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There are few politicians or other leaders of society who would be bold enough to cite their faith in God when engaging with the federal government. Often leaders, even Christian ones, are reticent to bring their religious convictions to the forefront when engaging in politics.

But when we find expressions of spiritual conviction included in public, official documents, we know that such convictions are held firmly, even if they could bring a political cost.

As Canadians become confused about the history of their nation, they have often failed to understand how strongly many early Canadians held to religious convictions. For example, modern Canadians don’t realize that many Aboriginals in the 19th century came to have closely held Christian convictions, at a time when it was socially and politically costly for them to hold those beliefs.

For example, during the midpoint of the Riel Rebellion of 1885, there was great pressure on Aboriginal peoples across Western Canada to join with Louis Riel and some of the Cree chiefs who supported him. Yet the chiefs of the Nakoda (or Mountain Stoneys) sent a telegram to Sir John A. MacDonald to reassure the Canadian government of their trust in them.[1]

What is remarkable about the telegram is that the chiefs, Jacob Bearspaw, Jacob Big Stoney and John Chiniquy, cited, first of all, their trust in“almighty God [as] revealed to us in scripture”. To make this claim in an official communication to the federal government reveals that the bible and the God of the bible were prominent beliefs for these men.

This simple phrase “almighty God” contrasted with other gods, spirits or religious competitors, was a conviction which many people might have claimed. But to state that they believed in God “revealed to us in scripture” is to move from a general theism to a conviction of the bible’s high authority.

Such a statement put those chiefs into the long line of Christian believers who upheld the authority of Scripture as the norming norm for their life and faith. Within the nineteenth century cultural debates with Roman Catholicism, it is noteworthy to see that the statement lacks reference to the pope, Mary, or church councils as authoritative.

We know of the respected influence which Methodists George and John McDougall had among the Nakoda, bringing a culturally sensitive ministry that upheld the gospel of Jesus Christ above all. The missionaries may have been a source for the chiefs’ convictions. However, the telegram indicates that the Nakoda chiefs were much more than mere patrons of the Methodists, permitting them to work among their people. Instead, the message shows us that these chiefs had taken up classical Protestant convictions (sola Scriptura) for themselves. They had employed those ‘evangelical’ beliefs into their worldview as they sought to deftly navigate the turbulent waters of Canadian politics in 1885.

Consider the contrast of the Nakoda chiefs writing out of their faith in biblical convictions, addressing the Prime Minister who was infamous for alcoholism and Freemasonry.

Such juxtapositions ought to make us pause before we presume to stereotype the beliefs and convictions of Aboriginal and European Canadians.

 


[1] Entry 733:

April 15, 1885
From: Regina
To: Sir Jno [sic] A. MacDonald

Ottawa Rec’d the following from Stony Indians reserve Morleyville- “We the undersigned chiefs of the Mountain Stonies desire at this time to say to the Government through you that as heretofore our trust is in two great powers first almighty God is revealed to us in scripture, 2nd British justice as represented to us by the Canadian Government

Sgd Jacob Bearspaw
Jacob Big Stoney
& John Chiniquy

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