Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together

David Driedger

The Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 1 (Winter 2014)

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together. Edited by Steve Heinrichs. Harrisonburg, VA; Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 2013.

 

The inspiration for this book came from editor Steve Heinrichs’s experience in 2011 when he listened to a Mi’kmaq elder who called for “two-eyed” seeing, for “Indigenous and Western knowledges teaching each other” (22). In reviewing the collection which has emerged from that experience, it is almost limiting to call it “two-eyed”: what it contains is a multitude, a collection teeming with visions (and omens) about justice, creation, and Indigenous/Settler relations.

The diversity of contributors allows for much more than a back and forth, point and counter-point debate, and opens readers to voices ranging from Emergent church leader Brian McLaren and Indigenous scholar Tink Tinker to anti-civilization activist Derrick Jensen. But it is not only a diversity of authors that distinguishes this book. Equally important are the genres they employ: most of the chapters are traditional essays, but framing them are poetry, biographical reflections, graphic narrative, trickster story-telling, and prayers.

The cohesive factor in the midst of such diversity is that all the voices converge on the acknowledgement that things must change if there is to be hope for “life together” as the book’s subtitle suggests. Life together requires a space—a physical, material space. Several contributions deal with continuing environmental shifts. While debate is justified on the finer points of climate change, from an Indigenous perspective it is no exaggeration to say that colonialism has constituted an apocalyptic event. Contributors offer a range of proposals; for example, restoring and implementing ancient Indigenous languages and traditions (Leanne Simpson, Daniel Wildcat), and creating jobs in the midst of questionable corporate practices (Will Braun).

Life together also requires conceptual space. One of this volume’s significant strengths is offering this sort of space—one that does not assume what should be considered foundational or non-negotiable for the conversation to happen. This space allows not only for voices of integration seeing the harmony of Indigenous thought and Christian theology (Randy Woodley) but also for those of sharp criticism, as when Tinker states unequivocally that “the key problem is that the deep structural realities of the two worlds, those of euro-Christianity and American Indians, are inherently opposite to one another” (171).

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry does not wield editorial authority to mediate these conversations but seeks to create room for them to happen. Many voices have been excluded; the space being attempted is in many respects new, and so voices supporting the status quo are not given the authority they typically enjoy. Various procedures had to be enacted, as reflected in the first three sections, “Naming the Colonial Past,” “Unsettling Theology,” and “Voice of Challenge and Protest,” titles that imply that mutual space has not been present, and that for it to exist, theology must become unsettled.

How will this space inevitably expand or contract, and which voices will influence the process? This book could be viewed with suspicion, and disregarded by those in the church who view such space as a compromise or a rejection of orthodoxy. Another concern is that the voices here will be acknowledged but then assimilated into the dominant paradigm.

One criticism I have relates to the prayers offered by Brian McLaren. “We must never again preach Christianity or promote Christianity,” he says (228). Coming from someone so embedded in the American evangelical world, this is hard to swallow. He is trying to say that we promote Christ and not Christianity, but this gesture towards disavowal is disingenuous. We cannot avoid the social structure that our accounts of Christ have historically represented. But this is the vulnerability of such a space, and a reminder that oversight and boundaries are required in maintaining a space that challenges present powers.

This book deserves a broad audience, not only for its contribution to Indigenous and Church relations but for the example it offers the church in how to frame the space needed for other important conversations. With all the difficulties and criticisms that come with creating this space, I hope we are also attuned to the healing that can come from it.

I am good

I am clean

I have a strong voice

I have good words to share

I am not a ghost in my own land  (60)

– Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en)

 

David Driedger, Associate Minister, First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba