by David Driedger
I confess that increasingly I can only understand the Gospel story, to the extent that I can understand it all, as the story of the Indigenous people that surround me. My ability to hear, let alone speak, good news is entangled in the church’s past ‘mission’ and present impact on Indigenous communities in Canada. For this reason I believe that moving into the future with any integrity means naming a commitment to ongoing relations with our Indigenous neighbours, traditional and Christian.
Inasmuch as this commitment is to the ongoing work of confession and repentance for past abuses it also means attentiveness and willingness to hear the good news as it emerges from their present actions. What follows is a testimony offered for the Future Direction of Mennonite Church Canada (both the interim council and the congregations invested in our future) in the belief that the blessing of our denomination is tied to the blessings present and possible for the Indigenous people with whom we share this land.
This commitment to hearing the good news of the Indigenous of Turtle Island has culminated in the resistance at Standing Rock particularly as the Advent season begins. The elders and water protectors at Standing Rock have declared a spiritual act of resistance in protection of the land and the waters. The events surrounding these acts have an uncanny resonance with Advent.
Advent begins with apocalyptic imagery. We listen to the prophets with images of longing that offer resistance to the overwhelming powers of the present. This longing is transformed into hope of something that can break through these seemingly unstoppable powers.
Oh come, oh come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25
Within those visions the nations and wealth of the world will stream to God’s holy mountain in which the people will gather that they might learn war no more.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2:2-4
And the nations have come to Standing Rock, the nations of the world represented by various tribes, religions, cultures, and causes (with military veterans being the latest to join putting down their guns with a commitment to ‘fight’ in the nonviolent ways led by the water protectors). The prophets say that the wealth of nations will flow to this mountain in that time as well, and it has with millions in monetary support as well as gifts of various sorts coming in; these gifts offered in honour of this vision for peace (Isaiah 66:12).
Advent is marked by signs. At Bethlehem they followed a star and to Standing Rock they have followed a river and the Black Snake (from the Sacred Stone website: When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake [zuzeca sape] crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation). This is an important reminder that in the Ancient Near East the stars were political symbols, and a shift or sign in the heavens reflected a shift in the powers of the earth. And so at Standing Rock the political, the natural, and the spiritual have converged in signs and wonders.
Around the world we watched as a buffalo herd came to show strength and support to the water protectors. We watched as the US empire doubled down in its power electing Donald Trump who heralded the ‘good old days’ of law and order (for white people). As Adrian Jacobs tweeted,
The eagle spoke concerning Trump.
The sparrow spoke concerning Bernie.
The buffalo spoke concerning #NoDAPL.
The colonizers did not listen.
The signs were given.
And then we heard news of the birth of a child.
We heard good news. A woman with child came to the camp to be counted among her people. There was no room for her but she came to make room, to make a supportive space for other women there. She gave birth alone to which she later testified that the spirits of her ancestors surrounding her; this cloud of women calling her blessed. And she has named her child Mni Winconi, Water is Life.
I do not claim anything profound or original in these observations only to say that if ever I have felt the weight and presence of signs and wonders it is now. If ever I have got a sense of what it means to have the privilege of overhearing the Gospel, even at a distance, it is now. It is hopeful, deeply hopeful. With word of the pipeline now halted and under review we should hear resounding in our ears the words of Mary’s song,
Creator has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
But as much as it is hopeful it is frightful because the Gospel is clear about the how the powers of this world will respond. As Adrian Jacobs reminded me, there are many ‘Rachels’ who will no doubt continue to weep (Jer 31:15 // Matt 2:18) in the events to come perhaps at Standing Rock or in other Indigenous communities.
It is with the testimony at Standing Rock, the witnesses of Idle No More and the countless communities of resistance and resurgence (I think of Meet me at the Bell Tower and Bear Clan Patrol here in Winnipeg) that the Mennonite Church needs to continue to attend to; to pray for ears to hear and eyes to see. The work of Mennonite Church Canada will no doubt be more than our work of Indigenous Relations, but somehow I simply cannot imagine that it will be less; I believe that our faithfulness to the Gospel depends on it.
David Driedger is Associate Minister of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, MB. His web presence can be found at https://davidcldriedger.wordpress.com/.