CPT's Aboriginal Justice Team (CPT-AJT), based in Toronto, ON, dedicated the past few months to learning, reflection and preparation for further work. Two experiences as human rights observers at blockades established by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake during the autumn of 2008 prompted a videotaping and editing workshop in January. Team members attended several educational relationship-building events including a series of meetings related to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Six Nations) land claims in southwest Ontario. They also reviewed footage for a CPT promotional video and began developing a comprehensive orientation manual for the project.
by Christine Downing
I have been asked a few times recently to talk about my experience at Trent University's Gathering of Elders and Traditional People. I find myself pausing for a moment to feel the question. Like a balloon, I'm so full, but when I try to identify what it is that I can barely contain, it's almost impossible. What do I say? The stories I heard are not mine to tell. Even when I focus on how they affected me or what I learned, I find that much of it goes too deep for words because it's like one heart talking to another. Maybe the singing and the drums stirred me most. The drums sounded like peoples' hearts beating - the heart beat of nations, cultures and experiences I will never fully understand.
Listening to the speakers and storytellers reminded me of how, from a cultural and spiritual perspective, we settlers are weak and vulnerable in these occupied territories we call Canada and the United States of America. Like embryos. A line from a poem by Rumi seems to describe the position we newcomers occupy in this land: "As long as you're an embryo, blood drinking is your business." We are called to maturity politically and spiritually - to let go of what does not and can never really belong to us because to hold on can only lead to more violence and suffering.
Two sessions at the Gathering that I found particularly meaningful referenced creation stories. From this cross-cultural shared recognition that there is a Creator comes a recognition of responsibilities and indebtedness to all-that-was-complete-and-doing-just-fine before we got here. The created world does not depend on humans for anything, but we depend on it for everything.
What can I do with the gift of a mystery like creation except reverence it and maybe ponder it in my heart like Mary in the Christmas story? Children and even infants speak, animals speak, loved ones speak, the Creator speaks - sometimes loudly with thunder, sometimes softly but insistently like birdsong or breeze.
These messages go to our hearts. How often do I search my heart before I speak or do something? We pass the peace from one heart to another as we embrace, but how far does the peace go, and how easy is it to turn off our hearts when we work, shop, or play? How easy is it to forget our obligations and indebtedness to the people who came before us and are still here?
A recent strategic planning meeting on undoing racism within CPT was sort of like searching the heart of the organization. But it's not just searching that is important; it is also applying the truths we find there. Identity questions are asked and left open for now. An unanswered question is a chance to listen deeply, a gift we can only hold with humility, a message from one heart to another.
Banner: CPT's Aboriginal Justice work this year will cost U.S.$22,800.
CPTers serving the Aboriginal Justice team December 2008 - February 2009 were: Christine Downing, Rebecca Johnson, and Ben Wert (all from Toronto, ON)