(This article was first published in the December issue of the Anglican Journal.)
The Rev. Titus Peter, a Gwich’in elder and priest, once told me that he couldn’t speak against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though he was often asked. “It makes me so angry,” he said. “It makes me want to drink.” After decades of sobriety and introducing countless others to sobriety, this was quite an admission. He explained that the inability of others to comprehend the threat that development poses to his people, the obvious dehumanizing attitudes hidden in the hearts of those who appear to be friendly to the Gwich’in, was so painful and troubled him so deeply that he felt overwhelmed with despair.
Don’t worry about me drinking, but I do have some sympathy for that response, especially when I consider the over 600 missing and murdered indigenous women—women who died because of their vulnerability to violence, women whose deaths seem neither to be mourned nor even noticed by the government of Canada and the majority of the Canadian public. There are close to one and a half million indigenous people in Canada, slightly more than the population of Ottawa. Imagine if 600 women from Ottawa were to disappear in a similar fashion. Would the government—or anyone—tolerate their disappearance? Wouldn’t we work urgently and tirelessly until every woman was accounted for, until all women were safe?
Jesus and Mary, in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, are presented as both vulnerable and marginalized. The rage of Herod that threatened the holy family and led to the death of the innocents is an oft-repeated example of senseless, cruel violence toward the vulnerable, of power that has no respect for God and no compassion for humanity. It finds a prophetic echo in Revelations 12: when the evil dragon—the personification of the evil that can abide in the various systems of human life—is thrown down to earth by Michael and his angels, it declares war: not on armies, not on heads of state, but on a woman and a child. We are, sadly, witnesses of such hideous evil—certainly, in the growing worldwide poverty, which so disproportionately impacts women and children, but just as really and dramatically in the indigenous women whose tragic lives have been denied justice.