Where does the story begin?  I heard Connie Walker speaking on Truth and Reconciliation Day (September 30th, in Canada) and she was talking about a journalism conference she had gone to. One of the speakers said that part of the journalist’s job was to answer that question. Where does the story begin?

It occurred to me that I had tried to do that with my book, Becoming Kin. As I looked at where we are now I started to examine history for how this happened, I tried to find out where the story began and I followed these threads all the way back to creation stories. Creation stories matter. They tell us who we are and how we fit in with the world around us. They are the place we look for the answer to the question, who am I?

When Europeans answered that question they followed that thread back to a garden in a place they called the middle east, which begs the questions: Middle of where?  East of what? And as much as they mistrusted Jews and Muslims, their threads go back to that garden too even if they do understand the story differently. So a single creation story to answer that question. A single place to which to follow those threads.

When the Anishinaabe answer that question we follow our thread back to the woods north and slightly west of Lake Superior. Inuit follow their threads beneath the ice. Hopi threads go deep underground. Multiple threads going to multiple places. Weaving webs.

No situation, concept, or person can ever be fully understood without probing their histories.

~ Sylvia Tamale

I came across this Tamale quote on Twitter, which really is where I come across everything. and it’s true on so many levels. It is what has provoked me to follow these threads and probe history, looking for the stories we were not told. I want to understand how we got here. I want to understand why Canada and the US (and other colonial countries) are the way they are because the things we are upset about now did not emerge out of a vaccuum. They didn’t come from nowhere. And I cannot accept that it is the fault of a few bad actors, a few greedy people. That may be comforting to people who don’t want to be confronted, but it makes no sense.

The comic Sophie Buddle recently took a shot at residential schools. In a bizarre bit, that somebody confronted her about back in 2021 and yet remained in her show, she says that her Catholic friend couldn’t get an abortion so, by way of a loophole (because Catholics love loopholes amirite?) Buddle suggested that her friend carry the child to term, then kill it, and bury the body at an Indian residential school. Who would know? Looooooool.

Yeah. The audience laughed. I’ll grant that it isn’t raucus knee slapping laughter, but it was laughter. There were no boos. And people might try to make excuses for that laughter. Saying that it was polite, awkward laughter and that’s worse. You do see how that’s worse don’t you? Because what you are saying is that people WHO KNOW IT IS WRONG would rather laugh politely than confront something THEY KNOW IS WRONG.

Why. Why are Canada and the US like this? I wanted to know because if you’ll recall it was that kind of laughter that provoked the essay that lead to the book. So I kept pulling those threads, following them back, all the way to creation stories and the resulting Christian belief in itself as a universalizing truth to which all must be conformed. Which of course became the western belief in ITself as a universalizing truth to which all must be conformed. At the end of a gun if necessary.

And that self image of itself as a universalizing truth limits western capacity to probe the histories of others, particularly since those histories may contradict their own self image. Which brings me to this comment by historian Katja Schatte.

The honesty required for actual repentance is irreconcilable with the modern nation state.

~ Katja Schatte

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg quotes Schatte in her book, On Repentance and Repair, and I think it applies to western Christianity as well. I read it in the context of unmarked graves at Indian Residential Schools and the papal apology. In the context of that polite laughter that acknowledges but does not confront. And just as the modern state is incapable, I’m not sure that western Christianity is capable of the kind of honesty required. The kind of probing of history that is required by actual repentance, both their own history as well as the histories of others whose threads go back to different places.  Both are too invested in their own institutions, in their own structures, to be able to make the changes that would stop them from causing harm.

Native American Heritage Month.

It’s nice to have a month. In the US it is in November. In Canada it is in June. Indigenous History month. As I said earlier, we also get Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30 which was chosen to be the beginning of the school year so that it would provide context to the other things they would learn but is more often than not an isolated event. These things are nice gestures. We get recognized and celebrated and then returned to our places. You know that orange shirts are meaningless when cops and child welfare workers wear them, and yet when I saw them hanging up at a campsite last year when we were camping I was oddly moved. And yet every time we get put out there in public like that it feels like another opportunity for that examination, that kind of honest reflection that will really move us forward.

I don’t have any hope that colonial governments will do it. It is entirely against their self interest and they have nothing to gain. But I do hold out hope for churches, mostly because I know that individuals and congregations and even some denominations are willing to to engage in that level of honesty, that willingness to ask themselves where the story begins and then follow the threads where they lead.

Where does the story begin?

confronting the comfortable