Indigenous justice and reconciliation can only take place in ways that ensure Black lives matter.
Last year I noticed someone regularly going to the gym the same time as me. He wore a hat with the former logo of the Cleveland baseball team. This logo was an offensive and stereotypical depiction of an Indigenous man, and the name for the Cleveland team was also offensive, as team names in other sports have been. As a Dene man, I have rejoiced as the Edmonton CFL team, the Washington NFL team, the Cleveland baseball team, and more have stopped using names and practices that are offensive to Indigenous nations. These decisions were the fruit of decades of dialogue and pressure, but a real catalyst event occurred in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and a renewed attention to questions of racial justice for Black communities. While that work continues, I still celebrate as an Indigenous person and a sports fan that we have set aside some of these team names and logos.
Last summer in a Facebook group for sharing dënesułiné language and culture the question was posed about how we might express that Black lives matter in Dene. One of the suggestions was dënë zené daghéna hádorilʔi – literally “we want Black people to live.” To express this as Indigenous people in our own languages is important because it recognizes that Indigenous justice and reconciliation can only take place in ways that ensure that Black lives matter. Our movements for justice are linked. And sadly sometimes we see them as being in conflict, as if in church or society gains for Indigenous peoples can only come at the expense of Black peoples or the other way around. With this mindset of scarcity we end up seeing ourselves in competition with one another.
Scripture tells again and again of God’s intention to heal our ethnic divisions and tensions. In writing to the church in Ephesus the writer emphasized a point throughout scripture that Jesus Christ is our peace, and through his blood on the cross he reconciles divided peoples into one (Eph. 2:11-18). The Spirit moved powerfully to compel the early church to welcome people regardless of ethnic background (Acts 10:44-48), including an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). God has purchased with the blood of Christ for Godself people from every tribe and tongue and nation and people (Rev. 5:9); God promises to make a house of prayer for all peoples (Isa. 56:7) ending former hostilities and divisions. I believe that movements for reconciliation and justice for Indigenous nations should include and support our belief that Black lives matter, and so on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day as I celebrate our work for justice I will say thank you to the movement of Black lives for raising all kinds of concerns of racial justice. And I will say proudly in the language of my people that dënë zené daghéna hádorilʔi, we want Black people to live.
— Mitchell Anderson is a Dene man and lead minister at St. Paul’s United Church, Saskatoon.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.