Historical Response-Ability

elaineFrom Elaine Enns, the conclusion of “The Stories the Land Holds: Mennonites, Trauma and Indigenous Justice,” a talk given at Mennonites, Land and the Environment: A Global History Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba on October 28, 2016:

Whether we are born here or recent immigrants, we Settlers arrived into a storied and traumatized landscape. Too often we Mennonites have held so tightly to our bloodlines of pain and survival that we ignore these landlines of Indigenous suffering and resiliency. I helped organize a gathering in Saskatoon two weeks ago on the TRC Calls to Action. Harry Lafond, Executive Director of the Treaty Commissioner in SK, told us simply and poignantly, “My loss, is your loss.” Cree elder A.J. Felix agreed: “We are here to talk about how we get well—you and me.” Indigenous leaders understand that our healing as Settlers depends on our willingness and ability to re-vise our stories, and re-member the stories of the land and its First Peoples.

I learned a compelling term from two researchers of intergenerational trauma. “Remembearers,” they write, are “those who have the traumatic event registered in their consciousness without actually having experienced it themselves, the second circle of witnesses to the violent experience.” Those of us who are inheritors of painful legacies are challenged to become re-membearers in the work of healing and justice for all Canadians, especially for First Nations.

In a post-TRC Canada we can no longer claim ignorance about Indigenous trauma. “Historical response-ability” entails what I call “restorative solidarity,” which involves three commitments:

  • building empathy with Indigenous (and other) communities victimized by historic and current violence;
  • listening to how they are “identifying harms, needs and responsibilities” (and investigating our complicity);
  • and working with them to “make things as right as possible, including covenants of accountability, restitution, reparations and (ideally) reconciliation.” Our major covenant, as Roger Epp has argued, is that we become better “Treaty people,” and the TRC Calls to Action urge our churches as part of this commitment to embrace fully the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

How might these commitments and covenants be integrated into the discipline of Mennonite historiography? It is challenging work, to which the dominant culture of North America is inhospitable. But as a peace church, we have both the prophetic and pastoral resources to create the spaces and capacity to pursue this sort of “re-membearing, restorative solidarity.”

May we face our whole history with courage, that we might cease reliving the history of injustice.

2 thoughts on “Historical Response-Ability

  1. Pingback: Pâstâhowin: The Cosmic Consequences of Breaking Covenant – Radical Discipleship

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