“I’m no longer ashamed of who I am. I’m a strong Anishnabe woman and I’m a minister of the Christian faith.”
The Rev. Margaret Mullin said it had taken her many years to say these words and to arrive at the understanding that native spiritual tradition is not in conflict with Christianity.
Mullin, who is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and is of Ojibway and Irish/Scottish origins, spoke about the journey that led her to embrace both native spirituality and Christianity in a forum, Native Traditional Spiritualities in Conversation with Christianity.
Other panellists included National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, Sister Eva Solomon of the (Catholic) Sisters of St. Joseph, and Kona Cochrane, an aboriginal Anglican from the diocese of Rupert’s Land.
The forum was part of an event sponsored by the Anglican, Roman Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches at the second day of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada national event here.
Mullin talked about the “difficult journey” that she has had to travel as a woman of mixed ancestry in Canada. “I wasn’t accepted by either world. I wasn’t accepted in the Presbyterian-Scottish world and I was not accepted in the Anishnabe world. I was very conflicted,” she told a crowd of about 40 that had gathered at the Inter-Faith Tent.
Her mother, an Ojibway, had been orphaned at three and taken by Ontario Child Services to an orphanage in Thunder Bay, Ont., where was raised “as if she was European,” said Mullin. While she was there, her Ojibway uncle and aunt often visited, but they were not allowed to say who they were. Mullin said her mother-who had been raised in seven foster homes-didn’t realize who her family was until many decades later, when the same uncle found her again. “My mother’s uncle gifted me with his eagle feather and his amulet,” said Mullin, showing the gifts she had received. He also gave Mullin her name in the Spirit World: Thundering Eagle Woman.
Mullin said it took her awhile to realize what her mother’s uncle had truly given her-a door to native spirituality. Ten years ago, with the help of an aboriginal elder, she was able to learn about her native roots and how she could incorporate it into her Christian faith. It hasn’t been easy, she said. There are Christians who tell her, “I don’t quite get it.” And some natives who say, ‘I can’t be fully traditional if I insist on practicing my Christian faith.” And so, she said, “I walk that fine line. I have to remember that I’m accepted by the Creator.”
With the Indian Residential Schools experience, Mullin said being native and being European has enabled her to say, “My people hurt my people.” In a voice that was tinged with emotion, Mullin said that on behalf of her faith, “there’s deep regret” for what happened at the schools. And on behalf of aboriginal people, that they are prepared to accept an apology “with those who want to listen to us as we heal,” and that they are asking for “patience in dealing with our anger, our deep wounds…”
She said that it is important for both sides to “listen, learn and speak face-to face… to walk together in faith.” After all, she said, “We are the same people, living under the same sun, created by the same God.”
Bishop MacDonald spoke about how both the Gospel and native teachings have helped him, his wife and his children to survive.
He spoke about how Christianity hadn’t been an easy road to choose. The church as an institution “wasn’t thought of highly” by his family and so when he became a priest, his family was ashamed of him, said Bishop MacDonald. “I was expecting them to be proud,” he said. Instead he was seen as “the black sheep.”
But while Christianity “saved me as a teen,” Bishop MacDonald said the traditional teachings of elders in Navajo, where he spent many years as a priest, taught him and his wife “what it meant to be a man, a woman, and parents.” The elders who took them in “taught us how to be family in a holistic way.”
Sr. Solomon, an Anishinabe from the Ojibway First Nations of Northern Ontario, talked about how the residential schools experience cannot be isolated from colonialism.
“One of the most pervasive forms of violence is colonialism…It destroys our psyche, spirit, mind and body. It’s the root we really have to work at,” she said. “What colonialism did was to impose a different identity on us.”
The European colonizers that came to Canada “made us believe that our political spiritual system wasn’t good enough,” said Sr. Solomon. “Our own original sin is that we personalized that and we felt we weren’t good enough.”
The “sin” of the churches that operated the schools was to be a part of colonization, to think that what they offered us was superior to what God had already given us,” she added.
To this day, the government “still uses the language of colonization” when it refers to the fight of aboriginal people to keep their territories as “land claims,” she said.
Since colonization lasted over 200 years and its effects are still being felt today, “reconciliation is also going to take a long time,” said Sr. Solomon. “In fact, it’s a life process for us.”
In the journey to healing and reconciliation “we need to look at the life of Jesus” and move “from a life of suffering…and even death,” toward one a “resurrection experience,” she said.
Cochrane spoke about “the great benefit” of walking both native spiritual traditions and Christianity. “I don’t judge anyone,” she said, noting that when she went through a rough patch, both have “picked me up, dusted me up, and said, ‘you’re okay.'”