WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Sr. Eva Solomon explained Canadians must try to appreciate aboriginal people so indigenous people will know where they fit into society.
EDMONTON – European missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to the indigenous people of the Americas believed aboriginal culture and spirituality were pagan or simply not good, laments Sister Eva Solomon.
She says that's one reason aboriginal people often feel angry. "We hear from the system that our language isn't good enough, our culture isn't good enough, our education isn't good enough - the only good thing was our land. Nothing else was good enough.
"And we (aboriginal people) personalized it. We are not good enough."
The Church, much like Jesus himself, simply didn't know any better, lamented Solomon, an Ojibwa from northern Ontario.
Like all humans, Jesus was culture bound and thought he was sent only for the Jews. But after his encounter with the Canaanite woman, he realized he was sent for the whole world.
The Church, for its part, came to the realization that God gave each group of people their own culture and spirituality.
Solomon, a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie and a consultant for aboriginal ministry for the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops, spoke on Envisioning an Aboriginal Church to a sizable crowd of Church staff and aboriginal people at the Catholic Pastoral Centre Sept. 30.
The archdiocesan Office for Social Justice sponsored the event.
Solomon called on Canadian society to begin appreciating and "to learn more of our aboriginal people because we will never know who we are as Canadians until we know who we are in relationship to aboriginal people.
"We will not know who we are as a Canadian Church until we know who we are in relationship to aboriginal spirituality."
The Second Vatican Council's document The Church in the Modern World gave a full treatment to culture theologically, acknowledging that God speaks to us the way God made us, noted Bob McKeon, the director of the Social Justice Office.
"(The document acknowledged that) we are individuals, but we are in relationship in community in the midst of cultures and that (we ought) to honour that. And historically in many cultures we haven't honoured that and that has been an affront to the Gospel as well as to the people."
Now the Vatican has a whole office of cultures and encourages people, including aboriginal people, to integrate their own cultural practices and traditions to their faith.
Solomon said when Jesus spoke to the Canaanite woman, he was transformed and so were the woman and her fellow Canaanites.
When the woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he said he had been sent only for the Jewish people. "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs," Jesus told the Canaanite woman.
The woman replied, "Oh yes, but even the dogs can eat what falls from the master's table." That response wakens Jesus up.
"She gives him a whole new insight. From within her culture, (the Canaanite woman) goes out to Jesus and she transforms Jesus to be able to bring in the Gospel. So the Gospel can be transformed in its understanding as well as the culture."
If the vine gets cut off from its roots, the whole vine dies, Solomon said. "That's what happened for us as aboriginal Christians. We've been cut off from our spiritual roots."
"When the Church came into our world, out of their lack of understanding, the same as Jesus had a lack of understanding that he was called for all people, they believed that everything of our aboriginal tradition was pagan or not good," Solomon said in an interview.
"But they believed the same thing of Joan of Arc; they believed she was a witch. That's the kind of world culture that they were coming out of at that time.
"They've since learned and they canonized the same woman that they killed at the stake. So there is always that brazen opportunity for learning."