Edited by Steve Heinrichs
Mennonite Church Canada, 2018
Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization asks two essential questions of its authors: “Is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can Indigenous and Settler authors make the Bible an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed, even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization?” To that end, sixty authors wrestle with the Scriptures, re-reading and re-imagining the ancient texts for the sake of reparative futures. The book is a collection of poetry, stories, and essays, many of which lend themselves to liturgical contexts. It was published by the Mennonite Church Canada in 2018 as part of their Indigenous-Settler Relations program.
Céline Chuang is a Settler of color living on untreated Coast Salish territories (Vancouver), descended from the migrant Chinese diaspora. The following lament is about her experience with the Women’s Memorial March, which takes place annually through the Downtown Eastside neighborhood of Vancouver, where she walked and grieved the missing and dead Indigenous women of the area.
Céline participated in Exploring Identity and (Dis)belonging through the Personal Essay with Enuma Okoro in June 2018 at the Collegeville Institute. The following excerpt is the fourth entry in our Bearings Online series on identity, belonging, and the church. View other entries in this series »
O unending Creator, center of the circle,
in whom all things live, move, and have their being,
how long will the unjust flourish, the pipelines snake over sacred water?
How long before missing women find home and children return to arms of kin,
before the Downtown Eastside flows with bannock and blessing?
How long, O Lord?
In the Downtown Eastside, where I work, 75 percent of those who come to the women’s centre are Indigenous. Many are not from here—the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh—but from across Turtle Island: Cree, Métis, Dene, Gitxsan, Blackfoot, Wet’suwet’en, Anishinaabe. When land is taken away, trauma begets trauma, displacement and poverty compound with time. Here, in the Downtown Eastside, living palimpsest and epicenter of struggle, the Women’s Memorial March was born. A small group of Indigenous women, eyes wet with weeping, proclaim their grief in public, refuse state-sanctioned silence.
Whenever I speak, I cry out.
This year, my first as a guardian, I wear a reflective vest and walk alongside the Elders’ van. The women are old now, 27 years after the first march, slow-moving, frail in body and bone, but still burning with fire. At each stop they lay roses and honor the murdered and missing with ceremony. From their circle, smoke rises to the sky. Thousands follow the Elders past crumbling facades and condemned single room occupancies, luxury boutiques, high-end furniture stores. Three eagles spiral overhead. The drums sound.
Surely now, as we proclaim the women still being stolen—by the housing and fentanyl crises, by men, by prisons and police, by silence—you will turn your face towards those who grieve in public, who cry over sullied land and water, over every street corner.
I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Does your subaltern Spirit hover now over holy waters,
waves restless with plastic, teeming with creation’s hungry ghosts?
Hoarse-throated and aching, our voices join the land defenders.
Children of diaspora, we join the march with unbound feet,
follow the drum beats and pillar of fire,
prepare food and songs for the exodus from empire.
My grandmother, who lives in Hong Kong, prays with eyes clenched in a stream of Hokkien syllables, married my grandfather in a white wedding dress, a Western wedding. My grandfather once told me in his best English: do not lose your culture. But how much was already lost before I had hands to carry? How do I carry the weight of colonial Canadian history as a diasporic Christian Settler who has lost the names of my own ancestors? And so I form patterns of kinship. I sing the Women’s Warrior Song beside Elders and matriarchs, accept this and other gifts: smoked salmon from a Gitxsan friend, who prays over me with a rumbly voice, moccasins from a Métis mother bonded to me through Benjamin’s prairie past.
I am learning that Indigenous joy is a fire that draws others around its circle. I am learning that joy erupts as protest and survival, like it does in Jeremiah, like it does in gospel and jazz and powwow. That praise makes your body move. That exaltation is part of lament, is part of a grief that must keep on grieving, breathing, sweating, resisting, creating, demanding.
This excerpt was reprinted with permission from Mennonite Church Canada. Learn more about this book by visiting the publisher’s website.