My friend Larry and I stood watching as the Arctic sun began its drop behind the seemingly endless ice and snow. It was beautiful. Tikigaq (Port Hope in English) is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the Americas. It is an Inupiat (Inuit) community, organized around its deep faith, constant spirituality and its living relationship to the land and sea.
Larry said, “When the cities of the south slip into the sea, the people of Port Hope will still be here-maybe a little higher up in the hills.” He isn’t Inupiat, but he has lived in Tikigaq most of his life. He knows of the many threats residents faced in recent years, including Operation Chariot’s attempt to build a harbour on Alaska’s north shore using nuclear detonations. For thousands of years, their genius for adaptive survival has kept Tikigaq alive and thriving. It is truly awe-inspiring.
One of the most damaging assumptions that arrived with colonialism was the idea that indigenous cultures would disappear. Perhaps this was because the cultures seemed so backward or Western culture so irresistible. Either way, no one expected indigenous cultures to survive. And for some, this excused assisting in their termination.
Despite the odds, indigenous civilizations have continued to survive and thrive. They have accepted, on their terms, new ways of doing things and new technology; they have not given up their values and spiritual centre. This is not to deny the problems in indigenous communities. It is, however, to acknowledge the grace and judgement of God and the courage and wisdom so powerfully expressed in indigenous people and their miraculous survival.
Today, indigenous Anglicans can say that a spiritual movement, in the gospel, is renewing their lives and promising hope for the future. This should not come as a surprise to the rest of the church. The living Word of God has been in our midst from the beginning, pointing toward the Christ, pointing toward God’s destiny for all of Creation. It can be witnessed in the Seven Traditional Teachings that co-operate with Christian teaching to form a moral basis for personal and community life. It is also seen in the indigenous genius for survival and cultural continuity in the midst of rapid change. There is much for us to be grateful for and much to learn. Ω
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.