An Update: Truth & Reconciliation from a white settler’s point of view

Greg Powell is a straight, white settler presently living on the traditional territory of several First Nations in the Kootenays. Greg’s ministry at Castlegar United Church is in its fourth year, and he’s also one of the directors of a pilot project called the Castlegar Centre for Contemplation and Justice. A household with two little ones limits his meditation practice, but the occasional mountain bike ride or day of back country skiing more than make up for it.

The trouble with the phrase “truth and reconciliation” is the short distance between the “truth” part and the “reconciliation” part. It implies that as soon as the truth is known, then work of reconciliation begins. The dominant culture hears an urgency to it, one that insists on Indigenous folks joining in before they miss their chance. Even in the church – where a snail’s pace is normally plenty fast enough, thank you very much – there’s a rush to “move on”, as if the work of reconciliation has to conclude this quarter. 

Based on the reaction from some Indigenous folks that I’ve seen and read, I’ve been wondering this: What if the church – and other institutions – are missing the step of decolonizing? First truth, then decolonizing, then reconciliation, I wonder. And it might take a few generations.

Decolonization in the North American context eventually has to focus on land. But, in the meantime, it also refers to “the restoration of cultural practices, thinking, beliefs, and values that were taken away or abandoned (during the colonization process) but are relevant and/or necessary for survival and well-being.” (Yellow Bird 2008) I wonder if contemplative practices like pilgrimage, retreat, labyrinth-walking, or meditation aren’t perfectly suited for this task of decolonization. Frankly I should be asking this question of Indigenous folks themselves.

Clyde Grubbs, an Indigenous person and a Unitarian Universalist minister in the US, writes, “the indigenous understanding is that the Creator has provided “enough” for all good and loving activities, yet the Creator has given us the responsibility to both sustain the Creation and to realize its abundance. This vision challenges the domination culture’s vision of scarcity with a vision of abundance.” A mindset of scarcity is a colonized mindset. To decolonize the church is to actively resist the mentality of scarcity and urgency. 

Transforming from an ethos of scarcity to an ethos of sufficiency – or even abundance – requires discipline and practice. It requires intention, especially at budget time. It requires appreciating the incredible resources – like love, curiosity, willingness to say “yes” to new ideas – that already exist. 

Transforming to an ethos of sufficiency or abundance also requires restructuring the brain. We humans evolved to identify and remember threats way more easily than opportunities. (We’ll remember where we encountered the bear long before we remember where we found that wild blueberry patch.) The quickly growing evidence suggests the best way to restructure the brain is through contemplative practices like labyrinth-walking, meditation, yoga, pilgrimage, mountain biking, and some forms of activism (though not all!).

Want reconciliation? First decolonize. How do we decolonize? Maybe through contemplative practices with an intention to transform our mindset from one of scarcity to one of sufficiency or abundance. 

Resisting the urgency and scarcity imposed by the dominant culture requires actively resisting it. The contemplative practices – when undertaken with a specific intention – can do precisely that: meditation can actively resist the imposed urgency; a pilgrimage can function as a “no” to the colonized mindset and a “yes” to restoring the value of sufficiency that existed before contact with colonizing powers.

Settlers, maybe especially settlers in the church, are in such a rush to be forgiven that the dominant culture is perpetuating the harms of colonization. It doesn’t look like a residential school, but this urgency continues to destroy cultures and lives. 

Slow down. Take a breath. Notice as it travels to each cell in your body, offering nourishment. Breathe. 

Breathe deeply. Breathe with deep intention to peacefully resist the scarcity and urgency that has colonized even our bodies. This is one small piece of the work of decolonization.

Authors note: I’ve updated this blog post after receiving some feedback about the use of my voice as a settler. I’m interested in more conversation so please feel free to comment below. The original post can be viewed here.