On This Land (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 12 February 2017

on this land

Justice is a powerful, fundamental concept in our lives. But justice is also a wounded word. It’s a word that anyone can claim and distort to fit their own agenda. For the Europeans who arrived on this land hundreds of years ago, justice was claiming something that was not theirs. Consider the Hudson Bay Company selling 3.9 million square kilometers to the government of Canada in 1869. As Thomas King writes, “The problem was that the Hudson’s Bay Company didn’t own the land they sold to the Canadian government, any more that the French owned the land they sold to the Americans. They didn’t even control it. The purchases were no more than paper promises and wishful thinking.”

Yet here we are, nearly 175 years later, living in a world where everything is split up into property claims, where we make money by claiming and selling land. This land of justice is a land built on injustice.

Last week I reclaimed the word “Snowflake” — a word that has been used as an insult against progressives who affirm the inherent worth, dignity and uniqueness of every person. I told you that I am proud to be a Snowflake. You could also call me a “Bleeding Heart liberal.” That’s liberal with a small “L”.  Of course, that’s an old term. These days, the alt-Right has come up with another term to go along with Snowflake: SJW. Social Justice Warrior — as if that were a bad thing! My heart does bleed for all the injustices I see, and I do find myself struggling to figure out where, when and what battles I need to fight.

Last year, we spent the month of February talking about reconciliation, specifically focused on what we need to do to respond to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We agreed that we were called to do more than simply say, “We’re sorry.” Those words are too easy. We agreed that we need to do more to build bridges with Indigenous communities here in Quebec. We see the injustices and we know we need to do more. These days I’m thinking of a dear Indigenous friend. In the past year, he has lived through the suicides of a long list of friends from the territories in Manitoba where he grew up. To see one community so devastated makes my heart bleed with unbearable pain, just as it bleeds for the missing and murdered Indigenous women who have gone forgotten for far too long. There is so much we need to do. 

Then this past year, our hearts swelled with care for the refugees pouring out of Syria. We stepped forward and we made a bold and just decision to sponsor two families, an experience that has been an incredible labour of love, supported by the work of so many. We said, “Come to this land, and we will help you get started. We will help you to call this place home.”

When Quebec suspended the private refugee sponsorship program for this next year, my heart bled knowing how much shelter is needed for so many people, and what a huge difference our welcome can make. That became even more accentuated with the immigration ban that the new US government is still trying to pass. Just the other day, a refugee family with an infant walked across the US/Quebec border, through the woods and snow, in -15 C degree weather, to seek asylum here. I am so sad that if we wanted to sponsor more families from anywhere in the world, we would have to wait another year before we can even submit new applications. I want to right all these injustices. 

And let me throw into the mix that this month is Black History Month, here in Canada as well as the US. There is so much racial injustice that we have yet to face, and I know that I haven’t begun to do enough.

My faith calls me to stand on the side of love, no matter what. That’s the thing about justice. Without love, justice can be cruel. Without love, justice can be hollow. If our hearts bleed because of all the injustices we see in the world, and in our history, that is love calling us back to action.

We find ourselves living with limited resources of time, energy and money. We get overwhelmed by all the negative news that overpowers us and exhausts us. That’s why I’m standing here asking you to let your hearts bleed, to find generosity within yourself to do what you can do, to find love that leads to justice. I remember someone lamenting to me that we have shifted our focus to refugees and immigrants and we have forgotten the Indigenous peoples of our land. I remember hearing an Indigenous comedian joke that the plight of refugees is no big deal to Indigenous people. “What do you think we’ve been living through for hundreds of years? Welcome to our reality,” he said. 

But last week, someone shared this post from a group that had gathered at the Los Angeles airport to protest the US immigration ban. Included with the post was a photo of two young people holding large cardboard signs with words written in red block letters: “No Ban on Stolen Land” and “Refugees Welcome on Native Land”. Here’s the post, written by someone named Melanie Yazzie:

“Today at the #laxprotest, Native people conducted a welcoming ceremony to call in our Muslim and refugee sisters as relatives. We danced a long round dance to the beat of the drum. At one point during the dance, thousands and thousands of people erupted in cheer. The noise was so thunderous that it shook the ground. It went on and on. 

“In that moment, I closed my eyes and could feel the crowd and the earth pulsating. Our circle became the beating heart of that crowd right then, and minutes later a small group of no more than a dozen Native people took charge of that whole protest and marched. Marched all the way around LAX. Everyone followed, we moved as one. And for that period of time, Native people were at the front. The tip of the spear. 

“When one of our Native brothers took to the megaphone and said that the United States has no authority on Native land, the crowd cheered. So loud my ears were ringing. When another Native brother took to the megaphone and told our new Muslim relatives that we are here to protect and fight for them, that we and this land recognize their humanity, they wept tears of joy. 

“That is what I witnessed today. That is the power of Native-led movements. We never stopped practicing our own customs of kinship making, citizenship and belonging. This land recognizes our humanity because we never gave it up. Trump and all US forms of citizenship and law are illegitimate on stolen land. So when we say ‘Muslims and refugees welcome on Native land,’ we mean it!!”

That to me, is the kind of loving justice we all need to learn how to practice. 
Back in the days of the civil rights movement, critics labeled those who were demanding their rights as “maladjusted”. In response, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called out for creative maladjustment. He preached:

We are caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny. 
Injustice anywhere is a
threat to justice everywhere. 
There are some things in our
social system to which we ought to be maladjusted. 
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, 
only love can do that. 
We must evolve for all human conflict a method
which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.

Yes, I am maladjusted and my heart bleeds. I am hoping that I can someday fully claim the title of Social Justice Warrior. There is so much to do, so much that calls me to act and sometimes I get so tired. There are those who say we have too many causes to choose from, and that’s what bleeds us dry and makes us ineffective. But this is why we need to share stories of loving strength and generosity. We can’t give up, not when we are part of this inescapable network of mutuality. 

On this land, which is never really our land, we must remember how generous this earth has been to us. We must find love, lots of love, to fill our bleeding hearts, to give us the infusion of creative maladjustment and strength we need for the long haul. 

Amen. Blessed Be. Namasté.

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