Magazines 2021 Jan - Feb Standing in a long line

Standing in a long line

25 January 2021 By Fawnda Bullshields

First person

Oki ("Hello" in Blackfoot). My name is Fawnda Bullshields. I am from the Blood reserve in Southern Alberta. I come from a long line of matriarchs and chiefs that fostered and implemented Indigenous law in my community before colonization. Indigenous law is a lot like Christianity. It is a value system that includes respect for people along with respecting the land and being a good steward of the land. It means not taking more than you need regarding hunting and moving along the land so the land can replenish itself.

How I navigate the world is based on my history and how I am treated in this world as an Indigenous person, which has often been negative. I am Indigenous and I am Christian. That is very complicated in itself. In the eyes of some of my family I am a traitor because of how much residential schools hurt them. I have encountered God on a personal level, and He is real to me and has guided me in my life. It’s not something I can explain so easily to my people, but in how I live my life they can see a difference and some have inquired of my walk with God.

I believe that until reconciliation is accomplished with the government and the churches, there can’t be genuine healing for Indigenous people.

My life has been impacted by colonization and an insidious relationship with the government that continues to infringe on its sovereignty by law, and that has been carried out by force through the military in many instances. That history includes forcing children to attend residential schools, and banning potlaches and pow wows. As part of a policy of assimilation, the federal government banned the potlatch from 1884–1951 in an amendment to the Indian Act. The potlatch ban was part of the government of Canada’s cultural assimilation. If you were found guilty, you could face up to six Standing in a long line months in jail (Indian Act 1876). Currently Canada continues to deny Indigenous sovereignty, so they can’t govern their own communities.

I am the first generation in my family to not attend residential school. Everyone I know before me attended residential schools, including my parents. The impacts of this atrocity are still unfolding. It is not an issue of the past. It occurred for many decades, and the major role played by the Church has fragmented the relationship between Indigenous people and the Church today.

Why were residential schools created? They were established to colonize the Indian, who were considered inferior to the "white race." According to Satzewich and Liodakis (Race and Ethnicity in Canada, Oxford University Press, 2013), there is a white gaze. "The white gaze is a refusal to recognize the reality of racism and a refusal on the part of white people to recognize that they are disproportionate beneficiaries of the way the world is organized." The government contracted churches to save the Indian rather than embrace them as they were. Indigenous people were forced to conform to a foreign culture. This forced colonization had serious negative effects for Indigenous people. But it did not break their resilience.

Who are the colonizers and how do they have power over others? Perry G. Horse wrote, "White privilege is synonymous with dominance in a racially stratified society that is based on oppression" (Native American Identity, John Wiley & Sons, 2005). Any form of oppression, such as racism or sexism, is a relationship between dominant powerful groups and a subordinated or oppressed group. This describes the Indigenous relationship with the government, and how that relationship influenced others in society to engage with Indigenous people in the same manner.

I challenge non-Indigenous people to look at themselves and ask themselves these questions: Have you ever been followed around in a store as if you are going to steal? Do you have access to clean drinking water? Do you feel comfortable talking to the police? Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people would answer these questions differently. That is not okay. How we live our lives as Christians matters. Our life is important to God and so is how others see you. Jesus came for the brokenhearted and the oppressed. It is our Christian duty to make right what has been wronged. This begins with non-Indigenous people recognizing their privilege and their ancestors’ compliance with residential schools, and creating equal relationships with Indigenous people. Because they are not the saviour – God is.

Fawnda Bullshields lives in Vancouver and works for the Squamish Nation in child and family services.