Native/settler learning together

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinichs, is a challenging read that makes an important contribution to building native-settler dialogue, says reviewer Laurel Dykstra. (Herald Press, 2013 (360 pages) ISBN: 978-0836196894
Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinichs, is a challenging read that makes an important contribution to building native-settler dialogue, says reviewer Laurel Dykstra. (Herald Press, 2013 (360 pages) ISBN: 978-0836196894
By on October 2, 2013

This book review first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal.

Early European accounts of North American rivers describe salmon runs so numerous and loud that they kept those nearby awake at night.

This summer, I visited fish camps on the Fraser, where men and women use gill nets, drift nets and dip nets-technologies thousands of years old-to harvest the keystone species and core traditional food of this region. Recently, fishing there was banned to preserve the dwindling stock. At the time of writing, the B.C. diocese will participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian residential schools. In this context I am reading a troubling anthology.

The cover of Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry shows a buffalo carrying in her body the bones of the salmon. Carrier-Sekani artist Jonathan Erickson asks, “Will the salmon nation go the way of the buffalo?”

Begun as a Mennonite adult-ed curriculum on indigenous understandings of creation, the project became something much bolder as editor Steve Heinrichs responded to the challenge of a Mi’kmaq elder for “two-eyed seeing, Indigenous and Western knowledge teaching together.”

Forty contributors-half indigenous and half settlers-talk about origin stories, indigenous settler-relations and land. The contributor list of those invested in Christian-indigenous conversation in North America includes: Osage academic Tink Tinker; singer songwriter Cheryl Bear-Barnetson; grassroots biblical scholar Ched Myers; playwright Thompson Highway; poet Rose Berger; and author and theologian Brian McLaren.

In each chapter a contributor offers a central essay, article or reflection, and another provides an opening and response, often in the form of poetry, prayer or song. Unlike many Christian-initiated projects, indigenous contributions are not window dressing, and poetic, ceremonial and prayer contributions come from both settler and indigenous contributors.

The book retains its strong focus on origin stories-how our answers to the question “where do we come from?” particularly shape how we interact with people, land and creatures. It is an important book, but it is not an easy book to read, either in style or content.

“The vast majority of good Christians, who want to separate themselves out from those bad Christians of the past and present, want to remain beneficiaries of the colonial occupation, never challenging their participation in the institutions that are foundational to that privilege.”-Waziyatawin

“Yes, stealing the children was about stealing the land.”-Frances Kaye

If you are disturbed by thinking of the Bible as a resource for subversive action, Christianity as inextricably tied to conquest, evangelicals advocating for indigenous land rights…if you are bothered by atheists, white guilt, father language for God, or suggestion that settlers have a profound and spiritual connection to land…if you find it hard to read footnoted academic writing, plain talk about prison, comics, poetry, untranslated indigenous words-then this book will challenge you. But the gift is this: the very thing that makes it difficult for you is what lets some other conversation partners know there is a place for them.

So I urge you to read this book; read it in groups; read it with people who think and look and believe differently from you.

On page 76, Mennonite professor Neil Funk-Unrau poses the question: “Is authentic dialogue and reconciliation even possible across this Indigenous-settler divide?” The book itself is a solid and dangerous yes to the first part of the question. As to reconciliation, what we diverse conversation partners do-particularly with respect to practical questions of economics and land, holds the answer. The salmon depend on it.

Laurel Dykstra is assistant curate at St. Catherine’s Anglican Church in North Vancouver, diocese of New Westminster.

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