Changing My Mind

Moving past stereotypes of Indigenous people

by Andrew Reimer

Winnipeg—Like many of you, I grew up not knowing many Indigenous people, having absorbed the stereotypes and superior attitudes most settler Canadians consciously or unconsciously hold towards our Indigenous neighbours.

However, over the past 15 years living and serving in Winnipeg’s North End, a predominantly Aboriginal inner city neighbourhood, my wife Amie and I have been blessed by wonderful friendships with our neighbours who have entrusted us with their life experiences, hopes, joys and sorrows.

When we begin to see our First Nations neighbours as friends and family, it becomes much more difficult to distance ourselves from their grief and pain.

I have been invited to sit and pray at the hospital bedsides of friends in their times of vulnerability.  I have grieved with families at wakes and funerals, sometimes of beloved elders or of loved ones who died too young.  Teen gang members in jail—guys judged, condemned and written off by pretty much everyone—have entrusted us with their stories and their longings for God to help them change.

Residential school survivors have shared with me experiences that they have only begun to talk about after 50 years. Meanwhile, most of the youth and young adults I know are experiencing the intergenerational effects of the trauma their grandparents suffered.

Some of our friends have expressed disconnection, confusion and even shame about their Aboriginal identities, while some are holding onto and reclaiming their cultural identities, values and traditions.  I have listened as friends have voiced sadness anger about the injustices and continued oppression and suffering of their people.

Questions come up about where God is in all this.  I have talked with people who are struggling to reconcile faith in Jesus with their Indigenous identity.

I have had the privilege of learning from First Nations leaders what the Good News of Jesus sounds like from an Indigenous perspective. I have discovered the good news of a colonized, rejected and suffering Jesus who identifies with the experience of Aboriginal people.

Friends of mine have modelled trust in God and love for Jesus and have made courageous, against-the-flow choices because of their commitment to Christ. Indigenous youth have been amazing examples of compassion and generosity.

God has been changing my mind about First Nations people. Changing my mind means taking a posture of humility and prioritizing relationship, facing my paternalistic impulses to see people as problems that I need to fix, asking uncomfortable questions about who has the power in our relationships.

It means listening in order to understand and to value a different way of life, to laugh at myself, to not excuse the fact that my people thrive while my Aboriginal friends struggle.

I am saddened by the great rift of pain, mistrust, and misunderstanding that still exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Settler people tend to value “solutions” and “results” but too often rush towards our idea of solutions to First Nations issues when what we really need to do is take time to develop relationships and build trust with First Nations people. For me, this has meant humbly coming near to Indigenous neighbours listening, grieving, learning and relating on the level of our common humanity.

Andrew Reimer (Steinbach EMC) serves as a community minister in Winnipeg’s North End with Inner City Youth Alive.

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