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January 9, 2016
By: Lorna Dueck

With Context looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this weekend, here's another look at Lorna's article as it appeared in the Globe and Mail.

In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, I began to wonder what Christmas was like at Canada’s residential schools. In the original Christmas story, tribal, nomadic, brown-skinned people who annoyed other religious leaders because of their manner of life were the first to hear that God was giving the world a gift:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today, in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11)

So begins the account of baby Jesus, God’s own flesh living among humanity. Within a few centuries, “good news” and “great joy” evolved into terrorizing Christian monarchs armed with papal authority to kill or enslave people who refused to convert.

Then came the 15th-century Doctrine of Discovery, which equipped early Christian explorers in Canada, and later our political rulers, with the legal, philosophic and religious inspiration to overpower indigenous peoples. This week, we saw Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announce their determination to obtain an apology from Pope Francis for the residential schools that were inspired by the Doctrine of Discovery.

“The Doctrine of Discovery states these people are so primitive that the very best thing you can do is pull them from their culture and sever the connection from their culture. You’re doing them the favour of updating their lives and of making them modern; of course, in that very same process you dehumanize them. And it is that dehumanization that is at the heart of the evil which we see in the residential schools, and not just in the schools but in the way the indigenous peoples have been treated in terms of their land,” National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said in a recent interview for Context TV (the program for which I am host).

“For Christians, this is particularly pernicious,” he said. “We believe in the word made flesh; the idea that Jesus becomes living and real in a people, a culture, a language, their value, their systems. In essence, the Doctrine of Discovery denies the doctrine of creation, the idea that God planted the living word in each and every human heart, and each and every thing that is in creation.”

There are now many self-determining indigenous churches, the bishop noted: “We are trying to have the word of God living and real in our culture and communities.” There is a Canadian-led North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, which is helping to expose the flawed world view underlying the Doctrine of Discovery.

And there is one way to see what Christmas was like at a residential school, thanks to a half-hour 1962 documentary (The Eyes of Children) available online from the CBC archives. It opens with native children singing, though it is missing the famous 1643 Huron Carol (Jesus Ahatonnia):

“’Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled,

That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;

Before their light the stars grew dim,

And wond’ring hunters heard the hymn:

Jesus, your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”

This article was originally published on the Globe and Mail here

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