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As a member of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, the traditional government for the Mi’kmaq Nation, representing the district of Epekwitk, now known as Prince Edward Island, I fully support Indigenous elder Nathan Philips. All indigenous societies have great respect for our elders. They are our knowledge keepers and have walked many hard roads. I am so happy that he played his traditional drum and chanted a prayer to the Creator. It is sacred to us because it reminds us of the first thing we heard when we were in our mother’s womb.
How those students treated Philips was, at best, utterly thoughtless but I fear was an intentional blatant disgusting, racist disrespect to our indigenous elders and our indigenous cultures. That event and the aftermath clearly illustrated how ignorant many of our youth, like those who confronted Nathan Phillips, are of Indigenous history and culture. Did they know they were hearing the beating heart of a mother?
As in Canada, these teenagers appear to still believe in the sort of superiority that led to the Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of law imposed by 15th century papal bulls and 16th century royal charters. It was essentially a supremacist philosophy that gave Christian Europeans the green light to go forth and conquest, to claim the lands and resources of non-Christian peoples and kill or enslave them – as long as the other white European peoples had not already gotten there first to do the evil deed.
These young men and women who disrespected Elder Nathan Phillips are students from a Catholic High School. It is particularly sad that this Doctrine of Discovery echoed by their sneering actions was originally created by the Vatican for use by the kingdoms and armies of Europe. Where were the teachings of Christ in their thinking? Nowhere. Jesus was case aside for gold and glory, corruption and greed, when they drew up the law of conquest. The Pope and Europe’s Monarchs who drafted the Doctrine of Discovery sure didn’t remember Jesus when he said "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself'": Luke 10;27
It is about time that the Catholic operated schools and the public schools in the U.S. and Canada, teach the students the truth about so called “discovery” and how it resulted in genocide and dispossession of our homelands. It is about time that all schools taught the truth about all the atrocities that came with conquest. When the British occupied what is now the United States of America they enacted a number of Royal Proclamations aimed at the extermination of Indigenous peoples. In the early 1600s they had a bounty had been placed on our heads but soon the settlers found this method too cumbersome. It was too hard to transport the that many human heads to the nearest fort! So in the mid 1600s, the British changed the rules so that just the scalps were needed to earn the bounty for each life taken.
Scalping was not an isolated practice. Colonial governments in both the USA and Canada did their best to exterminate the Indigenous Peoples who have lived here for millennia.
I call on the Most Reverend Bishop Roger Foys of Covington diocese to follow the lead of others, to follow the Episcopalian and United Churches and repudiate the fruits of conquest, repudiate that atrocious Doctrine of Discovery and seek to move forward on the true path of respect and reconciliation. Only by doing that will we truly hear the message of the drum beat of Elder Nathan Phillips and understand what it means.
John Joe Sark,
Johnston’s River, P.E.I.