The Land Where Your Dead Are Buried
Posted September 30, 2021
September 30th is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The following is a reflection from Josh Dueck, SBC’s Indigenous Student Advisor.
I remember the first time meeting the post-secondary student advisor from my home reserve of Fisher River Cree Nation, I had never met anyone from here before and I was nervous. I was nervous because for basically my whole life I have struggled with knowing how to identify. I was also nervous because I have never lived on reserve, and I struggled with knowing whether I would be accepted as one of their own or seen as an economic burden.
Those that know me well, know that I am not very touchy and certainly someone who avoids hugs at all costs. Though it feels like I have cried this whole week (Truth and Reconciliation Week), probably most people would think I have no emotions either. However, when I met my advisor, she embraced me, and I remember just wanting to hold that hug and to wanting to weep. My fears of being accepted were definitively abandoned. After regaining my composure, she said some of the most profound words I had ever heard. She said, “Josh, you are from Fisher River Cree Nation. You are welcome home anytime, it is the land where your dead are buried.”
I have replayed that line in my head hundreds of times, and I have come to a fuller understanding of the value of the land for Indigenous people. The significance of land is not just resources, but it is significant because it also holds the memories and stories of those who have passed on. This phrase became even more profound as news of unmarked graves began to emerge this year from the sites of former Indian Residential Schools.
Regardless of the causes of death, whether it was disease or mistreatment it is absolutely horrific in every way. In the time since the first discovery at Kamloops Indian Residential School I have heard people, even people I once respected defend the oppressive colonial system saying that it was probably just disease that killed those children. Implying that it was okay for the children to be taken and it was okay for them to die away from their families and that it was okay that their bodies were not returned to their families and to their land.
As I reflect, I am reminded of Joseph’s story. Betrayed by his family, sold as a slave, taken to a foreign land, falsely accused, and thrown into prison. Even after rising to power, he still longed to be in the land promised to his ancestors. Confident that God would honor his word, his final instructions were that on the day God would fulfill his oath to his ancestors that his bones were to be taken out of the land of Egypt and brought to the land promised to them (Genesis 50:24-26). Over 400 years later, the time when Israel received the land promised, Joseph’s bones were laid to rest on the plot of land that his father had purchased centuries earlier (Joshua 24:29-33).
As I reflect this week on the atrocities committed against Indigenous people of Canada, I lament greatly remembering that many thousands of innocent children died while attending Indian Residential School away from their families and communities. I lament greatly in knowing that the land where many of our dead are buried are on the grounds of the schools and not in the communities of our people.
As the community of Steinbach Bible College takes today to be intentional about acknowledging the ugly and shameful truth of what our country and of what those who vainly took the name of Christ have committed, we lament. We lament that it has taken so long for our country to acknowledge what they have done. We lament that it has taken so long for churches to acknowledge what they have done. We lament that so many stories and lives have been forgotten. We lament that the damage caused continues to harm intergenerationally. We lament that the systemic racism that prompted the oppressive policies continues to be perpetuated throughout the country.
Yet we are convinced that the one who opposed the oppressors and the one who loved the oppressed, the one who loved children and the one who walked with the marginalized, the one who calls himself the truth and the one who has by the shedding on his blood reconciled people to God has not forgotten. One day, true justice will prevail that is not bound by time. Until that day brothers and sisters, let us live lives that honor truth and let us be reconcilers. Let us live in such a way that the world will never mistake us for the wolves who clothed themselves as sheep. Let us live in a way that values people. Let us live in the imitation of Christ who demonstrated his love by the laying down of his rights and even his life. Today, a day dedicated to Truth and Reconciliation, let us commit ourselves to learning the true story. Let us be committed to being shaped in a way that honors both those who were lost and those who survived Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.
Josh Dueck is the Community Life Director and Indigenous Student Advisor at Steinbach Bible College.