Indigenous Church Continues Working During a Time of Need
by Tony Snow
This is Floyd Daniels, an Elder and member of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley, Alberta. Recently Floyd and his family were in distress about food security during the pandemic, because mass buying has left many shelves empty and have made several people in the Indigenous community, who are already food insecure, worry about their next meal.
The Covid-19 pandemic is nothing new to Indigenous people. We have suffered through times of famine and hardship. We have suffered through incurable epidemics. We have suffered through an inability to meet basic needs because of systemic poverty and impoverishment in remote communities. On the Stoney reserve many still struggle to feed families that contend with housing shortages, domestic violence and the impacts of intergenerational trauma and lateral violence.
As a church, the United Church of Canada has dedicated itself to meet these challenges by adopting the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action (2015) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2016). In order to live into these commitments it is necessary to build good relationships with Indigenous communities, to address need and hurt where possible, and to foster better relations that will guide our advocacy with intentionality and understanding.
At Morley, Gloria Snow was doing this work by taking Elders to go shopping during the crisis so they could maintain a level of food security. Having found the shelves bare and returning home empty handed taught her a hard truth about the world we live in. We must do what we can to assist others if we want to keep and maintain the free society we live in. Gloria went in to action, enlisting her relationships with the Canmore community to collect donations for the Elders. This simple act of acknowledgement and support raised our awareness about food security during this difficult time.
With so many hording supplies, we can see many instances on social media where people who have to go without are struggling to understand why people would stockpile resources at the expense of their fellow human beings.
One of the basic tenets of Stoney culture is caring for others and sharing what you have. When Gloria gathered her donations from the churches she also went to our nephew and other hunters to see if they could provide wild meat for the Elders. A hunt ensued and after prayers led to a successful hunt, the meat was distributed to the elderly, the infirm and the destitute. This is very much in line with our traditional cultural practice of sharing and providing for one another. Growing up, I would remember my father, the late Dr. Rev. John Snow, taking time out during the winter months in February and March to deliver food hampers to Elders and those without food. He did so without fanfare, without being told, without asking for anything in return, because that was how he was raised in his traditional leadership role of our hereditary line.
Today, we must work together to pool our resources and our efforts in order to meet the needs of our people and our neighbours. There has been a lot of talk around reconciliation and right relations, but very little in terms of tangible evidence of a chance in how we treat one another in society. One has only to look at the blockades around the country and the presence of law enforcement rather than negotiators or industry representatives, to see that we have not really changed when it comes to confrontation. We have not learned how to do better.
And so it is hopeful that as I work in the Chinook Winds Region as the Indigenous Lead (Coordinator) for southern Alberta Right Relations efforts, that we can see a need and work quickly to address it.
Through donations from Hillhurst United Church, Ralph Connor United Church, McDougall United Church and St. Andrews United Church in Cochrane, we were able to provide food hampers to elders, giving them needed supplies and hope.
Earlier this week on a call with Chinook Winds Region, I lifted up the lessons of our past, the lessons of want and struggle and epidemics that had no cure, and how the cultural memory still rights as a sore point for our people. This was echoed by another Region member who lifted up the Queer community and the experiences of the LGBTQ2SIA+ and the memory of the epidemic that terrorized each of them in different ways. It is important to remember that during this time of uncertainty and fearfulness, that we remember there are those among us in need. And we should do everything we can to take the new lessons of our current time to choose to live in a new way, and not repeat the wrongs of the past by ignoring, ostracizing or condemning others whose difference may be presented as a justification for intolerant behaviour. It is only by challenging those attitudes that we can learn to rise above them, and build resiliency for the next generation.
Tony Snow is a student at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre and the Indigenous Lead for the Chinook Winds Region of the United Church of Canada.