"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Does Military Training help During Times of Crisis?

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This is the most-often asked question I’ve had from my co-workers. Does my military background help me work more effectively and cope better with times like these?

Both the short and long answers is yes, it is totally relevant. So a bit of a narrative about military training and the underlying philosophy.

The first thing that is drilled into you repeatedly are the patterns of military duty. You practice response to crisis and routine day in and day out. “Train like you fight” was one of the slogans used regularly. That leaves you with some clear learnings about dwelling in crisis:

  • You can resolve almost every situation by relying on your training. Respond the way you were trained and you’ll be ok.
  • The important thing in a crisis is to continue to fulfill your duty (whatever that may be).

A great example of this comes in the civilian/military dichotomy around understanding of heroes. In Edmonton a few years back a local group was lobbying to have Gateway Blvd (if I recall) renamed “Hero Way” (or something like that). The Garrison was very cool to the idea, and I heard confusion among my coworkers. “Isn’t being called a hero a good thing?” I was asked.

So I had to explain. Soldiers tend to distrust heroes. Heroes usually means someone is grandstanding to get noticed, and that invariably may hurt others. I was always taught to keep as far away from those people as I could. What impresses a soldier is when someone does their duty, even in extremes. The best compliment that you can pay a soldier is to say they did their duty.

A soldier who perseveres through an extreme circumstance is called a hero by civilians. We (other soldiers) look on with admiration because she withstood the test and did her duty. It’s similar with those who have been in combat. If I had to describe my perspective it would be envy, because they had entered the fog and done their duty, the ultimate test of soldiering skills.

The second thing you are trained to deal with is too little information and too little time. It is better to make a decision that needs to be adapted going forward, than to make no decision and see what unfolds. The later path is one that ends up with people dead and missions failed. The management of ambiguity is a huge part of leadership training in the military.

This is perfectly reflected in Boyd’s OODA loop. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop

Boyd was a fighter pilot who revolutionized understanding of air combat. The OODA loop was the way he described that environment and how to succeed. OODA is available everywhere now in business circles as a tool for management decision-making, but most of those sources miss the brilliant simplicity of Boyd’s model.

Boyd was writing to other fighter pilots to help them develop approaches that would allow them to dominate in air combat. Modern air combat is impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced it (and I’m no expert – I did two ACM missions when I was on squadron and never did another one because I couldn’t work for the rest of the day). Imagine having to track 6 other aircraft, while upside down, looking all around for other threats, watching your wingman, controlling at least 4 weapons systems, communicating on at least two radios, and weighing 8x what you normally do (because you’re pulling 8 g’s trying to obtain a firing solution on an enemy aircraft). Fighter pilots are absolutely amazing information processors – and can take all of those inputs and operate the system while under huge physiological stress.

Boyd’s loop takes you through a continuous cycle of assessment and decision: observe – orient – decide – act (repeat until your adversary is defeated, or until you are defeated). That philosophy is part of the soldier’s ethos: always watch, be always ready, when required be decisive and act, then reassess and repeat.

One of the biggest benefits of that indoctrination is comfort in situations where you have inadequate information and inadequate time to plan and make a decision. Ambiguity is another word for the “fog of war”.

What those two aspects (do your duty, act even when short on information and time) do for the soldier is provide a nexus of control that allows you to master even new and challenging situations quickly. Since you’ve been repeatedly tested and trained in that context, when it comes to the real thing you enter confident that you will prevail. Rely on your training. Rely on your buds (other soldiers). Do your duty. Never stop assessing and acting.

Those attributes are shared by other groups in society. First responders, emergency medicine care providers all train to operate in those sorts of environments. What is different for the military is an inability to refuse unsafe work, and the reality that you usually don’t sleep in your own bed at the end of each day. Many of those missions are done in austere locations, with inadequate resources, and sometimes only enough water for the bare minimum of hygiene and sustainment of life.

Military leaders are trained to understand that a failure to act will result in people dying, always. It leads to a certain pragmatism that also helps you to manage situations where everything has gone to crap. I expected that my team would be killed as we carried our mission forward – a good example is operations in CBRN (or NBCD) environments: nuclear, biological, chemical defence. No one survives those types of “non-permissive” environments. It is always a game of attrition and how long you can sustain operations.

This is part of the burden that veterans carry for the rest of our lives. Our training and practice taught us to continue operations including managing how we expended our team members.

I mentioned elsewhere in a post about the book “The Blue Cascade” a briefing preparing for a mechanized assault on a city. The commanding officer says in the o-group, If we meet resistance in the city, B Squadron will deploy along the axis of advance and be expended. The author of the book said that was the first point it hit him, what the CO was really saying was that to preserve the speed of assault, and to protect the rest of the unit, that squadron would be deliberate used to engage and block the adversary and likely be destroyed in the process.

So yes, because we were trained to deal with those situations, working in a pandemic is a lot like my old day job.

Written by sameo416

March 31, 2020 at 9:23 am

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Robin DiAngelo — White Fragility

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I’ve been re-reading Robin DiAngelo’s excellent book on White Fragility (well, listening this time as I commute). It is so well laid out in terms of building the case around unconscious bias and how whiteness seeks to always be seen as the norm.

I had an intense personal encounter with this in gender space. I was at a wonderful conference a few years back about women in STEM spaces, and took a class on micro-aggression and unconscious bias. The facilitator asked women in the room (about 80 in total, with 2 men which itself was interesting) who were willing to share stories of sexual harassment they had experienced in their professional work. As the awful stories poured out I found myself getting frustrated and angry.

As I got more emotional I started to prepare counterpoints in my mind:

“Yes, but all men aren’t like that.”

“I’m sorry you had such an awful experience, but that would never happen in my workspace.”

And then I stopped myself, because it struck me. That was the exact message the workshop was seeking to pass on to me and the other male in the room. And I was preparing to do what the facilitator was trying to teach: stepping into space where I minimize or erase their experiences, not because these were invalid, but because they were threatening to me as a man.

Lesson learned, I sat back to listen to all of that lived experience to figure out how I had supported those patterns of harm, and what I needed to do to change moving forward.

That’s exactly the sort of learning DiAngelo is attempting to bring us white folks.

Now, as a completely white-passing Metis, I have personally experienced how whiteness seeks to be the norm. Best personal example was when a dear co-worker, after hearing that I was Metis replied, “I’m glad you’re finding your family history, but you realize you’re not really aboriginal.” For that person, it was far safer for me to be white than Indigenous, because if I was Indigenous it would unseat years of assumptions about my relations. Or looking at it the other way, there was no way I could be Indigenous because I didn’t fit any of the tropes that she associated with natives.


I still have huge issues with importing the idea of white fragility into Christian spaces. I went through this in detail previously after I had some push-back on a comment I made in a sermon about not needing Christian white fragility.

The fact I got push back on that comment from white people is itself diagnostic. Looking at DiAngelo’s thesis, what I see happening now is a white claiming of fragility in “woke” spaces. But, I have not seen that as a real motivation that moves those people to change their behaviour. Christian spaces in Canada are still not safe spaces for Indigenous people to be fully themselves. Christian spaces in Canada are happy to have Indigenous come out when a bit of sage smoke or some Cree prayers are needed, and then to be put away in a safe lock box. What I and my Indigenous relations experience is much as Thomas King points out: Settlers really want dead Indians; but the problem is we’re alive.

One of the particular powers of whiteness is its ability to constantly seize the narrative and make it about itself. That’s one of the normalizing cycles DiAngelo identifies. In Christian spaces it is even more pernicious in that I do not see a Scriptural precedent that allows us to split our communities into cohorts based on social constructs like race. Which is exactly what defending your right to white fragility does.

Our starting point as people of faith is the firm belief that we are all sinners in need of redemption, and that in spite of our best efforts we will always fall short of what God would have us do and be.

By emphasizing your whiteness, you are literally making a claim to being a better sinner than I am.

Miroslav Volf talks about this in his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, A professor asks him if he could embrace a cetnick (I might have that term wrong, but don’t have time to research just yet – pandemic stuff). The cetnicks were those who engaged in ethnic cleansing in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. So Volf was challenged, and realized that all of his nice words about forgiveness and reconciliation would be dust, if he could not embrace someone who had raped and murdered his family members.

I had a coffee discussion with some clergy colleagues many years back. They were talking about making the church more welcoming for LGBTQT+ persons. I said something like: you know, I don’t have any issue with that. What I have issue with is a church that focuses on one group to the exclusion of others, like are you prepared to invite Paul Bernardo (or any other horrific figure) to dinner with you and your children? Demonstrating my skill as a conversation killer, everyone stopped to stare at me, until one said, There’s no way I could do that. You’re really challenging me.

So my concern with importing social movement materials (like white fragility) from the secular, profane culture and academia into our faith communities is exactly that. We have a long history as Christians of surrounding ourselves with people that look just like us, and either explicitly or implicitly excluding those who don’t look like us. We’re called to a different path, one that is radically different than even DiAngelo’s image of a world where whiteness does not have privilege.

White fragility, in a Christian context, is just one more tool that allows us to feel good about ourselves, without requiring us to make any change at all.


As a footnote, I saw a twitter post the other day from an older women who had clear social justice markers in her profile. She declared that she and her friend had decided to stop using the word “unceded” in their land acknowledgements because it set up a dynamic where the normative state for treaty lands was “ceded”. She was writing from Coast Salish territory.

I asked a gentle question in reply: did you ask any of the Indigenous people on whose land you are doing those acknowledgements what they think about the “unceded” language? After all, aren’t you doing those acknowledgements to be an ally to them? So wouldn’t the first place to go with a question about language be to that nation, as opposed to a debate between two white people?

There was no response. Because of course she isn’t interested in what those local nations might think, she’s interested in appearing like a woke white woman.




Written by sameo416

March 18, 2020 at 8:49 am

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How do you ‘accidentally’ shoot down an airplane?

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One brief note into the media reporting around the 737-800 shot down on departure from Tehran.

First, the media continues to amaze me with its ineptitude anytime it has to venture into an area that requires some knowledge to understand and explain. eg, ‘rockets’ are not ‘missiles’, one is unguided and governed only by ballistics, the other is guided and steered and governed only by available energy. The early reporting was universally poor and told me few media outlets have any ex-air force types in their address books.

It was pretty clear to me looking at the first few dozen photos of the crash scene that the scenarios painted by Iran were not reflecting the state of the wreckage. Crash investigators read wreckage and can gain deep insights into the physics of the crash from what can be seen on the wreckage. Simple example: a turbine engine spinning on impact with the ground will lose lots of fan/compressor/turbine blades. A turbine engine not spinning on impact will preserve most of the blades.

After a few minutes reviewing the photos it was apparent that the sequence started with partial break-up of the airframe at altitude. A lack of significant ground scars, small pieces of wreckage widely scattered and no localized fire are all clues. The fact there was no radio call, and all telemetry from the jet stopped all at once suggested a catastrophic failure of all electrics, something that you would not see in the case of a single engine fire. Finally, several pieces of the wreckage showed clear impact marks that happened outside the airframe, and were not consistent with post-impact ground damage.

I’m not particularly expert in crash investigation or the terminal effects of SAM, but that was all available after a quick review. Anyone who has done basic investigation, worked around AA or SAM systems would have been able to reason their way through that.

Second beef, no one ‘accidentally’ shoots down an airplane. Radar guided missiles are guided to the target. That process typically starts with illumination of the target with tracking radar, followed by illumination by a fire control radar and then launch of the missile – which either uses the reflected energy from the target or relies on its own transmitter to pick up the track. While those defense systems often have autonomous modes, where the system can engage and fire, someone has to engage that mode. All this to say, you don’t accidentally shoot down an airplane – the act of track, lock and launch requires intention.

Now what you can do, as apparently happened with MH17 in Ukraine a few years back, is incorrectly identify your target. So the ‘accident’ if there was one, was the mis-identification of a civil 737 as a valid military target. Everything after that causal error required deliberate actions by the battery command and crew, so to describe a shoot-down as ‘accidental’ reduces it to the same degree as suddenly hitting black ice on the highway and ending up in the ditch.

