What do they want now?’

Published January 1, 2010

OFTEN, AS I travel across Canada, I hear Anglo-Canadians (even Anglicans!) speak of indigenous peoples with great impatience (and barely hidden hostility), “What do they want now?” Much is implied in the question; a frustrating web of misunderstanding and misperception, creating a cultural gap that is astonishing in its tenacity and deadliness. Yet, the answer to the question is sure to surprise, maybe even bring joy.

What I hear most often from indigenous peoples are phrases like, We want spiritual food, a life of the spirit that will lead us to a better way. I want to hear the Gospel in all its fullness. Everywhere, the answer appears in clear and simple expressions, though voiced in different languages, words, and idioms. What is desired is the Word of God made flesh, pitching its tent, becoming living and real in home, family, and community. The priority here is the spiritual substance that allows for a meaningful life. So, the pearl of great price, the answer to the question, is, um, The Pearl of Great Price.

Wasn’t the spiritual message always here? Absolutely, it was the sustaining factor for indigenous peoples over these past few dismal centuries. But, related to the Western institutions that have over-imposed their way of life as a pre-condition for hearing the good news, the living Word of God has taken a back seat to cultural norms. The gospel that reveals the Word of God, already present in every moment of life, is blunted by what appears to have been the working assumption of the preachers of Christendom: the living Word of God, the truth and morality that sustains life everywhere and became flesh in Jesus, was absent from this land until the preachers arrived.

The Word of God is meant to be given and received in mutual freedom and dignity. Yes, it can be heard despite the human acts that contradict it. Such is the power of God. Nevertheless, our common history demonstrates the deadly chaos that comes when power and prejudice try to steer the gospel’s outcome. Paul said that we do not proclaim ourselves, but Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 4:5). The secret here is that, unless you accept the full humanity of those you preach to, you have very little to preach but yourselves.

Bishop Mark MacDonald is the first national indigenous Anglican bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada.Thoughts on this article? Add your comments here.


  • Mark MacDonald

    Mark MacDonald was national Indigenous Anglican bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019, and national Indigenous Anglican archbishop from 2019 to 2022.

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