A Religious Revival and the Politics of Nunavut
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 04, 2006 at 06:44:36 PM EST
With help from the Promise Keepers and missionaries, a Pentecostal Inuit politician and activist has been pushing for "Christian values" in northern Quebec.
Severe damage to ancient petroglyphs on the island of Qajartalik in Northern Canada has brought attention to a neo-Pentecostal revival which has reportedly been making great inroads among the Inuit of Quebec; the archaeologist who discovered the vandalism, Daniel Gendron, was originally reported as believing that the damage
follows the pattern of previous attacks by members of what he called "a very strong movement" of conservative Christians in Kangiqsujuaq and several other Inuit communities in northern Quebec.

Residents of Kangiqsujuaq dispute the accusation, and Gendron himself has since claimed that he was misquoted. However, the dramatic influence of the revival is not in question - Christian sources claim that while a few years ago 90% of the town's adults were alcoholics, today 90% are "born again".

I examined the contours of the religious revival over on my blog, noting the role of a Manitoba-based missionary, Roger Armbruster, and his close political associate Tagak Curley. Curley is an Inuit businessman and long-time activist, who was apparently largely responsible for the Canadian government recognising the word "Inuit" in preference to "Eskimo". He also played an important role in the establishment of Nunavut as a territory.

However, when Curley stood in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly elections in 2004, with a view to becoming Nunavut's premier, it was a on a platform familiar to religious-right watchers; the Canadian Press reported:

Observers agree religion became a political issue in Nunavut last fall, when [Paul] Okalik's government pushed through a new Human Rights Act that included issues such as protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

... "The special rights that are accorded to others more than ours, that believe in one union between man and woman, is something that is absolutely new to this part of the world," Curley said after announcing his candidacy.

"Now that we know what the law of God is, it really is much more clear that it's not necessarily the best of lifestyles."

Curley said the legislation "could lead to a situation where we become a habitat for that kind of lifestyle."

With the support of southern conservative lobby groups such as REAL Women, Curley said he would seek to amend the human rights bill if he is chosen premier by his fellow members of the legislative assembly.

... James Arreak, pastor of the Iqaluit Christian Fellowship and one of the leaders of Nunavut's new fundamentalist movement, calls Curley "a strong part of our leadership."

Arreak is one of several Inuit preachers in the process of organizing the fundamentalist congregations in all of Nunavut's 27 communities into a single church. That church, he says, considers the creation of Nunavut to be a sign from God for the Inuit to renew and redefine themselves.

The Nunatsiaq News explained the alliance with the missionary Armbruster:

Armbruster said he doesn't want to tell the people of Nunavut how to vote on election day, but he insists that the acknowledgment of the "supremacy of God" within the Charter of Rights gives elected political leaders the right to express their personal moral values.

...And he said that in Nunavut, "there is a real warfare over the government, as the enemy seeks to influence those in office to be controlled by deceptive thoughts or by humanistic thinking rather than by the Word of God."

In an interview, he explained that this "warfare" is a war between "truth and lies."

"Lies" include the notion that homosexuality is innate at birth, that gays and lesbians have rights that should be acknowledged in human rights charters, and that same-sex marriage should be sanctioned by the state.

The report goes on to explain how Armbruster's ministry, "Canada Awakening", is devoted to "building the indigenous church in Canada's north," and how Bible conferences have become popular:

A bible conference last September in Baker Lake drew about 600 people, and cost $300,000 in charter fares alone. In April 2003, a conference in Kangirsuk drew hundreds of Inuit from 21 communities throughout Nunavut and Nunavik.

At the Baker Lake conference, participants such as Patterk Netser, then the newly elected member for Nanulik, held up signs saying "Jesus is Lord over Nunavut," printed for them by a group called Prayer Canada, which encourages political activism on the part of fundamentalist Christians.

The following year, Baker Lake saw Curley stand alongside the Promise Keepers:

Two ministers from Promise Keepers Canada joined Rankin Inlet North MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] Tagak Curley, and long-time preacher David Aglukark, for a weekend conference mainly devoted to teaching males "how to be a man," organizers said.

...The Arviat meeting, which promotional material described as being about "men of sexual purity and holiness," marked the first time the increasingly popular organization has ventured into Nunavut, where evangelical Christian conferences are growing in size and number.

