I have only heard it once. A young indigenous man, he happened to be from Attawapiskat, said something like this: “We are not opposed to refugees from Syria coming here, but have you forgotten your relationship with us!?”
He nailed it. He nailed me. From early in the days of the Syrian Refugee urgency I have wrestled with this question. But when he asked it, I started to wake up in the morning with his query gnawing on my mind.
I am building a relationship with a family of seven from a small village in Syria who are being sponsored by my church. They are our guests. I am deeply committed to seeing all of them learn English, find meaningful community, and enter fully and richly into life in Canada. And, God willing, it is very likely they will.
Frankly it is far more likely to happen for them than for the young lad from Attawapiskat who is plaintively reminding us of our first priority relationship…of our fundamental link to the people who welcomed my newcomer tribe here. Our hosts.
Both our Attawapiskat friend, and our new friends from Syria have faced violence. In the middle east it is the vicious, visible violence that makes online news. Along the shores of James Bay it is the slow grind of structural violence over centuries that saw lands taken, children removed and lifeways denigrated.
Our Syrian friend fled the violence, while our friend in Attawapiskat is still in it. One is now a guest here, one has always been the host. Both represent peoples with whom MCC has deep, long and mutually transformative relationships.
Yet while many refugees thrive, somehow too many of our indigenous neighbours struggle on the margins in either urban or traditional landscapes. We at MCC cannot make this better. We can build hope-filled relationships; we can walk humbly beside while persistently working for change.
Join us as we honour both those we host and those who continue to host us.
Rick Cober Bauman is the Executive Director of MCC Ontario.