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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Attawapiskat

There are many things about the birth stories of Jesus I find curious. For example, why does Luke’s gospel place Jesus’ birth in such a humble (not to mention unsanitary) situation while Matthew places this event among the rich and powerful? Of course much has been written about this difference, and those charged with delivering Christmas sermons generally realize the need to discuss one story or the other. Sermons will usually highlight either the wise men or the shepherds; not both unless it is to acknowledge the dichotomy present in the two texts.

Just so that I don’t assume too much, perhaps I should describe the difference in the two texts a little more clearly . In a sentence, Matthew tells us that Jesus lived in a house with Mary and Joseph and was visited by Wise Men who consulted with Kings and brought fine and expensive gifts. Luke, on the other hand, described a birth in a stable with a manger for a crib. Having grown up on a farm myself, I cannot help but think of our smelly stable and the thoroughly chewed, slobbered on and germ laden mangers in the barn.

In the meantime, countless Christmas pageants throughout the Christian parts of the world blend these two narratives together almost seamlessly, and children grow up with a romanticized and thoroughly sanitized story that bears little resemblance to Luke’s reality. It rather reminds me of the difference between the way my privileged, middle class children were raised and the images we are currently seeing on television of the living conditions experienced by children in Attawapiskat and other Northern First Nations communities. It is almost inconceivable that the two are part of the same national, provincial and human experience. My children’s birth would be in line with Matthew’s narrative, while the conditions experienced by infants born in Attawapiskat would be more like those described in Luke, i.e. miserable poverty.

It is tempting here, for me to write, “But setting all that aside,” and go on with what I wanted to say. And therein lies the problem: we want to set aside the images of poverty right here in our own country, and not take action or do anything about it. We see the living conditions but get caught up in our government’s diversionary tactic of raising questions about who is responsible. Why don’t we be responsible? After all, the second Mission Initiative of Community of Christ is to Abolish Poverty and End Suffering. How can we set this aside?

Well, what do we do? First, lets begin by writing or emailing our members of parliament and insisting that this be changed, not just by throwing money at the problem, but by changing the system of paternalism and control that keeps native communities down. Lets do that now! Then lets follow up over the next 20 years to make sure something actually gets done.

Second, I will ask our Peace and Justice committee to give us some further ideas.

Third, we can have a discussion here about what else we can do. This should not be about condemning governments or criticizing First Nations people or managers. It is about ways we can abolish poverty and end suffering. What are your ideas?

Carman

8 comments:

  1. One of the "advantages" of retirement is the time and opportunity to hear as much news and commentary as I choose to indulge in. Granted, this can be a questionable good thing or not. Last week the Current offered an hour-long examination of "poverty in Canada" hosted by poet(!) Lorna Crozier. The response from the listening public was so great that they will be revisiting the issue on tomorrow's (Thursday December 8) program.

    Every newscast offers more distressing commentary from grand chiefs, government officials, on-site mothers and fathers, trying to get heads around the heart-breaking Attawapiskat situation.

    Into the midst of our traditional Christmas preparations comes John the Baptist(Mark), or John the Witness (John)--once again, Carman, two gospel writers offer us two versions!

    But one thing is for sure. John's witness interrupts the normal flow of things; he just doesn't belong here. We'd really rather not pay attention to him. His outfit and demeanour do NOT get him a role in the Christmas pageant.

    But his message is not unlike the call-ins to the poverty radio show, or the reports from the chiefs of so many of our remote reserves, or the spokesperson from the neighbourhood Occupy community: Things are not right! There is not real justice here! You may sing your carols and celebrate this holy day, but things need to change if everyone is to celebrate.

    I loved the list I received from Matthew in Barrie reminding me that there are women and children in MY community who need beds and toasters and toothbrushes and shower curtains because they are starting over. They've escaped an untenable situation of violence and now need help to start fresh. (Thank you Spirit Catchers for being there "on the ground" to help!)

    Things are not right people! What are we, what am I going to do about it, right here, right now?

    I hear you Carman, fresh from your "Christmassy" blog post calling us not to forget that our call is to pursue peace, to end suffering, and not just to deck our halls. Thank you for this. Now let's see what kind of practical response we can get rolling here.

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  2. Hello dear friend, nice to hear from you.

    Some posts are just for fun like Christmassy. As you know very well, sometimes we worry about the blog getting too heavy. But some posts call for us to take things more seriously. That is the case with Attawapiskat. If we are to be faithful to our mission of abolishing poverty and ending suffering, we must do something about that. As you said so well, this is just not right.