Unfortunately, most of the really interesting questions will not be answered. The 737 flight recorders, while important for understanding what happened to the airplane, won’t tell us anything about the missile battery and the Iranian C2 system and the decision-making process to engage and launch. What would give us some insight into that process are any data recorders (electronic or manual) which might have been part of the battery or the C2 system, or the ability to interview all the soldiers involved. Not much chance in that happening.

Thanks – this is just to blunt my annoyance with the number of times I’ve heard about ‘rocket’ launches.

Written by sameo416

January 23, 2020 at 8:19 am

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Farewell to my last Job c. 2015

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Just came across this in an email search, and thought it was worth reading. Hard to believe that was only four years ago.

My thanks for the luncheons, and for the touching and generous gifts.  I will hang the red fox in a place of honour in my new office (if I have one…it may be a desk in a closet!).

I said everything at lunch…the approximate text is below for those who missed it.  I understand there is a video floating about, and a second one of Frank and I kissing.  Please don’t put that second one on youtube set to a One Direction tune!

Departing comments.  August 12, 2015

If you’ve ever edited one of my decisions, you know I can’t say anything quickly.  Please bear with me for a few minutes.  Thanks particularly to my retired colleagues who came to lunch, and to everyone who organized, brought food and contributed to the gifts.  About a month back I was starting to feel really agitated and uneasy about the move, and when I reflected on why I realized that it was because I have never spent 10 years in one job in my life.  It’s given rise to some reflection on that question.  My military experience was a move every 1 or 2 years, as that was the normal pattern.

Yet I’m aware that a departure from a workplace is much like a hand being pulled from a bucket of water.  When we leave the hand is pulled out and the water rushes in to fill the void, and all that is left is ripples.  In time even the ripples settle down.  This is not to say that time in our work community does not have an immense impact on each of us, for our work and mutual interactions shape who we are and help us to grow and develop.  Sometimes that comes from happy, supportive situations; sometimes it comes from moments of intense fury, frustration and tears.  Like the cycle of day and night, workplaces are similarly places of light and dark, just like all other parts of our lives.  It’s always good to remember that often it is the darkest moments that lead us into the greatest personal growth.

When I applied here for a position in 2006, I was in pretty rough shape and in a really dark place.  I left the military with a significant disability – 36 percent clinical impairment if you’re counting – and I was literally at the end of my rope in 2006.  I had just finished two very difficult years of full-time work for the church, and had concluded that I could not continue working full-time.  As I was musing over that one day while looking at the Journal’s job section I turned the page to see the Appeals Commission advertisement.  I never thought I would get the position because I didn’t have the degree of experience they wanted.  After the second interview I recall telling the search consultant that I thought it was time to start taking the process seriously.  I’m grateful for people like G—- and D—, who decided to give an ex-military guy a chance…even after Doug found out I wasn’t licensed to repair his airplane.  So this place was not only a job, but a graduated return-to-work program that ended with me successfully transitioning back to full-time work.  It’s a supreme and divine irony that our work to adjudicate appeals has permitted my own veteran’s compensation claim to come to a resolution of sorts.  Thank you to each of you for your role in my recovery.

I’ve told several people about my reasons for leaving, but it’s worth a moment.  We are in a period of uncertainty about re-appointment.  I’m sure this will pass with time, but it will pass too late for me.  I had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the uncertainty and the impact on my family.  That’s compounded by my older hearing chair contract that has no mandatory advance notice of an intention to not renew: meaning each time my contract turns, it’s a no-notice dismissal situation.  That, the uncertainty,  and a number of other factors all came together once, made me turn to look outside the public service.  Why outside?  In the past year the 20 some positions I had applied for had not netted even a phone call.  It was clear that my future was not intended to be with government.  [ed note: this was right after the NDP had been elected and our appointments were being done away with somewhat arbitrarily]

Much to my surprise the first job I googled (literally, “engineer AND director AND Edmonton AND job”) was my first application, led to an almost immediate call in for five days of interviews with a job offer on day 6.  The position looked like it had been written for me specifically, asking for a combination of engineering, legislative interpretation and volunteer management.  The way it all came together in a rush, a near-perfect job with a generous offer, was a clear signal that this was time to follow a different path.

What was not so easy was the decision to leave.  Our work at the Appeals Commission is so important, for we have the immense authority to correct errors in the compensation system…errors that can literally destroy a person’s life (or an employer’s existence).  I’ve really appreciated the direct opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, even if that difference is only listening to their story with compassion and understanding (in short, to be really human for them).  The work has been hugely challenging but oh so fulfilling.

Although I’ve blanked most of 2012 and 2013 out of my mind except for the occasional recurrent nightmare, I also wanted to thank each of the people that worked with me to roll that immense boulder back up to the mountaintop.  I’m speaking of our ACES project here, of course, and I was reminded by D—- the other day of how many times we came close to being crushed as we were trying to achieve a stable and functional application.  You know who you are, and my sincere thanks for propping me up many times in those dark months.

I’m sad to say farewell to the group of really neat people that make up our community.  I’m grateful for the support from everyone, and when I needed something I never had to look far for help.  I’m eternally indebted to my commissioner peers who have provided for so much learning and development and always lively discussion over the past almost ten years.  As I was cleaning out my file cabinet I came across a 6 inch high stack of decisions that G— had reviewed in precise detail, from the day when new chairs went through a mandatory 6-month writing review.  I’ve saved those decisions because they continue to help me improve as a writer, and I now realize how much work she put into those reviews.  Thanks G— and M—– for many discussions and gentle challenge when I was heading off into the deep end without a paddle board.  Thanks to all my chair colleagues …and particularly to Frank for helping keep me real.  Thanks also for the help as we worked through the loss of several dear colleagues, most particularly Ed who was my unofficial mentor concerning issues of learning to live in a world out of uniform.

As I passed the news of my departure on to people, it sparked some rather dramatic responses.  I’ve been glad that most of the profanity and comments about my traitorous act of leaving have tapered off.  Know that I have benefited more from your support over the past decade than anything I may have contributed to you.  So, thank you for this lunch, and for all the kind words of the past six weeks.  Keep up the fight for truth.

Written by sameo416

November 25, 2019 at 8:24 am

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Quantum Physics, Worldviews and Theology: A New Way Forward in Reconciliation?

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This article is just published in a compilation, Indigenous People and the Christian Faith: A New Way Forward.  I’ve been holding off blogging it until the ink is dry on the book pages. This version is not the final draft as WordPress doesn’t work well with footnotes which were required in the book style…but it’s mostly there. Mistakes are all mine.

This paper arose out of a presentation made by the author and a dear sister in the faith and Métis cousin. I wouldn’t have been able to start working through this theory aspect without the many discussions and exchanges about the question of reconciliation and Settler/Indigenous thought. Thanks!


Interactions involving the Western church and Indigenous Peoples leave the dominant, colonial worldview unquestioned causing the failure of reconciliation efforts. The Western worldview is still dominated by Enlightenment or Newtonian assumptions about the nature of reality that are mechanistic, reductionist and positivist: such as the deliberate separation of knowing and being.  This is apparent in science but infuses other disciplines such as theology, biblical studies and the general culture. Indigenous reality starts and ends with interrelationship of all things, even those a Western worldview marks as inanimate. The knowing of something is inseparable from its relationship with the knower, what Gregory Cajete terms the “ensoulment” of reality. Echoes of this Indigenous cosmology are heard in modern physics, where the quantum understanding of reality also reflects an intrinsically relational Creation. Re-discovery of figural approaches to Scripture are similar. The church needs to re-encounter an Indigenous approach to the faith to break free from its Enlightenment bondage.


Use of Language

This chapter uses the Indigenous community’s accepted term Indigenous to refer to Canada’s First Peoples collectively. We do so acknowledging that there is no “Indigenous” perspective because hundreds of distinct communities comprise that collective. Canadian Indigenous tend not to use the word aboriginal unless we are explicitly referring to the legal Settler concept that word carries: section 35(2) of the Constitution Act of 1982 which defines Canada’s three aboriginal peoples as First Nations, Métis and Inuit. For us, aboriginal is an imposed, colonial title. (Vowel 2016, 7-22) For references to non-Indigenous we will use the term Settler, capitalized, as used by Settler scholars Battell Lowman and Barker specifically to highlight the, “difficult subjects, uncomfortable realizations and potential complicity in systems of dispossession and violence.” (Battell Lowman and Barker 2015, 2) In references to writing from the United States quotations will sometimes include the word Indian or Native American, both still commonly used in the United States but rarely in Canada.


Canadian church communities have made commitments to reconciliation in response to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation attempts immediately meet the challenge of incompatible world views in collision, which may derail the attempt to establish a restorative and reconciled relationship. Recognition and acknowledgement of this conflict is an important first step for reconciliation.

For church communities, adhering to the second part of the Great Commandment should displace adversity created by incompatible cosmologies.[1] However, this is not always the case as the culturally default Newtonian cosmology is still considered the only correct means to understand reality, and this displaces the precedence placed on love of neighbour. (Boyes-Watson & Pranis 2012, 269) Understanding the root cause of this conflict is essential if reconciliation is to become possible.

The Western Church community and Settler society continue to operate from an Enlightenment perspective that is antithetical to Indigenous thought and existence. These conflicts exist in both ontological and epistemological aspects which limit the ability to effectively communicate and meet the other in truth. It is literally the meeting of two peoples who have no common language and therefore have little shared foundation with which to understand the other. There is value in study of other world views as it allows us to create a place where we can question our basic assumptions about reality. (Elliott 2011, 58).

This inability to communicate extends into theological and biblical studies which continue to be dominated by Enlightenment presumptions about the nature of reality. While there is some change – for example, in the re-discovery of the figural reading of Scripture – individual Christians still react out the formation provided by the church’s traditional teachings. (Radner 2016) That teaching continues to be conditioned by linear, Newtonian understandings of reality that developed as the dominant thought pattern out of the Enlightenment.

Indigenous cosmologies have more recently been shown to share common ground with emerging understandings in quantum physics. While particular disciplines in science are engaged in reshaping the scientific worldview, the Enlightenment presumption continues to dominate Settler thought. The quantum nature of reality presents the Western church with a non-Indigenous model of understanding creation which may provide a common bridge to achieve a real meeting of mind, heart and soul in a way that reconciliation may begin.

The two conflicting worldviews will be outlined and then contrasted through the metaphor of collision. Emerging aspects of Scriptural studies and quantum physics will be suggested as possible modes through which the Settler church may better engage reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Enlightenment Perspectives

The Enlightenment created a fundamental shift in modes of thinking. Although Enlightenment scientists such as Newton saw their work framed in a Christian context, the rationalist, positivist and reductionist approach eventually led to a shift in understanding of truth. Truth in the context of the scientific method progressively eliminated any place for mystery or spirit in thought, which eventually extended to exclude belief and faith. (Deloria 2017, 129)  Reductionist thought informed all aspects of academic study, and continues today in the modes of thought used throughout Western culture.

Newton, in his brilliant description of motion, also transformed the way we, and particularly the church, perceived reality: we possess a Newtonian world view. Newton’s brilliance changed the way we saw the Creation, from a place of enchantment and mystery to one that was mechanistic, reductionist and positivist – where we believed that we understood how everything worked. Through his math describing motion and energy transfer Newton convinced us that the Creation was something which could be defined and predicted entirely by the mind of humankind through mathematics: a world which was fundamentally fragmented, linear and hierarchical. That view infused all other investigation, left us with the idea that we were properly centred in the Creation, that reality was as we defined it and as we would make it. That world view in turn left us a fragmented and linear perspective of the person of Christ. (Taylor 2007, 25)

Central to the developing scientific method was the need for absolute objectivity by constructing an aloof approach to observation. It insisted in a separation between being, (ontology) and knowing, (epistemology) to preserve the necessary objectivity to ensure data are not biased by the observer. You could not think about something and experience it at the same time. This understanding of reality was imposed on the new world as the defining method of colonialism. In this “fortress” Western science created its own mythos that created one, “…true way of knowing, an intellectual monolith, founded on epistemic universalism…built brick by brick, in the reductionist paradigm.” (Kimmerer 2013, 55-6) Kimmerer’s designation of this thought as “epistemic universalism” reflects the Enlightenment reality that only one acceptable mode of thought existed to discern reality.

