Black History Month & Remembering Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women

Dawn Humphreys, Feb 4, 2022, 5:36 PM
Dawn Humphreys National Catalyst of Vineyard Engage
Responding to Graves at William's Lake
Remembering the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls
Engaging with Black History Month in Canada
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
(April 16, 1963: letter from Birmingham Jail)
"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33 - Jesus teaching at his sermon on the mount)

What does it mean for followers of Jesus to seek both God's rule and reign in our lives (and the world around us) and to seek God's justice and righteousness everywhere?

It means that our primary concern is to be focused on seeking God's Kingdom way defined by justice and righteousness.

The Greek word that is often translated as 'righteousness', is like a compound German word meaning justice and righteousness. And God's Kingdom rule and reign are made manifest because justice and righteousness, which are the very essence and character of God, are expressed in what God cares about.

Psalm 99 verse 4-5 reminds us: The King is mighty, he loves justice—  you have established equity; in Jacob, you have done what is just and right. 5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

The prophet Isaiah speaking about the Messiah who would ultimately be realised in Jesus, describes almost 3000 years ago what fundamentally concerns God (chapter 11):

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

As we enter February 2022 we are once again confronted with the stark reality of the historical injustices and pain of the Indigenous people of Canada. We are invited, once again, to be engaged in what God cares about: 'Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'...

The discovery of more unmarked graves in Canada

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(Indigenous boys at St. Joseph's Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. in a photo from 1943)

On January 25, Williams Lake First Nations announced the discovery of potentially 93 bodies in unmarked graves at the site of St Joseph's Mission Residential School.  The Williams Lake First Nation spent 9 months investigating and, using ground-penetrating radar, discovered the 93 possible burial sites that will be confirmed by excavation. Their investigation, which included deep archival research and extensive interviews with survivors and descendants, as well as poring over historical documents, uncovered harrowing stories of untold cruelty, violence and abuse.

To read and hear the news of what has been discovered so far, click on this link.

How might we choose to respond?

Whatever the exact number of bodies that end up being discovered, we must not turn away from these terrible true stories of injustice.

Our first response is always to pray, responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit, to do what is asked of us...'Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'...

As we pray, we will most likely find ourselves in places of lament and sorrow for and with the Indigenous people of Canada and we must invite our congregations to do the same. For there to be any movement towards reconciliation, our hearts must be moved by the Holy Spirit, through prayer, towards love in action.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are prayers and liturgies that are available - see our previous Vineyard Engage post for prayers and liturgy ideas here.

Secondly, keep reaching out to Indigenous people we know and acknowledging what has happened. We cannot stress how important this is or how much it matters that Indigenous people do not carry the weight of this alone. Let them know you are thinking about them and praying for them. Find out if there is anything that you can do to stand in solidarity with them.

Remembering Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada
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February 14 has traditionally been celebrated as Valentine' s Day, synonymous with the commercialisation of romance. However, the earliest roots of Valentine's Day (or Valentinus) go back to the early Christian era, named after one or more martyrs stood against injustice that oppressed others.

Today, February 14 has been the day marked to remember the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Vancouver for the past 30 years with a march. More broadly this day acknowledges the fact that Indigenous women continue to be disproportionately represented among missing and murdered women, with "minimal to no action" to address the systemic nature of gendered violence.

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The Canadian Government report remarks that 'In Canada, the rate of violent victimization of Indigenous people is more than double that of non-Indigenous people, and the numbers are particularly concerning when it comes to Indigenous women and girls. The causes are many and rooted in the legacy of colonial policies and the intergenerational effects of residential schools.'

How might we choose to respond?

Wouldn't it be appropriate to reclaim Valentine's Day as a day for 'agape*' love and justice?

*Agape love is not a feeling; it is a motivation to action. It is a preferential love, a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers inconvenience and discomfort for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2).

As we reclaim Valentines Day towards an 'agape' type day recognising and remembering the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, we are enacting the invitation to 'Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'...

For further resources and ideas for how to pray as a congregation, check out the excellent work done by the Indigenous Ministry Committee of the Christian Reformed Church of Canada here.

February 2022 is Black History Month
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(historical Black Canadians we should know:

The theme for 2022 is "February and Forever- Celebrating Black History Today and Everyday". It is a call to action for us all to build on the legacy of those who came before us, and to recognize the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now.

Since the 1970s, Canada has designated February as Black History Month. In December 1995, the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion to officially recognize February as Black History Month in Canada. The motion was moved by the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament. It is during this month that we take to the time to recognize the significant contributions that Black Canadians have made to our society.

How might we choose to respond?

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
- Nelson Mandela

Black History month provides all Canadians with the opportunity to learn or be reminded about the many contributions that Black Canadians and their communities have made to this country. It also gives us an opportunity to become aware of the need to denounce and dismantle any anti-Black racism across our communities as a moral and legal obligation, to ensure that our workplaces are free of discrimination and harassment. This is how we continue to 'Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness'...

Watch a documentary with others in your church and discuss what you learned and how you might respond as a small group or congregation.  An excellent resource the University of British Columbia put together can be found here.

Find ways to pray with others, listening to the Holy Spirit for ways to respond.