Aboriginal voices offer respect for creation

Bob McKeon


July 21, 2014

It is now over three months since the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event in Alberta. It was a time of listening and learning for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.

The theme of wisdom was chosen for the Alberta TRC event. One important aboriginal wisdom teaching is respect for all creation. The Alberta bishops in their ecology statement highlight the significance of this teaching: "We can learn much from the spiritual traditions of our aboriginal brothers and sisters which celebrate our kinship with the rest of creation and seek to strengthen the sacred circle of all creation."

In this dialogue with aboriginal teachings, Christians can look back on their own teachings with new eyes and insights.


Christians, especially Catholics, have a sacramental sense of creation. This means we can encounter and learn something of the Creator though the diversity, complexity and abundance of God's creation.

Bishop Luc Bouchard, in his statement, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oilsands, said Christians, while learning of God's ways primarily by reflecting on the Word of God, can also learn God's ways by "closely observing creation which in a sacramental-like manner, make visible the power and beauty of God."

However, this sacramental sense can be diminished or obscured with serious spiritual consequences. Bouchard concludes that "when people destroy or damage creation they are limiting their ability or know and love God."

This sacramental sense is at the heart of Catholic spirituality, especially in the celebration of the sacraments. Material things, elements of God's creation, within sacred rituals are able to communicate and convey God's grace into the midst of our lives. Think of water in Baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist.

In recent weeks we have seen many news stories and editorials in secular and religious media, including the Western Catholic Reporter, about proposed bitumen pipelines, coastal oil tanker routes, and expanded oilsands plants. Often these media presentations speak of wide-ranging debates and polarization of public attitudes.

There is frequent mention that the economic stakes in these debates are high. Rapid economic growth, jobs and substantial profits in the near future are promised from these projects.


Yet for those with a "sacramental imagination," the economic arguments can never by themselves be a final and conclusive word in terms of ethical decision-making. Bouchard states this concisely: "Even great financial gain does not justify serious harm to the environment."

Many of us in Western Canada enter these public debates from different social locations and ideological perspectives. In the midst of our busy lives and often urban lifestyles, it is easy for us to have our sacramental imagination dulled and diminished.

The Canadian bishops, in their 2003 Pastoral Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative, emphasize that "each of us is called to deepen our capacity to appreciate the wonders of nature as an act of faith and love. . . . Standing in awe of creation can assist us to perceive the natural world as a bearer of divine grace."

For many of us, this experience of awe and wonder the bishops speak of can easily be lost. For someone like me, with too many years inside classrooms, this can too easily become only an intellectual exercise.


I give thanks for the loved ones in my life who have worked hard to teach me that this contemplative process is one that involves all the senses, being open to all the ways that God communicates with us.

As we move into summer, whether we travel a great distance or stay close to home, many of us can have the opportunity to slow down, experience spiritual wonder and awe in the midst of creation, and sharpen our sacramental imagination.

Inevitably, we will have to re-enter the public debates of our time, including those related to the expansion of our oil and gas projects. However, as we participate in the difficult process of making truly prudential and wise public decisions, it will come from a place of spiritual grounding and sacramental imagination.

Do not be surprised if you hear aboriginal wisdom voices keeping us honest and faithful in this process.

(Bob McKeon: sjustice@caedm.ca)