Western science placed objectivity as the only route to true knowledge of the physical world, and cast all other approaches into doubt by ascribing bias to all non-objective methods. Even this assignment reflects a dualist view: subjective versus objective and the assumption that we can separate ourselves from that which we are observing. Enlightenment thinkers observe all reality reductively. This perspective gives reason primacy overall and intuition, emotion and the spirit are secondary or irrelevant or hopelessly subjective. Those dualist approaches are totally absent from Indigenous views of the Creation. (Smith 1998, 416)

Western science looks to the repeatability and replicability of experiment as the foundation of truly objective knowledge. This reflects a fundamental assumption of the scientific method, that reality is observable and governed by predictable laws which support both repeatability and replicability of experimental results. For a scientist (or engineer) all work is governed by these unstated presumptions about the nature of reality, that the strength of materials is knowable that concrete ages in certain ways. In the natural law tradition those predictable rules are ascribed to an orderly creator who brings order to creation by nature. However, that tradition does not require the creator’s intellect to be continuously engaged with the reality as the orderly nature was infused into the physical creation at some prior point in the form of immutable laws. The Enlightenment created the possibility of limiting the agency of an imminent God by adopting a universally dualist approach to reality.

“Newtonian physics…described a world of absolute space, time and matter” that could be completely and universally comprehended. (Deloria 1999, 32) The reductionist approach addresses complexity by reducing the complex to component parts, studying the gear wheels and springs independently, and then reassembling the structure that is now considered completely understood. (Boyes-Watson & Pranis 2012, 267) This works when the subject of inquiry is well-suited to reductionist analysis, like with a watch, but not so well when reality is more complex.

Western science still holds only a fragmented view of reality marked by an imperfect understanding. Engineering asserts its ability to control the physical reality, but engineering design is replete with the use of safety factors to allow for imperfect understanding of materials and environment. This approach has been spectacularly successful is without argument, but it tends to reinforce the thought that engineering has mastered the physical creation when this is not accurate. Fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality underlie the scientific method but are rarely acknowledged by practitioners.[2]

This reductionist approach supported approaches like the documentary hypothesis of Scriptural criticism. Theologian Andrew Louth recognized a broader, “division and fragmentation” in theology and the larger culture because of,

…the one-sided way we have come to seek and recognize truth… manifest in the way in which all concern with truth has been relinquished to the sciences, and to those branches of learning that can successfully adopt the methods of the sciences… (Louth 1989, i)

Louth identifies that this change impacted the theological sciences, and promotes a return to earlier, patristic and allegorical perspectives when seeking to understand the Bible. This parallels similar promotion of the figural approach to Scripture and interpretation, calls all made in reaction to the Enlightenment dominance of theology and study of the Bible.

Newtonian thought also led to the dualism of mind and body. The mind possessed thought while the body occupied space, one intangible in a physical sense the other existing only in the physical. Reductionist thinking conceives of a reality of discrete things which can be properly known and explored independent of other ontological entanglements. This was applied through colonial imposition or “epistemic violence” (Seuffert 1997, 98) on the colonized peoples, as the only acceptable way to think and be.

This reductionist approach also informs the Settler understanding of knowledge. There is no question of whether knowledge should be possessed, only if there is the will or power to possess it. Knowledge is commodified in Western thought, to the extent that we believe in the fundamental right of access to any knowledge that we desire. Knowledge is available for purchase at will, with little concern as to how the knowledge will be used, or if the person desiring the knowledge is prepared and capable of possessing that particular information. As Deloria points out, science forces secrets from nature using the experimental method, while traditional peoples accept secrets from the Creation as gift. (Deloria 1999, 52)

It is also apparent that these worldviews also tend to reproduce and reinforce the dominant social order, and tend to reinforce existing power structures. Newtonian cosmology was a vehicle by which the colonial undertaking was manifest and rationalized. (Seuffert 1997, 98) Even today, modern Western thought is strongly rooted in this Enlightenment thought, viewing the mechanistic world through reductionist lenses. (Cajete 2000, 53) This cosmology is strongly antithetical to Indigenous ways of being and knowing.

Indigenous Perspectives

English is so hierarchical. In Cree, we don’t have animate-inanimate comparisons between things. Animals have souls that are equal to ours. Rocks have souls, trees have souls. Trees are ‘who,’ not ‘what.’ – Tomson Highway.

Tomson Highway’s words reflects the Indigenous perspective of reality: it is a Creation that is inherently relational. Indigenous languages reflect this reality in the use of animate descriptions for almost all of the natural Creation. Even inanimate descriptions still permit some degree of agency. In Lawrence Gross’ recollections, his (inanimate in Anishinaabemowin grammar) moccasins are able to see him and to act with some independence. (Gross 2014, 102) For Indigenous to refer to rocks, trees and water as part of the group captured within “all my relations” makes perfect sense in an Indigenous cosmology which sees all reality as infused with being, spirit and agency. Indigenous ontology ascribes agency to all of the natural Creation. It is not about understanding our relationship with the creation, it is the relationship itself. (McGregor 2013, 79) Yet to a Christian mind, ascribing equality between a human soul and an animal soul is problematic.

For Indigenous, we are what we speak (or write). Our language reflects our being. Coming to the question of quantum realities the same challenge of properly descriptive language emerged, as the hierarchical noun-focused nature of English belies the quantum, relational complexity which underlies reality. It is only when demanding that thought constrain itself to Enlightenment defaults that English becomes a successful descriptive language and conveyor of culturally-accepted concepts and Cartesian causality.

This distinction is apparent when Indigenous languages are examined in detail, as Lawrence Gross set out looking at Anishinaabemowin’s (Ojibwe) embodiment of quantum and spiritual reality. It is a language intended to speak about process rather than to describe things. Gross quotes from Rupert Ross who offers a comment from an Indigenous speaker of Mi’kmaq that, “you can go all day long without saying a single noun. My eyes can see nouns…but that’s not what the function of language is. It’s not to become another pair of eyes. It’s supposed to be speaking to the ear and to the heart…”. (Gross 2014, 83; Ross 2006, 114) Physicist F. David Peat concurs that language is intimately connected with the way we think and perceive reality. (Peat 1996, 17)

Métis lawyer Jean Teillet made a similar assertion discussing Indigenous reactions to the Settler justice system when they are asked to swear to, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Indigenous asked to swear such an oath experience the collision of cosmology again, as to make such an assertion would demand complete knowledge of what is true, something absolutely foreign to Indigenous understanding of reality. Rather, Indigenous would assert the full scope of individual ability is to tell the court what they know, accepting that this is only one person’s experience of the event under scrutiny. (Teillet 2018) The perspective reflects that of the Chipewyan ontology outlined by Smith from the perspective of anthropology, “Reality is at once material and spiritual. Being is considered dynamic and changeable; any individual’s understanding of actuality is necessarily imperfect.” (Smith 1998, 413)

Indigenous understanding of ontology is also different. Unlike Enlightenment thought which centers the individual person, Indigenous thought instead centers the Creation. I exist in the manner in which I am related to other animate and inanimate beings in the Creation, within a web of relationships. Rather than limiting my self-perception to how others interact with me, or to a particular family grouping, my existence reflects the relational reality of Creation. The Indigenous worldview approaches reality as all my relations – which cannot be truly understood unless you also understand that to an Indigenous mind the thought of splitting apart knowing and being (ontology and epistemology) is incomprehensible. (Thistle, p. 14-5) Traditional approaches consider knowledge inseparable from a worldview that embraces spirit and subjective experience in addition to empirical validation. Spiritual explanations, rather than a Western attribution as supernatural, are an integral part of the Indigenous worldview. Material and spirit coexist without conflict. (Kimmerer, 2013, 69)

Reality is intrinsically relational, which includes accepting as family members things which the Western science world view would call inanimate or animal. Indigenous reality treats ontology and epistemology as inseparable: so the way of thinking about the land and the experience of relating to it are the same. (Battell Lowman and Barker 2015, 49). It is a reality where all those relations are infused with agency, and a reality where there is much unknown to the individual, except for that which the agents of the Creation have chosen to make known as gifts of knowledge. This holistic encounter with Creation forms the basis for a powerful methodological tool for obtaining knowledge. To truly understand a thing we must engage in all four aspects of human gifts: mind, body, emotion and spirit. (Kimmerer 2013, 49) Knowledge is not seen as commodity, but as a gift presented within a framework of reciprocity that carries with it an obligation to care for the Creation.

Biologist Robin Kimmerer speaks to this relational reality when she describes the Indigenous love of land, and the reality that when you love the land the land in turn loves you back. Land, an inanimate object in Enlightenment thought, has agency and self-determination in Indigenous reality. Land is able to participate in relationship with individuals and communities, to teach and to aid, and to correct if mistreated. This relational reality strongly contrasts with an Enlightenment approach which sees land merely as a tool to be used to enhance production, something which can be owned and exchanged as an object with financial or productive value. Kimmerer contrasts her teaching in a Western-science academic context with her Indigenous knowledge:

Plants were reduced to object. What was supposedly important about them was the mechanism by which they worked, not what their gifts were not what their capacities were. They were really thought of as objects, whereas I thought of them as subjects. And that shift in worldview was a big hurdle for me in entering the field of science. (Kimmerer 2016)

I was teaching the names [of plants] and ignoring the songs. (Kimmerer 2013, 43)

Western science asks us to learn about organisms; Indigenous science asks us to learn from them. (Kimmerer 2016)

There are other ways of seeing, of knowing, and reconciliation must arise from an ability to consider those other world views.

A key part of Indigenous cosmology is the idea of reciprocity: we have relationships and responsibilities. (McGregor 2013, 78) Use of the land is an exchange through reciprocity, where the land sustains and teaches us, and we in turn care for and sustain the land. This relationship reflects an ontology in relation to all other beings, beings including all the natural world: animal, plant, mineral, earth, water, fire, air. It is a truly holistic and all-encompassing world view. Blackfoot academic Leroy Little Bear (2018) discusses this ontology and epistemology by summarizing Indigenous world view this way: everything is in flux; everything is spirit-infused; everything is alive; everything is interrelated; all is in a constant motion of renewal and repetition; all thought is holistic. Tewa scholar Gregory Cajete describes the Indigenous relation to that flux-world as “ensoulment”. That is ultimately manifested in creation stories where the people literally arise from the land. (Cajete 2000, 186-7) The land lives.

Little Bear conducted a series of meetings between Indigenous knowledge keepers and elders and theoretical physicists in Alberta. Those meetings included physicist David Bohm who had already been seeking a verb-based language to describe the sometimes counterintuitive nature of quantum behaviour. In those discussions a consensus emerged that quantum physics and Indigenous languages describe the Creation in common terms: a relational world of flux. (Gross 2014, 83) In contrast to Newtonian causality, where a force applied causes a reaction that is equal and opposite, Indigenous causation and quantum causation are often non-linear processes.

Anthropologist David Smith explains his investigation into Chipewyan ontology or “bush sense” by concluding that all aspects of the Creation are infused with agency, and that all beings “human and nonhuman are inextricably engaged in a complex and communicative relationship.” Reality is at once both material and spiritual and perception is not dominated by the visual, as in European contexts, but by an amalgam of input from all the senses and teachings and ceremony to learn of all things visible and invisible. Smith goes on to observe we say in English that trees are “made” of wood without realizing this is a “mechanistic metaphor” for trees are not made of wood and mountains are not made of rock. Trees are wood, mountains are rock, and neither trees nor mountains are fabricated.

