by Chris Lenshyn
The Fraser Valley of British Columbia is beautiful. I get to live here. Not only is the mighty Fraser river a visual and ecological gem, but the Coastal Mountains and the enormous Mt. Baker in Washington State are nothing short of poetic. Over the course of 5 years since we moved here, I have slowly developed an emotional connection to this specific place. The land, the people and the shared past, present and future that binds us all together for better or worse. A month and a half ago I heard a story that changed the way that I looked at this local beauty. I just can’t shake it.
I attended an event called “Journey of Reconciliation: Listening to Indigenous Elders” held at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford BC. As with the start of any properly planned event, we began with a “welcome to the territory” from a local Indigenous Elder. We were honoured by the presence of Dr. Ray Silver Sr. of the Sto: lo nation. He blessed us deeply by extending hospitality to us on traditional Sto: lo territory.
Dr. Ray Silver Sr. shared some stories. He spoke with pleasant authority and hospitality like the words he was using were multi-layered with meaning and came from a sacred place. This is of no surprise because he shared about the land, the very land my family and I have come to call home, and about his haunting experience in the residential schools of Canada. On this day however, what struck me the most was how he talked about the land, with a particular reverence unknown to those who are descendants of, or could even be called colonizers themselves.
He called the place where the ever growing urban sprawl of Abbotsford his home. But it was his home before the buildings and the automobile traffic, when it was lush with trees and wildlife. Dr. Ray Silver Sr. spoke fondly of the trap lines he ran as a young adult on Sumas mountain. Now Sumas mountain is a seemingly growing residential area of Abbotsford. In the middle of his reminiscing, he paused and said “when I see the houses on the mountain, I can’t believe that they have done that to my mountain.” You could tell his heart broke when talking about the mountain.
Dr. Ray Silver Sr. spoke for much longer than the event planners anticipated. The audience hung on every word, phrase, and nuance. In many ways, he lifted the colonial veil and revealed to those of us listening the long term trauma of the residential schools and the profound sense of loss of the land and how it is used. He gave us a glimpse of a pre-colonial world, and it was beautiful.
This new lens by which I see my home is profoundly complex. There is a history with this land, a history not really known by the people who now largely populate it, but as I listen I learn the story of the land and its traditional people.
Sharing our faith with our children includes the things we learn, the things we are unsure about, and the things that bring us joy and pain. For me, the experience of pre-colonial Fraser Valley compels me to invite my children on this journey. For Christians, relationships with our Indigenous neighbours begins by listening, becoming “trauma informed” and daring to be a repentant people. Lifting the veil of colonialism, as Dr. Ray Silver Sr. did, is a place a beginning place on the journey. Inviting my six-year-old son on the journey with me need not be complex. It simply needs to imagine and dream of what a pre-colonial world looked like and how we can deeply understand our indigenous neighbours. As I have learned, coming to understand my Indigenous elders and spirituality is a profoundly rich and is a continual faith-forming experience.