An anonymous article preserved on at a reposted site gives some further context (footnotes removed):

David Sweet, Conservative Candidate for Ancaster - Dundas - Flamborough - Westdale, is the former President of Promise Keepers Canada, and his wife is a current director of the organization. Mr. Sweet's views on the proper roles of men were made clear by comments he made to Christian Week in 2001: "[M]en are natural influencers, whether we like it or not.. There's a particular reason why Jesus called men only. It's not that women aren't co-participators. It's because Jesus knew women would naturally follow." In line with Promise Keeper doctrine, Mr. Sweet also told the Toronto Star in 2002 that he "absolutely" thought homosexuality was a sin and that "the Scriptures [are] the word of God." David Aglukark, Conservative Candidate for Nunavut, helped arrange a trip by Promise Keepers Canada to Nunavut in August 2004 for a meeting with local coreligionists, and strongly endorsed the mission: "I have been wanting to see a meeting or seminar like this for so many years and I am so thankful to my Lord Jesus Christ," Mr. Aglukark said.

Curley was not successful in his bid for the Nunavut premiership, but he remains an MLA. One of his particular interests is support for Israel; he has joined Armbruster and other Aboriginal Canadians on pilgrimages to the country (see here) and he runs a charity for "impoverished Israeli children."

how Christian right politics is infusing into the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Sep 09, 2006 at 12:44:15 AM EST

"how Christian right politics is infusing into the lives and cultures of indigenous people."

I don't think that indigenous peoples think, like westerners do, in terms of "the left" and "the right" in our politics.  They have a holistic world-view which integrates all of reality into oneness.

In areas like restorative justice, and valuing community over individualism, and compassion for the poor and underprivileged, their politics might be said, in our mind-set, to be "left-wing."

However, long before any missionaries came, there was, is, and has always been, in an aboriginal worldview, respect for certain traditional values that some might seem as "right wing."  To say that they were influenced by the "Christian right" is nonsense.

Even in traditional native politics, every council meeting, for example, is always opened with a prayer to the Creator, and the singing of a hyman.  It has nothing to do with the "Christian right."

The indigenous peoples have always integrated the world of spirit with the world of nature, and see their rights having been given to them by the Creator, not by human governments.

If "human rights" come from human governments, then they are not inalienable and inherent, because what one government legislates, another and succeeding government can just as easily de-legislate.  What the government gives, the government can take away.

But rights that come from the Creator are inalienable, and come to us on the based that we are all human beings created by the same Creator.

Correspondingly, these indigenous cultures have a high regard for the traditional family, and for traditional family values.  It comes from a respect for the natural order of things in that human life requires the union of one male and one female for its own survival and preservation.  

So support for "marriage" as the union of one man and one woman is not exclusively a concept of the "Christian right."  It is simply a respect for the created order that is inherent in many indigenous cultures.

To impose this type of terminology of "right" vs. "left" is, in itself, an imposition of our way of thinking upon a people who think differently from us, and who we could learn from.  Indigenous government is based on consensus, in which legislators sit in a circle, not in a party system that encourages partisan politics where legislators engage in a confrontation-adversary approach.  In an indigenous Council, every voice is heard and listened to.  We could learn from that.

So to judge the Nunavut government, or the government of First Nations, for that matter, with how government is done in the dominant culture is really not appropriate in my own view.

by cheers on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 09:31:30 PM EST

By the way, when Tagak Curley was narrowly defeated to become the Premier of Nunavut, he was the first one to stand up and to congraulate Paul Okalik, and to promise to work together.  Also, something which the Nunatsiaq News did not report (for whatever reason) is that Tagak Curley, as the very first order of business of the new session of the Nunavut Legislature, moved a motion in which the 19 members of the Nunavut legislature agreed to work together in unity for the good of the people.  There was unanimity in that 19 members supported this motion.

I can't conceive of anything like this happening in western politics where we think in terms of "right" vs. "left", and of the "government side" vs. the "opposition side."  Again, we can learn from them.

by cheers on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 09:37:25 PM EST

"With help from the Promise Keepers and missionaries, a Pentecostal Inuit politician and activist has been pushing for 'Christian values' in northern Quebec."

Tagak Curley is an MLA in Nunavut, not in northern Quebec, which is a different area altogether.

Nor has he received any political help in any way, shape or form from the Promise Keepers.  The Promise Keepers have been in Nunavut 2-3 times, but their meetings were solely for the healing of marriages, not to take a political stand in Nunavut, or to in any way tell people who to vote for.

by cheers on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 10:49:46 AM EST

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