On my leaving, the Finns of Montreal gave me a gift. It wasn’t a gift card, or a gold watch (do people do that anymore?) or a bottle of fancy wine. They thought about who I was to them, and who they were to me. Then nine households – nine different women, to be more precise – knitted a scarf. Together. They each, in turn, added wool from Finland, and colours from their homes that would mean something.
I’ve rarely been so touched. I wear the scarf often. I keep it in a place where I can look at it, as I’m doing now. Its colours tell me about the people who knitted it and the services and events we enjoyed together. Its heft in my hands reminds me how warmly I was embraced by the Finnish community. Although it wasn’t intended as such, the scarf turned out to be the perfect length for a stole (that priests and pastors wear over their robe as a sign of their ordination). When I got it, I told the women it would be a ritual object for me – it couldn’t help but be, because of how it was made.
In 1884 Canada’s Federal Government passed the potlach law, part of the Indian Act. It “legally” abolished all “Indian cultural practices,” the Sun Dance, the potlach, and other religious ceremonies. It also forbade Indigenous people and groups from keeping their ritual items. That provision was only repealed in the 1950s. Bob Joseph, in 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, writes that “for 71 years…almost three generations grew up deprived of the cultural fabric of their ancestors….thousands of irreplaceable ceremonial masks, robes, blankets, and other….items were lost forever to their people” (49).
When I walked into the Castle Museum here in Nottingham UK, the first thing to catch my eye was the medicine pouch you see below. The little sign says it comes from Alberta, Canada. When ceremonies – the life of a culture – were outlawed, many of the stolen objects were given to museums. That bundle belonged – STILL belongs – to someone…Blackfoot? Cree? It’s hard to imagine someone coming into my house to take my Finnish scarf, or a Bible, or a communion chalice. But that’s exactly what my government did to the Indigenous peoples. Learning this, and remembering it, is part of being ready for reconciliation.
Sara Parks __________________________ Assistant Professor in New Testament Studies, University of Nottingham
Absolutely agree with you, Matthew! Thank you for this post. I wonder, if anyone has asked the museum to return the medicine pouch to the descendents of those from whom it was taken?
I have the feeling they might be willing, but I wonder who the rightful owners now would be, even which FN the pouch was taken from?
I think the original tribal owners could be determined by the bag’s provenance and/or by its design features. It would be so wonderful if it made its way back home!
Perhaps I will send a photo of this to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. They will have a better idea, and could perhaps trace its original owners!
Fantastic! Let me know how it goes!
Well-said, Matthew—and huge felicitations on your new post!
Thank you! If you mean the one class I’m teaching here, it’s going well (my students were great today!)
Lord, hasten the return of these beloved to their communities…
what expressive, heartfelt gratitude –
on their faces, and the scarf…calls to my mind the heart of the one leper who turned back to thank Jesus
thank you! We really grew to care for and value each other in that community….they’re great folks!