First Nations Aren’t Savages laid down a challenge. Oddly enough this is a very heathen way of introducing yourself, I will spare you the myth of the warrior-Viking trope, for the myth of the savage barbarian has been the justification used to permit the worst atrocities against our ancestors, and the deliberate destruction of both of our ways of life by “civilized folk”. The challenge was for me to prove I am not racist by
Not a racist, huh? Then please, do tell us what you think of the First Nations and their ability to have a functioning culture in modern times. If you’re not a racist, I’m sure that you’ll be able to say something other than that they’re “savages” and “primitives” who were uncivilized until the white man
Some background is required as preface. I have no native blood whatsoever. This is not a purity boast, I am as mongrel as over a thousand years of soldiers and pioneers can be, with taking brides from every folk we fought, or fought beside, it is simply a statement that I am not going to base my arguments on some dubious claim to 1/64th Cree blood, or some such thing, as seems to be depressingly common in the modern Pagan community. I was raised in Enderby BC, a quiet little town which is about half Spallumcheen (http://www.bcafn.ca/files/fn-spallumcheen.php ), and indeed my first two years of education were the Band Preschool, whose stories and moral teachings made a Hel of a lot more sense to me than the Sunday School my Christian mother was trying to drum into me.
In Enderby, you were White or Indian. I know, you are supposed to say “First Nations” now, but this was the 1970’s and those who were trying to reclaim their culture then named themselves Indians to me, and thus I came to know them. White was defined as “non Shushwap speaker”. Pierre, my status Mohawk friend, was White, as was Scott, who I met again in University in a city that described him as Black, our Japanese citizens were also White. The Spallumcheen had a very tribal understanding of people. Us and them. There was no judgement or hatred invovled, simply the understanding that the band was one people, and those outside the band were of other peoples. This is the the attitude that allows people of different tribes to work together in a confederacy that does not require a single imposed culture to work towards common goals. In Canadian terms, this is multi-culturalism.
As a Heathen growing up, I got to watch something that would become deeply important to me. I got to watch Western European Christianity attempt to destroy a people’s folk soul, destroy their tribal identity, destroy their connection to their land, their sacred ancestors, and the teachings of their people. In its place, they received the “One True Faith” forgiveness from the sins they had somehow committed before birth, and from what I can see, learned a misogyny that was utterly foreign to them prior to the coming of Chritianity, and a series of addictions that were also never part of their culture. I saw as well the quiet battle of the grandmothers to keep the old tongue alive, to keep the old stories alive. White Universities strove to record what was busy dying, much as did Ibn Fadalan, Tacitus, and Snorri Sturlson for our own ancestors. While they may not have known they were doing it, they were keeping alive the fires of an abandoned hearth until its children could return to tend it.
Christianity infected the rotting corpse of Rome, and the wedding of the dream of Empire and the disease of the “One True Faith” created a tool for forging a national identity by wiping out tribal identities. The US and Canadian governments, with the residential school system carried out the work Charlemagne did with our people in the past, destroying all internal sense of identity to force a single monoculture in its place, where to dissent against the Church was punished by the State, and to dissent with the State was to doubt God, and brand you evil.
I am not First Nation, I do not claim to understand any of the tribal cultures that made up its peoples. I do see in their struggles in these last two centuries, the struggle our own Heathen folk lost a thousand years ago, and have begun to win back now.
Heathens and First Nations peoples are both examples of Reconstructionist faiths. We are seeking to reclaim our ancestral teachings, our ancestral understandings of the world, in modern times. I am not a 9th Century Viking skald, I am a modern man who manages a department in a company that makes military auxiliary vessels, I am a retired soldier, a husband and father. I live in a world my ancestors would not understand, but they were a vibrant living people who embraced change, and who adapted their culture in every generation to meet the challenges facing the folk. I strive to do the same.
First Nations Culture, like Heathen Culture is either to be understood as a broad spectrum of tribal understandings, made up of individual family understandings, or we are falling into the trap of the dogma of “One True Faith”. The worst poison of Christian thought, that concept turns pride in your way of life into a judgement of others.
Our ancestors accepted that we held to our own ways, and they were good for our people, and we won honour by keeping them. Other peoples had other ways, and those were good for their people, and indeed, they won much honour be keeping them. I look at First Nations and Heathens as both looking to reclaim the health, both spiritual and physical, of our ancient ways of life, and bringing those understandings forward to make healthier choices in our modern world.
First Nations and Heathens do not have to agree with each other, or even among our own, to be able to join in the struggle to bring our shared nations into a better way of dealing with its citizens, with the lands and waters we all share, and keeping faith with our ancestors who together sacrificed so much that we could stand in this land together and have the chance at making better choices than were available to them.
We are modern folk who understand that our ancestors held many teachings that are vitally important to us in making good decisions in the world we hold today, that our children may inherit a better one from our hands. Is that enough understanding to move forward together, while accepting each others differences?
I believe it is enough.