Even though quantum physics suggests that reality is relationship—that reciprocity is the being of our being there is a strong tendency to think of ourselves as observers of an external reality and not as participants in a reality that can never be validly externalized except as a consciously adopted methodological fiction. (Smith 1998, 416)

Perspectives in Collision

The fundamental factor that keeps Indians and non-Indians from communicating is that they are speaking about two entirely different perceptions of the world. (Deloria 1999, 1)

Western science presumes the existence of detectable and consistent rules that underlie reality, as the foundation of the experimental method’s ability to test knowledge. This approach does not require the presence of an intellect beneath the reality who is interacting with that creation in the present. By sharp contrast the Indigenous cosmology begins by assuming that all aspects of the Creation are infused with intellect and independent agency. Such a reality sharply limits the repeatability and replicability of experience because each encounter is uniquely individual, and two people following the same set of rituals may experience entirely different outcomes. (Gross 2014, 142). This reflects a fundamental contrast between the world views. While Newtonian science is immensely successful at predicting physical interaction, that prediction is ultimately valid only across a very limited scope of the Creation (the relatively slow, relatively large and relatively massless).

Cosmologies in collision is well-illustrated in this account by biologist Henry Huntington while conducting a census of beluga whales through traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) gathering. A group of Indigenous hunters speaking about the whale population suddenly veered off to discuss changes in the beaver population. As the scientist prepared to interject to turn the conversation back to whales, the elders noted his confusion and explained that an increasing population of beaver led to more dams, with a corresponding loss of salmon spawning habitat, leading to less salmon for the whales. Huntington later said he would never have made the connection alone because a salt-water biologist would not stop to think about the impact of fresh-water ecosystems. (Huntington 2000, 1271)

Kimmerer reflects the collision of cosmologies when describing engineering solutions to contaminated site remediation, for example in creating a monoculture of willow that may achieve “remediation” in a Western sense without achieving restoration of the land.

This kind of fix is at the core of the mechanistic view of nature, in which land is a machine and humans are the drivers. In this reductionist, materialist paradigm an imposed engineering solution makes sense. But what if we took the indigenous worldview? The ecosystem is not a machine, but a community of sovereign beings, subjects rather than objects. What if those beings were the drivers? (Kimmerer 2013, 331)

While this is not a main focus of this analysis, there is Scriptural precedent for the notion of inanimate aspects of the Creation having agency, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40, ESV) Such a reading takes new meaning through an Indigenous interpretation, and also possibly through figural reading.

Other branches of scientific investigation are beginning to acknowledge the flawed nature of a solely Newtonian-centric framework of understanding reality. For example, in the field of accident causation, Sidney Dekker writes,

This is the worldview inherited from Descartes and Newton, the worldview that has successfully driven technological development since the scientific revolution half a millennium ago. The worldview, and the language that accompanies it, is based on particular notions of natural science, and exercises a subtle but very powerful influence on our understanding of sociotechnical success and failure today. Yet this worldview may be lagging behind the sociotechnical developments that have taken place in aerospace, leaving us less than well equipped to understand failure, let along anticipate or prevent it. (Dekker 2004, 2)

This reflects the acknowledgement of the limitations of that Newtonian/Enlightenment cosmology and the need to consider different relational perspectives.

This reflects a reality where world views continue to collide and colonial ideals such as the Doctrine of Discovery or terra nullis are still operative in Settler/Indigenous relations. (Vowel 2015, 231-241) That those doctrines were endorsed by the church universal has created a lasting rift that continues to be reinforced in the present. A church still firmly rooted in Enlightenment thought patterns still demonstrates behaviour that look very much like those colonial doctrines. This leaves Indigenous Christians, and Indigenous clergy in particular, having to operate in a space where they are culturally and theologically bilingual, able to operate, exist and think as Indigenous but also as Enlightenment theologians who are conversant with the Western church’s dominant modes of thought. Thomson Highway’s assertion about English reflects the epistemic meaning conveyed by the form of a language: you are what you speak. Operating in English imposes the hierarchical view of creation on thought even before it is formed, as it is a language of the head. (Highway 2005, 159)

Indigenous world view reflects a fundamental relationality described as all my relations. So a loss of biodiversity is of concern for a scientist, but forms a literal loss of relations for Indigenous. (Kimmerer 2013, 50) Cajete’s idea of ensoulment means that Indigenous live in a web of relationships with all things, captured and remembered in songs, ceremonies and rituals. With this ensoulment, the loss of connection with the Creation is destructive. When land does not recognize you, and you do not recognize the land, it is the loss of a family member. This fundamental dichotomy in cosmologies makes the possibility of reconciliation and restoration unlikely unless the conflict is clearly understood.

Quantum and Figural Understandings as a Bridge

In a fundamental sense, which many people in science do not yet recognize, the theories of Albert Einstein created tremendous gaps in the Western scientific scheme. Einstein’s work challenged the absolute status of space, time, and matter, and his major contribution was to reduce the absolute nature of these ideas to a relative status…But the importance of relativity for traditional thinking is that it began to shift the focus from the absolute materialistic framework science had constructed to an idea that things are related. Not many people in the academic community have yet applied this idea to the world as a totality…They continue to believe that relativity means that there are no absolutes. In fact, it means that things are related in some fundamental ways that had previously been excluded. There may not be as many anomalies and coincidences as we have previously supposed. (Deloria 1999, 132)

Beginning about 150 years ago physicists began to theorize about quantum effects which ultimately allowed development of alternative understandings of reality. While this is often misstated as “everything is relative”, what quantum reality tells us is that reality is relational and frames of reference matter. Newton doesn’t work that well when things get really heavy, really small, or really fast. To make precise calculations using Newtonian mechanics requires application of quantum corrections, for example to compensate for distortions in space-time when massive objects like planets pass through a gravity well. Newton provides only a limited and distorted perspective of reality.

A founder of quantum physics, Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg, made this comment about the reductionist approach to reality:

The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can anyone conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies. (Heisenberg 1971, 213)

From the perspective of a quantum physicist, the reductionist approach to the Creation leaves us with being able to say next to nothing. Yet this continues today as the enduring and dominant mode of Western thought.

The impact of Einstein’s general and special theories, and much recent work on the world of quantum physics, tell a story of a much more nuanced reality where interactions between objects are relational rather than linear.[3] We exist within fields of energy, and that interactions are always taking place around us, even while we are unable to perceive them and unable to measure them. This perspective has created new possibilities of constructive interaction between theology and the more quantum-related sciences. For example in the work of theologian Thomas F. Torrance, Neidhardt explains:

Torrance has clearly recognized the exacting congruence between Karl Barth’s unitary integration of practice and theory in all his theological work and similar unitary patterns in the scientific epistemologies of pioneering physicists. Foremost among these physicists were James Clerk Maxwell, who discovered the hidden unity of electric and magnetic phenomena manifesting themselves in the electrodynamic field, and Albert Einstein, who built upon Maxwell’s work in creating special relativity theory. Special relativity displays the unity of Clerk Maxwell’s electrodynamics, thereby competing his unifying insight. Building on this work, Einstein then developed general relativity in which geometry and mechanics form an integrated unity.

Torrance saw great possibility in this congruence between modern quantum science and theology as being able to free modern Christians from a universe which was locked into a duality which hid the true nature of God.

This teaching carried with it a conception of the free (non-necessary) relation of God to the world, by which its contingent nature is constituted, and a unitary outlook upon the world creatively regulated by God’s Word, which calls into question all forms of religious, cosmological, and epistemological dualism. …the interrelation of the Logos and the creation of all things, visible and invisible out of nothing by that same Logos, called for a profound rethinking of the relation between God and the world… (Torrance 1981, 34)

These approaches are also becoming apparent in the growing popularity in biblical studies of approaches which challenge traditional analytical approaches to Scripture such as the figural approach. Critical approaches to Scripture reflect another manifestation of the Enlightenment approach to knowledge, that by decimating the object of attention to its component parts, it may be completely understood. Figural approaches argue that such an approach causes irreparable damage to understanding the text because it destroys the intrinsic relational aspect of the narrative. Radner personally identifies this frustration:

As practiced by the Church Fathers and Doctors, the “spiritual” reading of Scripture was sustained by metaphysical outlooks or broad philosophical (mostly neo-Platonic) conceptions of the relation between the text and the natural world that are no longer tenable, certainly not widely shared. […] I was overcome by the pressing sense that I was the product of a culture, including an ecclesial culture, that had more generally and long sought to domesticate the Bible than, as they ought, to be undone by it. (Radner 2016, 2-5)

Radner’s description of Scripture reading as metaphysical, and reflecting relationships no longer held as viable by modern culture is in alignment with the Western church’s inability to adapt to Indigenous relational understandings of reality. Central to his frustration is dissatisfaction with the Enlightenment approach to understanding of reality that is atomistic and reductionist. Figural reading offers a return to earlier modes of engagement with Scripture which reach back to the interpretative approach taken by the ancient Hebrews and the writers of the canonical Gospels. (Hays, 2014, 2016) Figural reading looks to understand Scripture in a relational sense as set out by Radner:

I have taken up the phrase “the figural reading of Scripture” to indicate this populated world of Christian hearers of the Word over the centuries. It stands for the general approach of reading the Bible’s referents as a host of living beings – and not only human ones. […]

“Figural,”…refers to the “everything” of God’s act in creation, as it is “all” given in the Scriptures. And “figural reading” of the Bible is that reading that receives this divinely-given “allness” – who is the Christ “through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6) […]

Despite being the preferred mode of much modern Christianity, such a decoupling of fundamental dogma from figural reading has the effect of slowly eviscerating God’s creative being from our consciousness and apprehension… (Radner 2016, 6-8)

While Radner and Hays do not speak of this approach in Indigenous terms, the correlation between an Indigenous relational world view and what is offered by figural approaches to Scripture is apparent. Likewise is the damage which has been done by Enlightenment approaches to our ability to grasp a fundamental relationality as a key part of all reality, where all my relations ascribes full agency to almost all aspects of the Creation. Radner emphasizes the result of the dominant approach, which is a loss of any sense of a present and real presence of the Creator.

These rediscovered approaches permit us to again use Scripture as the tool to engage and understand those with different cosmologies. In her application of René Girard’s theories of human violence, Zinck (2013, 15) makes the following observation as to the power of the Biblical narrative, “…the biblical story calls its readers to account. It forces a self-interrogation of its readers. It unmasks the effective but ultimately immoral act of scapegoating that seeks, and often secures, relative peace at the expense of a human life.”  This unmasking reveals the underlying relational brokenness which requires redress if there is to be restoration, paralleling the relational nature of restorative justice (Elliott, 2011, 5)  Return to an Indigenous reading of Scripture has the potential to unmask the colonial structures which remain within our faith communities, permitting a sincere engagement with other cosmologies.

Some calls to change are apparent, but the Western church and society remains predominantly situated in an Enlightenment mode of understanding of reality. The impact of colonial activities continues to have enduring effect. For Indigenous encountering the Christian church, those colonial patterns of interaction and behaviour remain apparent today, and will continue to act as a barrier to reconciliation and restoration.[4] This will continue to be a source of conflict until alternative cosmologies, such as the emerging quantum understanding or Indigenous realities are understood and broadly embraced.


Indigenous continue to live within a colonial reality still fixed in Enlightenment ways of being and knowing. In the Indigenous concept of reciprocity, all activity is relational. This means that harm done to any one person, is harm done to me. The Indigenous (and quantum) view of reality means that all people share kinship. Until a renewed relationship of mutual respect and understanding exists we will not experience what reconciliation really means. As long as Enlightenment thinking dominates the churches and Settler society this impediment to reconciliation will continue. We are mutually in need of learning how to speak the other person’s language so that true understanding may be achieved.

Emerging scholarship is presenting the re-discovery of ancient approaches to understanding Scripture such as figural reading, which represents a greater parallel with Indigenous cosmology than traditional Western modes of thinking. Combined with the developing quantum understanding of the Creation, this presents a new mode of thinking for the Christian church which may help to bridge Indigenous – Settler relationship and to begin to achieve reconciliation and restoration of right relationship. Those new approaches to understand quantum reality are good paths for the present-day Christian church to begin the process of decolonization to achieve freedom from Enlightenment patterns of thought. This will open pathways to reconciliation that are presently impassable.

