Friday, August 10, 2007

Honouring our Ancestors

Christian Solidarity Walk,
Mato Paha 2006
Green Lake, Wisconsin - As part of our trip to Mato Paha (Bear Butte), we attended a spiritual encampment set up to pray for the protection of the sacred mountain. There we met a Lakota woman who spoke to us of White people who ask to join First Nations rituals, to take part in Sweat Lodges and watch the Sun Dance. She told me she asks them what they do to honour their own ancestors, what rituals they have.

As a Christian, my religious rituals do not relate to my ancestors. But I do make an effort to honour my ancestors; I work for justice towards Aboriginal North Americans on my behalf and theirs.

My great-great-great uncle, William Spragge, signed the Manitoulin Island Treaty on behalf of the Crown. I don't know his actual attitude towards the First Nations he negotiated with, whether he truly wished to make the encounter between two cultures as just and fair as he could, or whether he mainly wished to move Aboriginals and their cultures out of the way of European settlement. In a sense, it does not matter very much. The Europeans who first encountered First Nations people shared the difficult task of reconciling two very different cultures with very different views of the world, and I believe in evaluating even their worst failures with compassion.

But whatever my ancestors did or failed to do right in the centuries that preceded this one, their actions form part of an ongoing relationship. I can choose to honour the best things my ancestors did by doing everything I can to foster a just relationship between the Aboriginal and Non-aboriginal people of this continent. If enough of us do so, in the end I believe history will see even the worst mistakes of our ancestors as slips at the rocky beginning of a positive relationship. If we and the generations that follow us fail, then all that our ancestors did, the good and the bad, will blend into a history of genocide, of the destruction of a people. I do this work, I strive to steer our relationships in a positive direction, because I have the honour of my ancestors in my keeping.

1 comment:

Philip Barber said...


I am one of those interested in ancestors too. I am a great great grandson of William Spragge. His daughter Frances Harriet, married Thomas Barber, my Great Grandfather in Ottawa, before returning to England.

Until the last few days I had been unable to get back beyond Harriet until I had a lucky break.

I too was wondering what kind of guy he was. It is always difficult to apply the values of today to the situation 130 years ago.

I don't suppose our great grandchildren will be terribly kind to us if global warming goes the way everyone (except George Bush) seems to think it will. William was probably a Godfearing and conscientious civil servant trying to do his bit for Queen and Country!

Please feel free to get in touch! I am keen to build up the Spragge family tree. The family has always believed that there is a connection with Admiral Sir Edward Spragge, who tangled with the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter. A brave and distinguished seaman he drowned when he was transferring between ships under fire and his boat was hit and sank! It appears he had no legitimate issue, but did have a number of illegitimate ones, which are recorded! Typical sailor!