Stormed by the Holy Spirit (a reflection for Pentecost) – By Fr. Bob Holmes

prophetic witness

Theological Reflection – Sunday May 19, 2013

Bob is a Catholic priest, a member of the Congregation of St. Basil, and has been involved in the Peacemaking ministry of CPT for 13 years serving in Canada, Palestine, Iraq, Mexico, Colombia and Congo.

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The disciples of Jesus, gathered in the upper room, were leaderless, lost, waiting, wondering, afraid. And, Luke tells us in Acts, a loud, violent, driving wind/spirit filled the room. Lightning struck – tongues of fire touching each and every one. The Holy Spirit drove them out of their lair, their fear and gave them fiery tongues. They proclaimed the Gospel story and invited all to embrace God’s kingdom, God’s dream, God’s new economy of caring and sharing.

Today Canada is stormed by the Idle No More movement. First Nations will no longer be made quiet, waiting and invisible. Their voices will be heard. And non-aboriginal, settler Canadians need to find their voices too. We are all Treaty People.

I learned that from the Mi’kmaq at Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) First Nation. Our Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) had been invited to accompany the Mi’kmaq fishers as they defended their treaty-protected right to fish the coastal waters of New Brunswick. Incensed by the disrespectful actions of the Mounties towards the native fishers, we CPTers entered the RCMP headquarters and complained. Returning to the reserve we reported what we had done. “Don’t ever do that again! You don’t speak for us. Speak for yourselves.” Chastened, we gained our settler voices and as Canadians began to speak and act in support of honouring “our” treaty with this brave First Nation.

Pope Francis, during a weekday homily, spoke of how the Holy Spirit always pushes forward and can seem to upset things. He suggested that the church often tries to calm or tame or even resist the movement of the Spirit. The Idle No More movement also pushes forward and seems to upset the “normal” life of Canadians.

Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation upset the status quo when they blockaded the lumber road into their traditional lands. As a signing member of Treaty 3, they had granted many privileges to the European settlers moving into the territory with the condition that their lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping would not be interfered with for as long as the rivers run. But, rivers were poisoned by lumber mills, trap lines were obliterated by clear-cutting and families were moved onto a reserve for convenience of administration. They would be silent no more.

CPT was invited to accompany the blockaders who were committed to nonviolence. The blockade was successful in stopping the clear-cutting in the nearby area and the CPTers were asked by their Anishinabek hosts to relocate to Kenora to do advocacy ministry with the local settler community of loggers, mill workers, police and service providers – many of whom held racist prejudices towards the aboriginal peoples. It was the churches, Baptist, United, Anglican and Catholic, that welcomed and aided CPT’s sometimes unwelcome ministry.

The Spirit of Truth can lead you into trouble – speaking truth to power has a cost. The Algonquins are, to my knowledge, the only aboriginal community in Ontario with no treaty – they have never sold or ceded their land to Canada. So when the Government of Ontario issued a permit to mine for uranium on Algonquin land, they too set up a blockade. Because they were committed to nonviolence they asked CPT to accompany them on the blockade.  An injunction was served and we expected a quick and possibly violent OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) intervention. But the OPP had learned from their experience in Ipperwash and Caledonia that police force was not the solution to these situations.  They sent two unarmed, plain clothes liaison officers to negotiate with the Algonquins. The judge, unhappy that his injunction was not being enforced, summoned the Algonquin leaders and charged them with contempt of court. Bob Lovelace, a former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, spoke eloquently of his dilemma. “The court says I must allow the toxic uranium mining to proceed but Algonquin law tells me I must protect the land and the water. I choose to obey Algonquin Law.” The judge sentenced Bob to six months in prison and gave him a heavy fine.

Three months later, while over 200 First Nation’s persons were camped out at the Ontario Legislature in Queen’s Park demanding change to the Ontario Mining Act and the release of political prisoners, the Ontario Appeals Court set Bob Lovelace free and wiped away his fine.  The Ontario Mining Act was changed the next year to require consultation with First Nations and a year later Canada signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which includes: “States will consult and obtain free, prior and informed consent for any project affecting the land, territory or resources of indigenous peoples.”

But there remains much to do, so let’s catch fire this Pentecost and move forward with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers this summer as the Idle No More movement continues speaking truth to power and demanding that their treaties, our treaties, be honoured.

Filed in: Ecological Justice, Indigenous Rights, Spirited Reflections


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