The call to the church is to be the Body of Christ – a quantum church unlike the world. Rather our church is to be a place which we,

…inhabit … as a climate or a landscape…a place where we can see properly…a place…that is in some way growing towards being the universe itself in restored relation to God. … [but] forget this, and you’re struck with a faith that depends heavily on what individuals decide and on what goes on inside your head…

It calls us into a stewardship which “refuses to be pushed into patterns which are dominantly functional” but that fully engage the mystery to which we are called. (Williams, 2004) That is, we are to be a fully relational church in which all parts of the Creation have agency and are part of all my relations where all are reconciled under the One Lord.

[1] Mark 12:31 (ESV). “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

[2] For example, that repeatable observation of reality is possible; that reality can be objectively measured; that the observer’s presence in the system being observed has little impact on the system.

[3] “On the other hand, in the relational universe’s model of the space-time framework, the physical universe represents a stage forming the expanding outer boundary of interactional relations between the objects and events that constitute its being.” (Neidhardt 1989, 87-98)

[4] Beyond scope for this analysis, but there are many examples of the continued presumption of colonial supremacy. A 2017 Supreme Court decision censured the Yukon government for failing to abide by a modern treaty by unilaterally reversing prior agreements. This suggests that default assumptions about superior cosmologies continue to guide all aspects of Settler/Indigenous interaction. (First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v. Yukon, 2017 SCC 58, [2017] 2 S.C.R. 576)




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Inkster, Lori and Oliver, M.B. “Can there be reconciliation without there first being truth? Indigenous and Settler Cosmologies and the Ni wapataenan/Maskihkîy âcimowin projects”, Presentation. Concordia University, Edmonton, 2018.

Cajete, Gregory. 2000. Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, N.M.: Clear Light Publishers.

Dekker, S. W. A. 2004. Why we need new accident models. Human Factors and Aerospace Safety, 4(1), 1-18.

Deloria, Vine; Deloria, Barbara; Foehner, Kristen; and Scinta, Samuel. 1999. Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub.

Deloria, Vine. 1979. The Metaphysics of Modern Existence. San Francisco: Harper & Row. 

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Gross, Lawrence 2014. Anishinaabe ways of knowing and being. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Hays, Richard B. 2014. Reading backwards: figural christology and the fourfold gospel witness. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press.

Hays, Richard B. 2016. Echoes of scripture in the Gospels. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press.

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Written by sameo416

November 20, 2019 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Reflection of Remembrance 2019

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This is the first year in over ten when I didn’t preach on the Sunday closest to November 11 in our church parish. It has been a pretty rocky couple of months, starting with me with bilateral pneumonia, my dad’s emergency hospitalization, my flight to Manitoba and back after he rallied, then my return flight when he died a few days later. It has also been a particularly hard year for November 11 thoughts. That may be just because it’s on the heels of my dad’s death, but I think there are some things I’m still working through that chose to pop up this year. To quote a respected classmate who recently said this more elegantly than I ever could, “there is an ugliness and a beauty in serving your country.”

So my apologies for the lack of a Remembrance sermon this year. I’m living more in the ugliness part right now. This reflects my mental state, so a bit more blunt as well.

I found out by my annual Facebook post about family members who served, and CAF members I served with who were killed, that one of my classmates went to high school and was good friends with a pilot I served with, Capt Rich “Opie” Corver. One of those small world moments.

As I answered him I added some notes about the crash. The accident was attributed to spatial disorientation due to a max performance take-off into the arctic night (very dark, few ground lights). It awoke some stuff I’ve not thought about in a long time (this was 1990). I always think of my colleagues who did not make it at this time of the year, but this year seems particularly heavy.

Before going into that, a word about being a maintainer in the RCAF. The unique mission of the air force has the force projectors (pilots, navigators, weapon system operators and a host of others in the maritime context I can’t name) going into battle, while the force supporters work from support bases. It meant (outside of the NATO context) we usually weren’t worried about ground attack, but probably would have been taken out by air attack or NBC area denial attacks. The lot in life of a maintainer (all those who worked in the maintenance units) involved a sacred trust between us and the aircrew – we would never compromise their safety or ability to complete the mission by negligence or incompetence. That sacred bond represented my commitment to my pilots that I would never let them down.

It led to some interesting situations, because that sacred trust didn’t always mean doing what the pilots wanted. Sometimes it meant dictating what was or was not acceptable from a maintenance perspective. When you’re the technical expert on the weapon system, or the explosive system, sometimes it’s your opinion that must carry the day. That was part of the sacred trust – you wouldn’t let a pilot kill themselves through ignorance.

I recall one of the first times I was acting SAMEO (chief engineer) as a new Lt. The squadron was deployed so I was minding the maintenance org left, and a Captain pilot was acting commanding officer. That weekend he decided that they were going to send a few jets away on weekend cross countries (needed to give pilots necessary transit experience, but also allowed them to go to their home towns). One jet had been operationally restricted against flight other than VFR because of a persistent failure where the inertial platform would topple, which disabled all navigation but also all primary attitude reference. So no IFR (flight without a visible horizon) because if this happened in cloud the pilot would have to revert to standby attitude reference – a small traditional ‘ball’ attitude reference down by the pilot’s right knee.

So the A/CO said I’m sending that jet away, and I said it’s got an operational restriction against away flights. When I explained the problem he said that he was willing to accept that possibility. Now, aircraft operational restrictions are always a cooperative activity, usually to return a sort-of broken aircraft to mission status to allow a few more missions (even if those missions are limited). So an airplane with broken formation lighting would be restricted against night formation flying, but ok for all other missions.

My reply was, I can’t allow you to take the jet away because of the risk of a loss of all attitude reference. He (a very self-assured pilot) said he could handle it. I said – it’s not your choice because the fault is so serious, I can’t allow you to take the jet for IFR flight. If you can do the whole thing VFR then fine (which I knew he couldn’t because cross country always required filing an IFR flight plan). He then said, well I’m just going to do it…at which point I said (this was morning and there was a full day of flying left) then I’ll be grounding the aircraft immediately. He said, you can’t do that…and I said, watch me. The discussion ended, and I had endeared myself to another fellow officer.

That was me fulfilling my sacred obligation. More important than being liked, because I would not have on my shoulders a potential crash because an eager pilot got himself in over his head. A sudden loss of all primary attitude reference in cloud is not something to be trifled with, even if the pilot thought he could handle it. If it was one more mission in NATO against a rapidly advancing Warsaw Pact force, that’s a different context…a trip home to see your sweetheart (while I can appreciate the draw) doesn’t merit the same level of risk.

Back to Inuvik, 29 January 1990.

Rich’s crash was attributed to spatial disorientation known as the ‘black hole effect’. Fast takeoff into the dark leaves you with an inner ear disorientation that leaves you with the feeling that you are tipping back (nose coming high). This would normally be countered by the aircraft instruments, which present you with an absolute horizon reference. While your vestibular system is telling you one thing, your instruments never lie to you and form the truth source for aircraft attitude. This is a core truth in instrument flying – trust your instruments.

hud display

On the CF-188, the primary attitude reference is a heads up display (HUD) that projects an image onto a combining glass right in the pilot’s field of forward vision. (the image at the top of this post). It shows the velocity vector of the aircraft (the little airplane in the centre) which reflects the direction the aircraft is moving through space. The lines on either side are the artificial horizon line (so here in the image the jet is wings level, flying towards the horizon). Up and down is a pitch ladder showing 5 degree increments.

So literally, a pilot flying the Hornet looks to the outside world through a projected display that reflects the reality of the outside world.

A few months after the crash one of my classmates (then a new pilot on Squadron) came back from a mission to report to me he’d had a strange experience. Climbing out from take off he had been setting up the radar, not paying any attention to the heads up display (HUD). As he went to level off at FL360 (on a beautiful, clear VFR day) he noticed the HUD didn’t move. After waggling the wings he realized the HUD display was frozen. He did a reset of each of the two mission computers (a simple flip of one switch back and forth) everything went back to normal. He completed the mission and came home, but thought he should report it. I immediately grounded the aircraft and started a technical investigation.

As a part of that investigation I attempted to recreate the failure mode. What I did was built a test matrix and started disconnecting and connecting the two mission computers in an attempt to duplicate the failure. It wasn’t dependably repeatable, but every once and a while the system would freeze, just like my classmate pilot had observed. I couldn’t work out a pattern to the conditions which led to a failure.

One other thing I noticed in the maintenance record for one of the two mission computers was that it had been written up three times previously, but returned from the second line labs as ‘no fault found’. This meant the automatic test equipment in second line could not find anything wrong with the mission computer, but the first line unit kept pulling it because it failed when installed in the aircraft. This was a classic flying unit/second line maintenance unit issue. Because it passed all their tests, it was considered fit for installation, but obviously had an issue as it kept failing in the ultimate test platform – the aircraft. For a first line maintainer this was an obvious truth, but this was not always appreciated by the second line labs and led to a source of continual tension between us and the base maintenance organization (first line the flying unit, second line base level labs and support beyond the flying unit, third line depot-level contractors).

We contacted the manufacturer of the mission computers, Control Data Corporation (CDC) to ask if they had any insight into this failure mode. There was a moment of silence, and then the engineer on the phone said, oh, you found that. We never thought it would occur in operation.

So the manufacturer of the mission computer system knew that there was a condition where the mission computers would lock up, resulting in all of the displays freezing in their last position. That included the heads up display. You don’t need to be a pilot to see the possible consequence of the primary attitude display freezing with no indication that there has been a failure. Particularly if you’re in any critical phase of flight.

If you’ve been following the 737 Max saga this might sound familiar. Engineering staff knowing about a fundamental issue with aircraft systems but not bothering to tell the pilots about it (or the engineers in my story).

As I was writing up my engineering report I noted a couple of things that I thought were really significant. First one was that a mission computer that was found unservicable three times at the first line, and then returned three times as no-fault-found (NFF) by the second line, probably deserved routing to the manufacturer (third line) for a more in-depth test.

Second, my mind went to Rich Cover’s crash. What if when he was on that high-speed takeoff from Inuvik he experienced a display freeze? He would be doing as he was trained, obeying his aircraft instruments including the heads up display. But with the vestibular disturbance, if he thought the nose was rising, his response would have been to put forward pressure on the stick. If the HUD horizon line remained constant, there would have been no check to that forward pressure because he would have thought he was still on the same climb angle. With no ground lights there would have been nothing to acts as an alternative reference. By the time an altitude warning would have popped up (from the radar altimeter) it would have been too late to recover.

I have no idea if that was what occurred on 29 January, but I do know it fit the fact picture better than just saying he was disoriented. Rich had been on Hornets for three years at that point, at the end of a long training program which started on Musketeers, then proceeded to Tutors, followed by CF-5’s in fighter transition and ended with the CF-188. Rich was one of the rare pilots who made it through that path to end up on Hornets. To say that was a case of simple spatial disorientation (which really isn’t that simple) never seemed reasonable.

I also remember clearly standing at the ops desk the morning our jets left for Inuvik (I was the servicing officer then, so that or my office were my work station for flight ops). The pilots were discussing the use of the standby instruments. Rich noted that he always used the standby instruments, and included them in his regular instrument cross check. That isn’t consistent with what happened that day on 29 January but it does reflect the level of thoughtfulness and thoroughness of Rich’s flying.

So I wrote all that in my report. As a maintenance officer, I reported my conclusions based on the facts I had assessed because that was my obligation to the aircrew.

When my report was reviewed by the senior engineer on the base (called the BAMEO in that era) I got hammered twice. Once for suggesting that his second line labs might have had something to do with the failure I was investigating; second for suggesting this should be looked at as a potential cause factor in the Inuvik Crash. I believe he said there was no evidence that would lead to that conclusion.