    I hope people will respond to this. I have already had an acknowledgement of my request from the Peace and Justice Committee, so that is a good start. I have not yet had a reply from the Prime Minister or my MP, but it is early. If a reply had come this fast, it probably would have indicated a computerized auto-reply, so perhaps no response yet is also a good sign.

    Lets have some conversation, folks. Long-term solutions are needed, not band-aids. How can we change this?

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  3. Thank you for the this important post Carman. The situation of poverty in the First Nations community is a very complex one. I had the opportunity in my younger adult years to work for the Yellowhead Regional Tribal Council in Alberta. What I saw was tragic. There were some bands bound for extinction. 80% fetal alcohol syndrome amongst the children means this band would have insufficient healthy people to continue as a band. I learned enough to know that many first nations groups were in trouble, the current and past systems and "solutions" were of little use in creating a life that all could live with and that throwing money at the situation did nothing but exacerbate the problems. I learned how little I understood of the real issues.

    From my work at World Accord I know that WE cannot "fix" them or their situation. The father of modern development philosophy starts his sermon with:
    Go to the people.
    Live with the people.
    Learn from the people.

    I believe this would be the absolute best way to learn how to help them help themselves. It is difficult to do and yet again another excellent reason why World Accord uses the partnership model. Our partners are a part of their communities. Any work they do is with the understanding of the local context because they are living in it. I am also aware there are some excellent examples of progressive and prosperous first nations groups. I believe that grass roots development efforts will work but they will have to be done by a First Nations group. Like our partners, such a group would be a part of the community. Such a group must exist and I would propose that we find them, study their work, approach, successes and failures and if it seems a good fit, ask how we could help.

    I believe such a group might exist. If Community of Christ is serious about being a true agent of change regarding a First Nations group, I would assist in the search for a suitable partner. I would urge you not to donate to any organization that claims to have the answer without doing some serious research first. In many many cases there is great potential to do more long term harm than good with the wrong approach.(If this were not true, the current situation would not exist) Also it would have much greater impact if the church as a whole in Canada pooled their funds and supported one well thought out and planned effort. Be aware it may take many years. True and lasting development takes time and faith. This also we have learned.

    Absolutely everyone concerned should speak of their concern to their MP. This is so fast and easy. It doesn't take a long letter. Call your MP. Leave a message or talk to whoever you get and give them your name and let them know you are concerned and want our government do make this right. Click here http://parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC Type in your postal code and get your MPs name and phone number. If you start......NOW... you could let your MP know of your concern in less than one minute! OK. I will climb down off the soapbox now.

    Thank you again Carman for seeing the opportunity here to Abolish Poverty and Alleviate Suffering. Be aware that problems that took generations to create will never be solved with quick fixes.

    for Peace and Prosperity
    David

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  4. David,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and well stated reply. I absolutely agree with what you have said. Personally, I do not think the way Community of Christ can help best is by giving money, but advising our elected members of Parliament that we want to see a successful. long-term to this situation has to be part of it.

    For general information, I did receive an email response from my MP's office this morning, stating that my concern had been noted and recorded. Because I had copied the Prime Minister's office on my initial email, this note said they would leave it to the PMO to respond to my concerns. I have had no reply from Mr. Harper's office yet, but do expect to receive one at some point.

    Again David, thank you for your response. We deeply appreciate the work World Accord does, and the integrity with which it is done.

    Carman

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  5. Friends, here is the link to find your Member of Parliament on-line. It is very fast and easy. I have never tried to create a link in "comments" before, so if it doesn't work, you can copy and paste it into your browser.

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  6. Thanks Carman for your article and comments on the "Attawapiskat Siuation". Having worked in many of these communities (including Attawapiskat), I agree with David Barth's comments that we can't fix them or their problems. For years our governments and institutions have tried to do just that, fix things as seen through their eyes. It seems to me that much of what is wrong is the result of misguided intentions. We can't always assume to know what is needed. I think that David's approach to partner with someone or some group, that is willing to invest time in getting to know what the real needs are, is the proper way to go. What we see and read in the media is somewhat jaded and does not reveal all of the underlying issues or concerns. We all need to be more educated in these matters.

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  7. Hi Grant,

    Thanks for your response. The government has announced it is prepared to send 22 new houses to Attawapiskat. I have not seen any indication of a solution to the power, water and sewage problem, and there is not yet any sign of a long-term solution that will empower the communities to meet their own needs. Until that happens, these problems will continue to recur. It makes me sad.

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