The issues around the proposed rebuilding of the colonial church on the Nakoda lands show how the truth of Oscar Wilde’s observation: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” can apply to populations as well as individuals.
It certainly applies to John John Reilly, who as a judge for decades dealt harsh conqueror’s justice to the Stoneys until his long overdue epiphany.
He has much to expiate, but since then in three books and continued advocacy he has shown responsible courage, and may yet die a champion. His letter of March 12 rings true.
It also fits all our friends and kin who are unanimous in their condemnation of confederate flags and statues in the faraway south, but have different thoughts about closer issues. They shake their heads and wonder why the Nakoda just can’t get over a century that broke so many of them and hurts and limits them still.
But how can we expect them to get past what we can’t even get to?
Most of the reporting about this and other matters relating to First Nations issues includes somewhere the statement that repeated efforts to meet with them are ignored. This can be seen as a dog whistle, a nudge-nudge, wink-wink that we know they can’t even get their act together so what’s the use. I bet it’s closer to frustration at so many past meetings, a case of a hundred times bitten – a hundred and one times shy.
My happy knowledge of the Stoneys is of a patient, capable, dignified and hopeful people. That there are several among them who welcome the rebuilding of the church shows us that people can seek the good in anything.
My only advice to them is to weigh and then follow their own great wisdom, and of course to recognize that the dominant culture will always act in its own best interests.
There might be more sense to rebuild the replica of the church at some other location such as Heritage Park in Calgary. If it is rebuilt on the Nakoda lands I predict there will be another fire in the night; whether it is seen as an act of villainy, or one of courage, depends largely on our ability to face and understand the darker truths of our common past.