I can say today with no fear of retribution that his conclusions were empty of any of the logic that I would expect from someone trained as an engineer. It was an irrational response born more of an unwillingness to admit possible fault than anything that reflected a firm personal grasp on that sacred obligation. It was, in short, a fine example of senior officer CYA (cover your ass) that demonstrated to me what would be a constant throughout my career. My boss at the time, who was a decided non-conformist senior officer, said to me that the BAMEO was obviously pissed with me but I shouldn’t worry about it because I was doing the job I was supposed to be doing (with the implication that the BAMEO was not).

It also reflected a typical outcome of aircraft accident investigations in that era, what Sidney Dekker now calls the ‘second victim’ scenario. The pilot receives all the blame, making a second victim from the accident. It is a horrible way of dishonouring the dead who are uniquely unable to defend themselves from the other side of the crash.

For me this was a defining moment as a young maintenance officer, for it reinforced for me what it meant to be ultimately responsible for the welfare of the aircrew. It meant a willingness to stand in the breach and accept whatever pain might come my way if I believed the cause was just. I did that a number of times in my career, particularly when I was a senior officer leading junior officers, because there were things I would not stand for. One time that almost resulted in me going public with a decision by the commander of the air force to allow unsafe operations, but at the 11th hour I managed to convince him that the decision needed to change (he was a great leader, and it turned out afterward that his senior staff had been hiding the truth from him…but I burned a lot of personal capital in bringing that issue forward in that manner). The project that arose out of my unwillingness to compromise just saved another Snowbird pilot in the most recent ejection. [we were already in touch with the media at that point and ready to openly criticize the command in public if required]

This is what it means to be responsible. I carry that forward in my present day job in engineering regulation, where I am similarly uncompromising with some of the crap people try to pull in professional practice.

Now this Remembrance Day I followed my usual discipline which is to read a couple of books written by soldiers who have been there. This year it was Captain Sandra Perron’s book, Outstanding in the Field: A Memoir by Canada’s First Female Infantry Officer. This is an incredible book. An amazingly courageous offering of self by Capt Perron. The book also left me deeply disturbed, which has only added to all this stuff that has been woken up this year. I would highly recommend this book – which is really well written. I read it in a single sitting yesterday.

Captain Perron (who I never had the privilege to work with, but knows many of my peers because we were about the same era joining in the early 80’s) names a whole number of issues where she was badly abused, usually by her peers in the officer corps. When she deployed (twice to Bosnia/Croatia) her troops were almost all supportive of her, which is not a surprise. Apart from the few who just outright hated you because you were an officer, soldiers really only want good leadership and someone who will be fair and protect them from the routine crap (and keep them alive in combat).

That was my experience as well. Your team just wants good leadership, and are less concerned about things like gender. Saw the same dynamic with Nicola Goddard in the artillery. Officers on the other hand, were not always so supportive.

Perron identifies that the officers who were most abusive of her while in training tended to be the Royal Military College students. This too, unfortunately, was not a surprise.

I wouldn’t change anything if I could go back and do it again. RRMC and RMC made me who I am and I would not give that up. That is not to say those places didn’t have their own particular forms of dysfunction. Principle was the failure to accept anyone who didn’t fit what was considered the ideal profile of a mil col cadet. Diversity was fine, as long as it was all the same. It produced an environment where the failure to conform was considered the most egregious deviation possible.

I saw that played out repeatedly in my four years there. I wasn’t exactly a good fit with the mil col system, never really topped out in anything I did (except pistol shooting). That said, when I was outside that very artificial environment I did really well. Promoted at the front of my peer group, always assessed really well…did basically three operational tours spaced with 2 years in a headquarters in Germany (not an easy post to get). A bit of a split between predicted performance from RMC and actual performance in the field.

One example. I was a duty driver at RRMC. One of the duties was to visit cadets who were admitted to hospital at Esquimalt (the nearby navy base). One Saturday when I took over the duty I was told I had to do a hospital visit, which I did. When I arrived there I found a first year female cadet, seemingly healthy, in a hospital bed. I won’t say anymore to protect privacy. Once I spent some time visiting I realized that one of the issues was a complete lack of support that had led to a bunch of emotional distress. So I said (as a Christian is wont to do), I’m here to talk to if you ever need support.

First year is a hugely stressful time, with every move and action scrutinized closely and punishments coming for any deviations. Not everyone does well in that circumstance. This was also the first year that women were allowed at RRMC, and this person’s flight was known for it’s manliness and (I suspect) was not that welcoming for women unless they were equally ruthless.

Over the next few weeks I met with this person to chat, just to offer the perspective of someone who had been through it, and to offer hope that there was an end in sight. It’s hard to find quiet time to talk, but one night after study hours we planned to go for a walk in RRMC’s formal gardens to talk about her future (because she had decided to leave at that point, and I was going to make an attempt to change her mind).

A reader at this point might be forgiven for thinking something else might have been going on – 19 and 18 year old male/female with lots of vulnerability. I have to say it did not cross my mind. Apart from having my own steady girlfriend (who I’ve now been married to for 32 years) I had no interest in a relationship with a cadet as that was a path to badness, and particular little interest in that person in that manner. I was doing what I had been trained to do, which was looking after my buds. This was a core value of the place that had been hammered into us from the first moment we got off the buses.

As we were walking back that night we found someone laying on the ground. When I asked if he was alright he said that he had been sent there to watch by her flight commander. Turns out her flight officers thought we were going to the gardens to make out – because what else could be going on? This attitude is instructive given Captain Perron’s experience because it reflects a pretty singular focus on what a male soldier might be doing with a female soldier. A limited understanding as to what could be going on. Not doing what I thought I was expected to do, which was watching out for my bud, but exploiting a vulnerable person.

I got called into his room to talk about this the next day and was basically told to mind my own business. When I objected that she was not receiving the support she required he told me that she shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and they had it in hand. He was an infantry officer in training, so one of the crew that Captain Perron would have encountered.

When I returned back to my flight, I discovered that my fellow squadron mates had been posting signs about me and my illicit ‘relationship’ with this first year.

Now, it’s not like I really gave a damn what anyone thought. I was able to look at myself in the mirror each morning knowing I had kept my ethical integrity and done what I could to look after those around me – which is supposed to be one of the highest calls of the officer. That I was so quickly judged by others says more about the ethos of others than it did about me.

That system (military college) turns out lots of good leaders. It also was pretty effective at turning out complete asshats. Career-focused above all else and only seeking how to best achieve the next step in their progression. The level of cynicism I faced with my soldiers was disheartening when I first arrived – when I said I was not there to punch a ticket they didn’t believe it until I demonstrated it with action.

I found myself sitting in a place similar to Capt Perron’s near the end of her memoir. Deep love for an organization that had such deep ethos and values, and deep disappointment at how many times there were individuals who failed that standard. And even deeper disappointment at how many times those individuals were promoted (which is another observation of Captain Perron’s and what leads her to leave in the end…because all of the worst abusers in training were now commanding officers and senior officers).

I can relate to that decision to leave as well. While I was medically discharged after a disabling injury on duty, it came on the heals of an experience that shook me to the core. One of those RRMC grads, a few years ahead of me, had chaired a civilian disciplinary hearing for which I was the assisting officer (assisting the accused civilian). We were peers as senior officers.

Even without the over 15 years working in administrative law since I retired, I recognized and pointed out that the entire process was corrupted and improperly done – it was administratively unfair. I still have the files from this, about 5 inches thick. Without continuing to drag this rant out, one of the examples of how messed up the hearing was – the president who was hearing the case had also been the investigating officer (which is forbidden under present military law). I destroyed our relationship as peers in that hearing because I continually called out what was obvious unethical (an immoral) behaviour. Needless to say, that story ended much as Capt Perron’s, I left and the trial president was promoted (several times).

All this to conclude the ethos of the organization are good, but it suffers from the same things most organizations suffer from. The difference is the cost for error, a loss in profits versus a loss of life in combat.

I have deep respect for the military and for those who have served – but the attitude I’ve related spills over into Veterans Affairs as well. Veterans still needing to argue for the support they need, because the system is run by an insurance company (literally Blue Cross under contract). Insurance principles meaning limitation on benefits and the need to argue for extensions. It’s the same sort of bureaucracy that contaminates the military.

I’ve gone through two class action lawsuits against Veterans Affairs in the past few years (along with several thousand other veterans), both over a stupid question that was easily answered, but was fought to the limit by the government. Our class won both. Then VAC discovered a significant calculation error in benefits, but decided not to do anything about it or to even disclose it (this happened several years back). Then the ombudsman’s office found out (whistle blower likely) and put enough pressure on VAC that they had to respond. That error, which dated back to 2006, was just paid out this month. This is not the behaviour of an organization that gives a damn about those in its care.

So it’s been a season of more ugliness than beauty. Which is probably why it’s good I wasn’t preaching this year.

My sacred obligation now is to continue to advocate for those veterans, particularly the ones who can’t do it themselves, and to uphold the ideals and ethos of the profession to which I’m called. Read Sandra Perron’s book, and make changes for the better.


Written by sameo416

November 11, 2019 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

First go at marriage canon amendment voted down, the colonial church continues to do what it does best

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The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is meeting right now in Vancouver. Yesterday they voted to permit a fully autonomous Indigenous church in parallel with the ACC. That’s a great step, and came after the Primate apologized for the church’s failure to recognize Indigenous spirituality and for actively oppressing it.

Then the marriage resolution was amended to acknowledge a wide range of thought, but also specifically to allow Indigenous communities to follow their own path on the question. Since that’s one of the the things I objected to in writing before the last vote, I think this a good step. It at least tries to separate the colonial church from its usual pattern of dictating to Indigenous what right worship looks like.

Then the vote on the overall marriage resolution was lost. This is a vote on doctrine (something else I complained about previously, so it is good this is recognized), and votes on doctrine must pass in all three houses of synod voting independently (laity, clergy and bishops) with a 2/3 majority. This vote failed on the basis of one bishop, as it was passed easily in the houses of clergy and laity.

Lots of comments on facebook about people hurting and despairing over this development. I’m withholding comment beyond this post because I have to admit that I have a measured indifference to the whole question. Also, lots of those commenting are not thinking about what it means to be an episcopal church as opposed to a congregationalist church – bishops are the ones charged with safeguarding of doctrine so of course they can be the ones to defeat such a vote (I’ve gone through this before – read the consecration oaths that a bishop takes in either BCP or BAS as a reminder of what it means to be an episcopal church.)

There have been lots of hurt going both ways in the past years, lots of people being labelled by the other side, lots of acrimony and sin, more than enough to go around – and this is true regardless of whether you’re for or against the question. Yet the church is locked into trying to use the same modes of dealing with this that it always has, and more than a few people have commented…we’re so close, we’ll get it next time.

I’d like to suggest that there is lots of failure to engage a serious ecclesiology of the Body of Christ in these discussions, and so I’m just done with the whole question.

In fact, I would suggest that as soon as you strike the description of such things as a win or loss proposition, you’ve left any Christ-centred concept of the Mystical Body of Christ behind. It reflects an age when lots of people are willing to take positions on the church’s teachings, but very few are willing to suffer to demonstrate their devotion to membership in that mystical body.

A good example of what I’m describing came during the time of Athanasius – this should be known well to Anglicans because of the place of his confession in our Book of Common Prayer. Athanasius was involved in an intimate and personal way with the Arian heresy. 17 of his years as bishop were spent in exile because of persecution by the followers of Arius. You can read up on his life and history and teachings on your own, as I’m tired of trying to teach on these questions.

Let me just say I would be a lot more interested in what people have to say if there was a willingness to suffer included in their witness. What I see from all quarters is presentation of positions, lots of times cloaked in religious language, but positions none the less. It is why our synods look more like a meeting of the Liberal Party of Canada than a gathering of the Mystical Body of Christ. There is also a dramatic failure to observe the suffering on both sides of the question, by both groups.

Any discussion or vote which serves to isolate others is not of Christ, if you’re serious about that Mystical Body. If you’re not, you can rationalize any perspective as being “of God”.

