Connection, Disconnection, and Reconnection: Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters

Monday, June 13, 2022

The Indigenous Mennonite Encounters in Time and Place: A Gathering of Body, Mind, and Spirit conference was held at Conrad Grebel University College on May 12-15, 2022. It was a valuable opportunity to hear stories of encounters and relationships between Indigenous peoples and Mennonite settlers on Turtle Island (aka Canada). 

Bonnie DrudgeThese stories were often difficult to hear, reminding Mennonite settlers like me of our involvement in national efforts to ‘remove the Indian’ from the country’s landscape. This painful reminder could not be avoided as we listened to individual stories of children being removed from their homes and communities often within the framework of Anabaptism and/or Christianity. Fortunately, there were humorous and loving stories of connections and interactions between the First Peoples of this land and Anabaptist settlers as well.  

Firekeeper Al McDonald's words resonated deeply with me. He suggested that our entire life is about connection, disconnection, and reconnection. This does not imply negativity or positivity, but just a fact of life. We connect with others - including the trees, birds, and rocks - in certain ways during our lifetime. However, as we move through our journey on Mother Earth, connections are broken. And then there will be a time of reconnection. This could be meeting up with an old friend, reconciling with a parent or connecting with new friends, but these are all part of life.  

IME event Bonnie Drudge and David Alton learn more about Bangishimo Johnston's art installation, "On the Land."

"As I listened to the various sessions presented over two days, this theme was repeated over and over. The connections included Mennonites as some of the first settlers to arrive at Turtle Island, assuming that the land was completely available; essentially stealing the land from the many First Peoples who already lived there. Lasting pain comes from the recognition that these actions, such as removing children from their home continues today; only now the removal happens through the Children’s Aid Society. Land is still treated as an extractive commodity, rather than as our mother. Our reconnection to the First Peoples of this land is critical to our survival on this planet, as we learn from them how to honour and respect our Mother Earth.  

bonnie drudge river cycleBonnie Drudge takes a close look at “River Cycle” by Meg Harder.

As a Master of Theological Studies student at Grebel, I feel the topic of Indigenous-Mennonite Encounters is a crucial aspect to the program. In fact, it is important to all Canadians because it is about the basics of how we treat others - fellow human beings - in any circumstance. Of course, theology students need to be informed of issues surrounding Indigenous-Mennonite relationships, not only to provide pastoring and council to those who have been affected by the trauma, but also to recognize mistakes, helping to prevent further harm to our Indigenous neighbours. Not only does Creator call humanity to love one another but the Church has been directly called to action as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is important that the theological community understands these calls to action and takes responsibility for them, remembering the pledge to a healing reconnection with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.   

As Adrian Jacobs reminded us during the conference, and I paraphrase, to really comprehend the atrocities of colonization, we must be willing to cry without ceasing, crashing to our knees into a puddle. Only then will we be able to walk alongside the Indigenous Peoples of this land, creating a loving allyship and eventual reconciliation.  

By: Bonnie Drudge, MTS student 

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