . Consequently Guadalupe and Juan Diego have a deep ecclesial and missionary meaning and are a model of perfectly inculturated evangelization.”
The twelve persons interviewed for the Indigenous Voices of Faith project have shared of how they were taught about the essential gifts that our Creator (God) gave to their elders about smudging, pipe ceremonies, drumming, fasting, and relationships. These relationships covered families, languages, gifting, songs, the land, and care for others. Each person from the various tribes or nations was taught about how to respect all of life. Many of these brave persons have shared of how their present lives are a coming-together of Indigenous spirituality and their Christian faith. The importance of inculturation is evident in their testimonies.
The representatives of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations were convinced by the Government of Canada to operate residential schools, where the languages, spirituality, family relationships, and other Indigenous ways of living were not allowed. This had devasting consequences for the survivors and their families. These twelve courageous people have shared the hurt, pain, and almost destruction of their beings. Yet, these twelve brave men and women are on a true path of reconciliation. Bill Adsit said that he was not a residential school survivor but wanted to be known as a residential school conqueror.
During his visit in July 2022, Pope Francis reminded us at the meeting at Maskwacis, Alberta, that the residential school experience was wrong because “the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic. What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This is difficult for Catholics and other Christian leaders to hear and accept.
These twelve men and women are to be admired for their testimonies that challenge all of us to continue on the journey of reconciliation as brothers and sisters. For those of us who are Christians, we are to do this with the compassion of Jesus.
February 13, 2023
Originally from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, the Hon. Graydon Nicholas, CM, ONB, LLD, is a Roman Catholic and a Wolastoqey elder whose name Wihkwatacamit means “the person who loves to tell stories.” He is a lawyer and former judge of the New Brunswick Provincial Court. Graydon served as the thirtieth lieutenant governor of New Brunswick from 2009 to 2014.