As a closing note, what has really made me indifferent to the colonial church’s discussions about doctrine is the reality that it is still a colonial church. This recent article in the Anglican Journal does a smashing job pointing this out – from a modern convert to Christianity who is now a priest (Rev Edmund Laldin) observing the church today. 

So what does that mean? Well, I have trouble getting engaged in discussions about welcoming groups into the church when the Anglican Church of Canada is still very much carrying on the colonial activities of empire of the past.

First, in spite of the apology and the vote to permit an independent church, this is still very much independence on the church’s terms. The national Indigenous bishop is now an archbishop with equal standing to all of the metropolitan bishops in Canada. Whop-de-do! How is that independent? I’m happy I might be soon able to join a community that is Indigenous-led, but this is still within the colonial body of the church.

Second point is more personal. Aside from the token occasions when my diocese is looking for a sprinkling of Indigenous input so it can appear woke, there is next to no real welcome here. I’ve encountered a number of places where there is tokenism practised, but no real willingness to revise colonial patterns of thinking and acting. Indigenous spirituality involves an entirely different world view and as long as the church fails to grasp how badly compromised it is by Enlightenment thought, it is clear there is really no place for me to be me. Some examples.

I can’t smudge in my home parish because it’s not understood, and people are not ready to be brought into understanding. What than means is the few times I preach, I smudge in my car in the parking lot. It’s the exact same thing I do at work…a place where I’m equally unable to practice my Métis spirituality.

That should rest a moment to sink in. My workplace provides for private ‘spirit rooms’ where people can be in quiet contemplation following whatever tradition they wish. So my Muslim co-workers who are observant pray-ers can go into that space, close the door, and pray. But I am not allowed to burn sage or sweet grass because of a variety of conflicts: fire regulations, inadequate ventilation causing others to be exposed to the smoke, etc. So my business is welcoming to Settler spiritualities, but not to the spirituality which was present here long before any other faith group arrived.

I have the same welcome in my church. The last time I smudged in the chapel before a service, one of the church volunteers came through and made a show of waving her hands around to clear the smoke, frowning and coughing. That was the day I decided I would smudge in my car, the same thing I do at work when I need a moment of prayer during the work day (I’ll footnote this by noting that I can do this in our parkade just because I’ve never been caught at it. If security ever spotted me there would be a complaint made to my employer. Why? Because they patrol to make sure smokers aren’t using their cars in the winter – and I’m basically on the same level as them).

So, my indifference is because I really no longer care what the colonial church chooses to wrap itself up in knots about. Until we reach a day when that church is welcoming to people that were here long before it came into existence, I just don’t have the time to bother with staying in touch with its latest colonial silliness.

In a late addition, there’s a comprehensive article that’s well-done in the Anglican Journal today about the vote.

My only critique is there was no comparable focus on the pain that others felt, for example, when the Diocese of Edmonton voted in 2008 to allow local option. Those of us who had contrary perspectives were left on our own while the “victors” celebrated their victory – this after the bishop had explicitly asked people to not respond out of consideration for those hurt by the vote. One of our youth delegates disappeared from the synod room after the vote and I, concerned for their safety went on a search to find them, only to discover them in the chapel praying. That was the only pastoral care available for those of us devastated by a vote that went the other way. So I’m happy there was lots of care and support at this meeting in Vancouver, but the church is not as equally supporting of those who do not support the majority perspective.

My only point in all this is to reinforce what I’ve stated before: we never make decisions to include all people, we make decisions about who it troubles us least to exclude from the community.

That article also points out some racism directed at Indigenous synod delegates who, it was assumed by some, all voted against the motion. That assumption is racist, there’s no other way to state it. That reinforces my prior comment about Settler colonial silliness and why I just don’t really care what kind of stuff the colonial church is up to – it’s just always so consistently colonial.

Our communities are far more comfortable with ambiguity and mystery than Settler communities by default, and to have any LGBTQ+ supporter fingers pointed in accusation at Indigenous delegates is to do to them exactly what they are asking the church to stop doing to LGBTQ+ persons. What that confirms for me is we don’t have a problem with acceptance in the church, we have a problem with loving each other. Our willingness to exclude others who don’t support our particular position is fully contrary to anything which Jesus taught.

From the article:

Both MacDonald and reconciliation animator Melanie Delva view the results of the marriage canon vote as a reconciliation issue.

MacDonald says that the aftermath of the vote reveals an undertow of “racial opinions and ideas,” colonial assumptions, and scapegoating that are hindrances to reconciliation, with people making “misjudgement and mischaracterizations of Indigenous people as a whole” and suggesting that “self-determination is great, as long as you do what we tell you to do.” [to steal a line from Thomas King, the church is still much happier with dead Indians]

Delva says that “the results of the vote on the marriage canon is a ‘reconciliation issue’ in the same way that all decisions the church makes are ‘reconciliation issues.’”

Self-determination, she says, “means that for some, abstention is the right choice. For some, a no vote is the right choice. For some, a yes vote is the right choice. Self-determination does not mean Indigenous peoples do not participate in the life and processes of the wider church. It means that as per [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples], they do so within the context of free, prior and informed consent.

In the wake of this [vote], much more education will be necessary in order for us to walk humbly together in what has the potential to be an amazing incarnation of Jesus’ power to heal and restore.”




Written by sameo416

July 13, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Land Acknowledgements – Some Reflection

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It’s become common in some Canadian circles to hear meetings begin with some form of a land acknowledgement: “I would like to acknowledge that we are on Treaty 6 lands, the traditional lands of the Cree, Metis, Dine and Blackfoot.” When this practice was introduced a few years back, it was a disruptive assertion that an organization was committed to reconciliation and finding a new way to live together on the land. More recently it has become a ticket punch for organizations that wish to appear socially-minded. There is a growing segment of Indigenous who are not as supportive of the land acknowledgement business.

I should add here that there are still many Indigenous who support the activity, and a variety of guides are available to help you properly recognize whose turf you’re standing upon.

This is a short commentary I wrote for use in my day job as we consider the question of use of land acknowledgements. My main message is not to just do it, but to be intentional about what it is that we are trying to say through our use of an acknowledgement. Are we really committed to reconciliation? What tangible steps have we taken to be in relationship with Indigenous? How are we manifesting a different way of relating to each other?

The goal of the acknowledgement is to respectfully thank those who we are sharing the land with for the use of these territories. It is fundamentally about acknowledging a relationship, but many times it is done only as a part of an opening empty ritual that misses the relationship part. Relationship is key.

The first tier of performing land acknowledgements includes demonstrating that you have real awareness of who lives on the land you are using. Settlers tend to just think of land as place – we’re in Edmonton for example – without considering the complex web of relationships which Indigenous acknowledge on that same land. This reflects a fundamentally different way of relating to reality. For Indigenous, the land is a living relative who has agency and a history to be remembered just as most people recall family stories. The acknowledgement needs to reflect that we are talking about a person who has rights and obligations and is owed respect (and is listening to your acknowledgement), just as if we were speaking about your Great-Aunt.

I don’t think it is enough to note treaty, because the treaty number does not reflect the real names of the nations involved. You would not want to be referred to as “one of the people who works on 16” or “the lady from office 1604” in a formal setting, and so naming nations is important. If you can’t competently use titles in their language (Nêhiyawok), it is acceptable to use the anglicized version (Cree) – Even Kennedy said, “Ich bin ein Berliner” on his visit to Berlin (even though it meant something different).

If you only mention the treaty number, there are a host of people not included. First are those who may be physical members of Indigenous communities but are not recognized as such by the federal government meaning they are no longer under the treaty (in fact they’re still legally considered Indigenous, but are not Status, so they exist in a grey zone between the treaty and being non-Indigenous). The numbered treaties also don’t include the Inuit or the Métis. In Alberta the Métis figured prominently particularly in the north. As a final note, the Settler treaties also don’t acknowledge the many treaties made pre-contact between the First Nations that also exist on this same land.

It also misses the reality that there are lots of people who have been disenfranchised from membership in their nations through the actions of harmful and discriminatory legislation. Within our lifetime, a woman who married a non-status person was barred from passing her status along to her children (but a man did pass along status). That’s changed but the new law still allows people to eventually lose their status through marriage. Those who were removed from their families under the 60’s scoop are middle-aged today, and some have not found their way home. Indigenous children are removed from the home at many times the rate of any other group. This stuff is happening right now.

It’s important to remember that when you do a land acknowledgement there may very well be members of those Indigenous nations sitting in the room listening to you. I’ve experienced this many times when the acknowledgement feels detached and impersonal. I have wanted to stand up and say, “Hey, I’m right here!”

The use of language like ‘traditional’ lands leaves a bunch of unspoken questions. Are they still traditional lands? Is this a past reality or is it a present reality? Nations were forced to relocate, so you may not actually be on their traditional lands. There also needs to be some recognition of a brutal and bloody past and present – at a conference in Banff National Park the host identified it as the traditional land of the Blackfoot. Only problem is there haven’t been Indigenous Peoples in the national parks since the Federal Government forcibly evicted them from national park lands. In that case saying “We’re on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot.” Without adding a footnote, “Who haven’t been allowed on these lands since 190x unless they purchase a park pass.” is a harmful assertion because it reinforces the colonial erasure and idea that the Blackfoot were a former people who are no longer involved in present realities.

Here’s a draft land acknowledgement for Banff National Park:

I acknowledge that the Blackfoot lived on this land for thousands of years before Settlers arrived. This park land was central to their way of life, providing hunting, fishing, resources and sacred sites. When Banff National Park was created in 190x, the government forcibly evicted all Indigenous, and the Blackfoot are not allowed free use of this land to this date. That we can freely use this land today is sure evidence that colonization is ongoing.

Of course, before I did that I would get in touch with Blackfoot persons who could speak with authority, would respect them through proper ceremony if that was required, and ask them how they would like to be acknowledged and what place history should be proclaimed. This is ultimately about building relationship in the original understanding.

An example of the image of relationship is reflected in the Two-Row Wampum treaty of 1613 between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee 5 Nations (Iroquois). The treaty was embodied in a wampum belt which showed two canoes travelling down a river together, in parallel paths. This represented two nations, sharing the river, but not interfering with one another.[1]

Which raises another key question – who is the land acknowledgement directed at? If your goal is to appear keeping with the times to a Settler crowd, say whatever you want. An Indigenous Person listening will probably not appreciate your effort. If you are wishing to make a clear statement of intent to those Indigenous persons, think through what your message says to them. Imagine how a Blackfoot person sitting in that conference in Banff received that land acknowledgement.

For Edmonton, from the https://native-land.ca/territory-acknowledgement/ website, something like this for APEGA.

We acknowledge that the Blackfoot (Niitsítpiis-stahkoii), the Plains Cree (Nêhiyawok) Tsuu T’ina, and Métis, occupied the lands considered under Treaty 6 long before Treaty 6 was drafted, and continue to live in relationship with this land today, as we live here today. We acknowledge all those dispossessed of family and place through ongoing colonization. Engineering and geoscience are part of the machine that allows colonization to proceed, and this impacts many of the Indigenous Peoples in harmful ways. We give thanks for use of this land today and we commit to work to more fully understand what the land means to Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge our role in ongoing colonization and harm, and commit to living in different relationship and helping our Registrants do the same.

Reconciliation is not supposed to be easy. It’s hard work to undo centuries of destructive relationships and actions intended to kill and dispossess that are still ongoing today. That involves answering some painful questions about what our role has been in those actions. A land acknowledgement is supposed to be a disruptive activity that challenges default assumptions and works to forward the journey of reconciliation. If it’s not, it may very well be just a continuation of the same sort of thing Indigenous have heard in colonized lands throughout history: “Nation to nation” for the media, but we’ll use the police and military to remove you from places where we need to build stuff.

Land acknowledgements require organizations to think through carefully why they are doing this, what message it is they are trying to send and who the audience for that message might be. What follows is an example of a recent and effective statement used at an annual conference. Note the reference to a pre-contact treaty, and also the emphasis on relationship and the exchange of teachings, something which marks any Indigenous gathering.

