Much has been made of the Christian commitment — Pentecostal variety — of Matthew Coon Come, chief of the .
I can’t help but notice, however, that a fair number of people are reacting to a number of his public pronouncements — commending him at times, and otherwise wondering about some of his seeming contradictions.
Those pronouncements provide the basis for an interesting case study for those who want to try to answer the question: “For whom does the Christian leader speak?
Chief Coon Come has been — as far as I am aware — completely unavailable for interviews with non-First Nations Christian journalists.
His Christian stance was covered soon after his election, with a spate of stories about:
- His conversion to Christ through the influence of an American evangelist.
- His willingness to let the “baggage” of his “white man’s religion” show itself, at whatever the cost, in his run for the First Nations top job.
- The work that he did in the field of relationship building and healing, while a member of Woodvale Pentecostal Church in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean.
There have been two further opportunities to interpret his views and actions from a Christian viewpoint.
One came with his widely-quoted suggestion that First Nations leaders smoke and drink too much and are, for that reason, sometimes unsuitable role models for younger people.
The second was when he was seen, without fanfare, attending a Transformations II conference in Ottawa. The conference was one of several held across Canada, to launch the release of the Transformations II video, and was attended by about 1,000 people.
Transformations has receive a fair amount of play in Christian media in Canada. In brief, the videos are produced by researcher George Otis Jr. and intended to explore a number of the remarkable examples of Christian renewal occurring in various nations and cultures throughout the world.
One of the renewals featured in Transformations II has occurred in the past few years in several Inuit villages in northern Quebec and adjacent islands. It has been sweeping through both Anglican and Pentecostal churches in these villages and has included such phenomena as “rushing mighty winds”.
More to the point, insofar as the issue of community transformation, the suicide rate has reportedly dropped markedly in these villages, as spiritual renewal has replaced despair for many of these young people.
The First Nations chief indicated to some of his fellow attenders at the Ottawa conference, that he was particularly interested in the Quebec reports and wanted to use the information from the videos to advance his understanding of the subject.
With respect to Chief Coon Come’s comments about smoking and drinking, it should be noted that, during last week’s AFN conference in Halifax, he apologized for them, indicating that he felt the kind of publicity they had received was hurtful to the First Nations’ cause.
But it should be noted that the comments originated from the pietistic underpinnings of the evangelical faith that is so much a part of his life. The pinpointing of the damage caused by the use — or at the very least, the misuse — of alcohol and tobacco, is very much an essence of the doctrines surrounding personal holiness. And Pentecostals both in Caucasian and Native communities would be pretty much in agreement on that basic message.
But an apology from the chief may have been pretty much a necessity. That is because he is the leader of a pluralistic and eclectic body, whose main commonality is the aboriginal makeup of its membership.
Particularly, some of the practices related to native spirituality might run afoul of evangelical taboos. But, as a First Nations leader, Chief Coon Come cannot attack them with impunity.
Two recent Coon Come communiques provide some additional insights into the kinds of leadership pressures he faces.
The statement was seen by many in the non-native community to be a pre-emptive strike. Its unstated point was that just because he and the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were evangelical Christians, did not mean they could speak the same language on such issues.
One of the Canadian Alliance proposals had been to share ideas on private and common property ownership. There have been a number of indicators from AFN leaders that such discussions are outside the purview of their governance methods and culture.
Then, during the Halifax conference, the chief took a similar hard line against the Indian Act overhaul proposal coming from Richard Nault, the Indian affairs minister.
Both responses were indicative of the strong stances that helped him win election over former AFN chief Ovide Mercredi, who was seen as having been too conciliatory toward non-native political leaders.
All of the above is stated within the context of occasional e-mails I receive from Bill Chu, an old friend from Vancouver who heads up an advocacy organization known as Chinese Christians in Action.
CCIA is active in encouraging reconciliation between native and non-native communities through an application of the conciliatory and restorative justice aspects of the gospel.
Mr. Chu makes the point, with me, that I need to be more critical of things like market economics and compassionate conservatism, if I am to act prophetically to help right the wrongs of history against our First Nations people.
I take his point without rancour. CCIA may well be in a better position to build bridges toward First Nations people whose cultures have created a different set of values with respect to property and governance, than others whose experience is quite different.
If you want to reach Mr. Chu and the CCIA, I would suggest using firstname.lastname@example.org as the e-mail address.