By Joyce Sasse
Submitted by Catherine Christie
Editors note: this is an Easter memory from Joyce Sasse, reproduced from her ebook, Gleanings from a Prairie Pastor (available for downloading from Centre for Rural Community Leadership and Ministry, www.circle-m.ca)
(Apologies are never easy. t takes time to unload the baggage. That’s what I learned when I was helping our community to neighbour with folks from the Piikani Nation. The story happened at the turn of the New Century.) It was the way our local Chief spat out the term “missionary” when he addressed our Annual NAPI Friendship Association meeting that upset me. I sought advice from Elisa, my friend and advisor. After carefully questioning me, and agreeing that both Natives and non-natives needed to “clean up” their attitude and their language, she suggested I go to the Chief, ask for a meeting and then tell him “I have it in my heart (to say what needs to be said)”. I stopped by his office … and then later tried to phone to get an appointment … I received no contact … but by this time I had practised several versions of what I might say. One day I saw the Chief walk through the door of the local Co-op where I was having coffee … So I boldly walked up to ask for an appointment. “Tell me what you want now!” was his reply. I gulped air because I didn’t feel “ready” … but tentatively started to explain how I felt about him discrediting the very Ministerial Association from the community that had worked with the Piikani people to found the NAPI Friendship Association 10 years previous. “I felt embarrassed lest any White church people heard you speak. We Whites have certainly had to learn how to edit what we say.” The Chief listened … and told his story about all the colonial wrongs he could name … Then with a dismissal-handshake we continued on our own ways. Two months later when we were holding the annual Pow Wow in the Town Arena and the Natives were doing an Honour Dance for Eliza in her wheel-chair (from the car accident she survived last year). She saw me in the stands and beckoned for me to join-in at the end of the dance-line. The Chief, in his white buckskin, and the flag-bearers quietly danced around the circumference of the arena. But when they stopped, the Chief immediately walked down the line to where I stood, shook my hand and greeted me with “OKI”. With tears in my eyes I said my “Thank You” … (and I never again heard him speak with anything but respect when he talked about missionaries.) This past week when the Pope so graciously spoke with the Aboriginal / Inuit / Metis visitors in the Vatican of his sorrow, I couldn’t help but think that Her Majesty must have been signaling “Thumbs up” for him saying what was in his heart.