An excellent interview on this subject is with Hayden King, an Anishinaabe scholar. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/redrawing-the-lines-1.4973363/i-regret-it-hayden-king-on-writing-ryerson-university-s-territorial-acknowledgement-1.4973371

This is a really well thought out declaration that is not a land acknowledgement, but serves the same purpose.

March 2019

2019 Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Toronto

Indigenous Education Network

 The 2019 AERA meeting in Tkaronto is on the shared lands and waters of the Anishinaabe, and the Haudenosaunee Nations, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. AERA always takes place on Indigenous land. This was true last year, when AERA was on Lenape land, and it will be true next year, when AERA is on Ohlone land. Wherever AERA is held, there have been Indigenous communities living, learning, and thriving for millennia. This is not a land acknowledgement, but instead, a call to acknowledge land and waters and what it means to be in right and respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples.

Tkaronto has a complex history and has been the home of Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples since time immemorial, and is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. Ouendat (Wyandat/Wyandot-Huron) also have long, deep relationships with this land and water. Tkaronto is home to many other Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island, South America, and the globe. There are important long-lasting connections between Black and Indigenous communities in this city. The Indigenous Education Network, The Centre for Indigenous Studies, Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement (SAGE), and Deepening Knowledge Project are proud to be a part of this community.

We are committed to pushing the practice of land and water acknowledgements beyond static scripts, towards more meaningful commitments/expressions of relationship, reciprocity and responsibility to land and water. This practice has become commonplace in some settings, with growing tensions around how and why land acknowledgements are being used, and whose responsibility is it to deliver them. The wording of these statements is often political and contested, and our understandings of these practices and histories are evolving.

In addition to other foundational treaties—some between Indigenous nations and others with the Canadian Crown and nation-state—these lands and waters are part of the Dish With One Spoon agreement. [this is a treaty which pre-existed first contact] This agreement is concerned with taking only what we need, leaving enough for the next one, and cleaning up after ourselves. We ask that you question more deeply what it means to be a visitor to a place that is co-constituted within this agreement. We ask that you think about what you can leave here for others in exchange for what you will take. We ask that you reflect on what it means to participate in a conference with such a substantial environmental footprint.

Unlike many Indigenous communities in Canada, we are fortunate to be in a place where tap water is safe to drink, so please bring a reusable water bottle. We ask that you consider not only what associations like AERA should begin to do in order to be in good relation to Indigenous communities, lands, and waterways, but what they might need to stop doing.

For this year’s AERA meeting we encourage all guests to pay attention to this beautiful land on which the gathering is taking place. Please make an effort to notice the waters, land, air and animals around you, and to seek out knowledge about the history and ongoing experiences of Indigenous peoples here. We encourage the exchange of teachings and learnings, and the co-creation of relationships that will happen during the conference.

-Eve Tuck, Faculty Chair, Indigenous Education Network

Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Indigenous Methodologies with Youth and Communities, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

-Sandi Wemigwase, SAGE Coordinator, AERA Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG Graduate Student Representative

Doctoral Student, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

-Lindsay DuPré, Indigenous Education Liaison Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

-Susan Hill, Director, Centre for Indigenous Studies

Associate Professor, Indigenous Studies and History, University of Toronto

-Sandra Styres, Faculty Co-Chair, Deepening Knowledge Project

Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

-Stephanie Waterman, Associate Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

-Jeffrey Ansloos, Assistant Professor, Indigenous Mental Health, Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Row_Wampum_Treaty

Written by sameo416

June 17, 2019 at 7:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Impact of Distant Trauma (hint: it’s not so distant)

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I have been reading much about the impact of trauma. Some of that came out of my restorative justice studies, where RJ processes are intended to heal at least a portion of what will become life-long (and generation-long) trauma. Most has come out of my studies of Indigenous issues and trying to grapple with the concept of the impact of 1) Colonial Genocide 2) Residential Schools 3) Ongoing colonial erasure. (I’ve linked to Alicia Elliot’s excellent book, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground as she speaks to the ongoing impact of Settler colonialism on her.) We are also beginning to suspect through studies in epigenetics that trauma causes lasting genetic changes in families that are passed on to subsequent generations. (that’s a older story, there is lots of research grade material out there)

I’ve been mostly spared from that trauma. I’m white-passing, and so could hide in that without having to declare my Indigenous history. Indeed, that’s what my branch of the family seems to have done after about 1870 in Red River. That self-erasure has probably left markers of some kind, certainly spiritual, but I’m not at a point of awareness where I can detect that beyond a profound sadness for what was lost. While I love photos and stories about family’s Indigenous history and people who have, for example, beaded leather that was worn by gg-parents, each time I see those there is a little sense of a knife through the heart about what I will never be able to pass to my daughter.

On my recent visit to the dentist, however, I was struck by the realization that I do have deep trauma personally, and it has to do with dentists.

Every trip to the dentist’s office is a bit of torture for me. I detest that most of them have televisions over each chair, and I need to consistently ask that they turn the tv off. Even a simple cleaning is cause for lots of stress and anxiety. When they told me a year ago that I needed to pick up the pace of visits to head off some issues, this was not a happy moment.

As I’m in the chair I find my tension grows to the point I’m clenching my hands and feet to the point of pain. I usually loop my hands around my belt so I have something to hang on to. As the treatment progresses, I’ll find my body responding on its own, and having to intervene and consciously relax my hands, feet and to slow my breathing.

That’s probably a normal dental experience for some. What I realized this week is that I have early life trauma around dentists, and that’s what is manifesting.

I thought for a long time this was related to my wisdom teeth being extracted by a military dentist in about 1984. After misreading my x-rays and extracting one impacted tooth, he realized I had hooked roots (an interesting marker of Indigenous heritage if you’ve read my genetic history). That extraction took most of the 2 hour appointment he had booked to do four. He asked if they could make added bookings. I believe what I said was that I would not be coming back if they didn’t finish the job today. So, after five hours in total I was lighter by 4 teeth. My favourite moment was when he reclined the chair below the horizontal so he could use his hip for extra leverage on the pliers.

Amazingly, my recovery from that was super fast, and I had no swelling and was back on solid food in 2 days.

Last week, I recalled some much earlier and far worse experiences, and that is my explanation of why I have such a visceral reaction to dentists.

When I was a child, and had cavities, our family dentist in Selkirk would drill my teeth without any anaesthetic. I have very clear memories of being held in place in the dental chair while he drilled, and I can still smell that particular odour of burnt tooth (in the days before the super drills we have now). I remember screaming at times, and I remember really clearly the pain, like a nail being hammered into my jaw.

I had a lot of cavities as a kid, and must have gone through that experience 5 or 6 times before I put a stop to it at about age 8. As the dentist was about to start drilling I said – you’re not doing that without freezing first! He shrugged and injected and it was pain free for the first time.

After that, I asked my mother why she had allowed him to drill without anaesthetic so many times. Her answer was, “We know that you hate needles, so I thought this would be easier on you.”

I’m still floored by that answer – and wondering why she didn’t think it would be a good idea to ask me the question first before deciding on my behalf. (and it is true I detest injections, but dental injections don’t bother me…probably because I can’t see the needle going into flesh)

So this small bit of trauma, early life trauma, unveiled, has given me a small slice of perspective on the question of how those experiences continue to shape behaviour, even 40 years’ later.

Written by sameo416

May 18, 2019 at 11:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Diversity: Reaching Goalposts, or a Journey?

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I’m spending my weekend at the second annual AISES/.caISES gathering at McGill to listen to research and presentations by Indigenous students and professionals working in STEM fields.

Before I proceed, I need to spell out those acronyms.

STEM = science, technology, engineering and math. Usually used as a collective to describe any studies involving natural or applied sciences, often read to include other sciences, anthropology, sociology etc.

.caISES = Canadian Indigenous Science and Engineering Society.

AISES = American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

(That last one is a bit of a shock for Indigenous north of the border, as the only place the word ‘Indian’ is used anymore is by the government. Most communities have rejected it except when used as an internal short hand like NDN on Twitter.)

The goal of these gatherings is to create space for Indigenous STEM professionals to gather, to strengthen community, to share knowledge and experience and to live into the reality of relationship that anchors Indigenous worldviews.

I’m also presenting a short paper titled, Settler and Indigenous Peoples: Immiscible World Views. Immiscible is a technical term from fluid dynamics which means unmixable: think oil and water. I’ve already been asked by one of my engineering colleagues if I really believe my title. Are they really unmixable?

It was a good pre-question to ponder. My first answer is yes, they are entirely unmixable, because in so many aspects the dominant Western cultural understanding of the nature of reality is diametrically opposed to Indigenous understandings of the same thing.

My second answer is more hopeful, because worldviews can be bridged. I know this to be true because Indigenous STEM professionals bridge that gap every day. It wasn’t long in practice before I realized that I was operating in a bilingual mode: switching between or blending different worldviews in engineering. I know that’s true for others I’ve spoken to as well.

It does lead me to some reflection on what diversity really means for a profession or an organization. We’re expending effort on gender diversity in the professions through initiatives like 30/30, which is important work. There are other types of diversity, and if we really value diversity our efforts cannot stop with gender, as gender is only one aspect of diversity. The one I’m at this gathering to speak and listen about is Indigenous diversity.

In Alberta, through self-declaration, the number of Indigenous engineers and geoscientists is 0.42% of our total membership. That number is probably not entirely valid because of the way we ask the question. At the same time it is probably not far off as it bears out what I know from experience. Including those I met today, I personally know six practicing Indigenous engineers.

So, back to diversity, one of the reasons these gatherings are powerful experiences is because you are surrounded by people who share a similar worldview, and similar experiences, and face similar challenges. To be surrounded by people who are just like you is to be able to relax and move beyond the usual surface issues to talk about what’s really on your mind.

It’s why the goal of a diverse workplace or diverse professions never really has an end, because there are many kinds of diversity. In our efforts to increase diversity it is equally important to be attentive to whom we are speaking to, and what we are holding up as goals and values.

The trap is not entering into the same assumptions about others that we are fighting to end people making about us.

One conversation today involved a work situation around Indigenous diversity. The hiring manager commented that they would not hire an Indigenous engineer again because the one they had hired before did not work out. There was no apparent irony in what the hiring manager, a woman, was saying. It was not that long ago that male hiring managers were saying similar things about women. So the speakers have changed with time, but the underlying attitudes maybe not so much.

This is why diversity needs to be seen from many perspectives, lest the isolation, erasure and assumptions just be transferred to a new group of marginalized peoples.

I’m super pleased with how much diversity we have in my present workplace. There are many different perspectives represented across our community, and it enriches our discussions and our work.

But (and there’s always a but) we can’t rest in achieving a destination that is never reached, and we cannot assume we have achieved diversity because it appears to our eyes that we have. Much of diversity is invisible to our assumptions, and there are still people who make up that diversity who don’t speak because they are unable to do so for fear of judgement or reprisal. I know that from first hand experience.

From a legal perspective, I’ve always been one of Canada’s three aboriginal peoples under section 35(2) of the Constitution Act of 1982:

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

It was only about 15 years ago that I started publicly identifying myself as a member of the Métis Nation.

When I did that, the first round of responses were from colleagues and family relations. I heard many comments like, “Your daughter will be happy she won’t have to pay for university.” and “Think of all the tax money you’re going to save.” Some of the blunter comments were things like, “I’m glad you are learning your history, but you know you’re not really aboriginal right?”

What those comments reminded me of was the reason I had been silent about who I was for such a long time.

Even more recently the spouse of a classmate, at our reunion, commented that she was in disbelief at those who wanted to take down all the statues of John A. Macdonald. It is a complicated question, what to do with our history, and I won’t attempt to answer that question. My reply that when your family members had been machine-gunned by troops that Macdonald sent to Batoche, it tended to shift your perspective. The impact of my words was 15 seconds of uncomfortable silence, followed by a swift change in the topic.

All this to say I am a huge fan of diversity of all kinds. Particularly as one of the 0.42% of Indigenous engineers and geoscientists in Alberta, I can’t wait.

Written by sameo416

March 2, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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