The Ktunaxa and sacred land--and Jumbo

Keith Simmonds
By Keith Simmonds
November 29th, 2012

On Thursday last (November 22), we met with the Ktunaxa elders at the site of the former Residential School (St. Eugene Mission) near Cranbrook to offer our testimony in support of their expression of faith and spirituality.

“We?”You ask? United Church ministers: Frank Lewis, of Cranbrook, Christine Dudley of Kimberley, and myself –  Keith Simmonds of Rossland, Trail, Fruitvale and Salmo, and Chair of Kootenay Presbytery of the United Church of Canada.

We began by reiterating the United Church’s apology for our denial of First Nations Spirituality and our involvement in Residential Schools. After reading the apology to the Elders of  the Ktunaxa Nation, we presented a letter of support in which we affirmed the United Church of Canada’s acceptance of First Nations Spirituality as valid, holy, and sacred expressions of relationship with the Creator.

In the letter we offered the evidence of our United Church crest, which now contains the colours of the medicine wheel along with the words “All My Relations”  written in Mohawk. We pointed out the additions to our Manual –where the story of our founding now includes the First Nations Congregations who were part of our church in 1925 when we were created, and are a part of our church today. Finally, we set out our clear understanding that certain places on the earth are “Thin Places”. In the tradition of our Celtic ancestors, we continue to experience God more palpably in some places than in others.

It was our hope to help the Ktunaxa Nation in their quest to have our courts, government, developers and skiers understand that some parts of the world are worth keeping as they are because they are sacred spaces. Places sacred to the relationship between human and creation, between creation and creator.

It was our hope to support the Ktunaxa Nation, as they, the remaining heirs of a unique and honourable people, attempt, once again, to gain the attention and the understanding of a culture that tends to value every bit of creation in terms of its upset cash value and is less and  less willing to accept that creation itself is dependent on far more than the money it can be sold for, or the earnings it can offer.

Just as the way we act and react to the people and circumstances in the world around us creates the world we live in, so too does the way we act and react to creation change creation itself. That is true in the individual and it is true in the general. As an inheritor of a tradition that was sure it knew what others should do and tried to force them to do it, I know a great deal about the world we created and the suffering we caused. I’ll never know as much as a Residential School survivor, but I’ve spoken with a few who’ve given me glimpses. We changed their world.

It is time, I believe, that we gave some of it back. We’ve already seen what we can do. Let’s live a little while in a world where land is sacred. Who knows, one day people might be too.

On Friday, November 30th, the Ktunaxa are rallying in Cranbrook to keep the land at Qat’muk, the land we know as Jumbo Pass, Sacred. Some of our folk will join them. Will you?

Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.

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