As a person of First Nations ancestry I cannot help but wonder if the failure of Caucasian Americans and Canadians to reveal and teach about the horrors their ancestors carried out against North American First Nations Peoples during and after colonial times is a deliberate cover-up or an indication that they hold within their minds a notion that the life of a First Nations person is valueless – not worthy of human considerations. The latter is probably the more plausible, because it is an unchallengeable fact that the crimes against humanity that were committed against our Peoples over the centuries by people of European descent are not viewed with the same abhorrence by Caucasians that such crimes against other races of people are viewed. If such were the case there would be unconditional condemnation of it, and the knowledge would be readily available and taught in schools.
- Daniel N. Paul, We Were Not the Savages: Collision between European and Native American Civilizations (2006)
(These sobering words are a reminder of the changes that we are needing and wanting to make in terms of education. They come from a well-documented history of the treatment of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples in the Maritimes by European colonizers. This work, along with many others, is part of our library’s new Indigenous Studies Collection, which was in turn part of our Education for Reconciliation project made possible by a grant from Stronger Together.)
Communities, in the sense in which we are using the term, have a history – in an important sense they are constituted by their past – and for this reason we can speak of a real community as a “community of memory,” one that does not forget its past. In order not to forget that past, a community is involved in retelling its story, its constitutive narrative, and in so doing, it offers examples of the men and women who have embodied and exemplified the meaning of the community. These stories of collective history and exemplary individuals are an important part of the tradition that is so central to a community of memory.
The stories that make up a tradition contain conceptions of character, of what a good person is like, and of the virtues that define such character. But the stories are not all exemplary, not all about successes and achievements. A genuine community of memory will also tell painful stories of shared suffering that sometimes creates deeper identities than success…. And if the community is completely honest, it will remember stories not only of suffering received but of suffering inflicted – dangerous memories, for they call the community to alter ancient evils. The communities of memory that tie us to the past also turn us toward the future as communities of hope. They carry a context of meaning that can allow us to connect our aspirations for ourselves and those closest to us with the aspirations of a larger whole and see our own efforts as being, in part, contributions to a common good.
- Robert Bellah et al. from Habits of the Heart (1985)
I came across this passage in Communities class and was struck by the way last year’s Field Notes project fit this description. (And there are still a few copies left of the collector’s edition left! If you’re interested, contact Rosie at [email protected])
So I asked my mentor, “What do you mean white people don’t believe the Bible?”
He said, “Well, you don’t know those stories. You always have to check the book. They don’t live in your gut. I am Gix’an.* Stories that are important to me and to my people, we know them in our gut. We can take them with us anywhere. They inform the way we live. After you read one of your stories, you close the book and leave it on a shelf. The stories don’t touch your life at all.”
I began to slowly learn how we could let the stories of the Bible decolonize our community.
– Jodi Spargur, from “Decolonizing the Gospel” in Geez
*The Gix’an (or Gitxsan) people are an Indigenous people that live in the interior of BC.
Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.
– Pope Francis, Laudate Si
[Our community has been touched by death twice in recent days – once at the loss of David Stewart, who contributed so much to memories at SSU, and even more recently at the loss of Debbie MacDonald’s daughter, Tammy, after a long and brave journey with cancer. These losses made me appreciate this passage from a novel by Wendell Berry:]
Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life is almost entirely memory and very little time. Toward the end of my life at Squire’s Landing I began to understand that whenever death happened, it happened to me. That is knowledge that takes a long time to wear in. Finally it wears in. Finally I realized and fully accepted that one day I would belong entirely to memory, and it would not be my memory that I belonged to….
Some days, sitting here on my porch over the river, my memory seems to enclose me entirely; I wander back in my reckoning among all of my own that have lived and died until I no longer remember where I am. And then I lift my head and look about me at the river and the valley, the great, unearned beauty of this place, and I feel the memoryless joy of a man risen from the grave.
– Wendell Berry, from Jayber Crow