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Canada has a unique history that began with healing leaves. When one of the first explorers -Jacques Cartier – came ashore on the Gaspe Peninsula in 1534 he met an aboriginal Chief named Donnacona. As they tried to communicate with each other Cartier raised a huge cross on the land to claim it for the King of France. Donnacona motioned this was not okay because he was the authority in this place. Cartier responded by deceiving him, saying it was merely a place marker so they could find their way around. In truth he believed the land had just become the property of the French king. He introduced Donnacona to European Christianity by deceiving him with the cross.
The word Canada was first used by Donnacona. As he tried to describe his home village to Cartier he said ‘kanata’ which means ‘village.’ He was referring to his community then called ‘Stadacona’ which is now Quebec City. Cartier then took the word to mean the entire land that he had just ‘discovered’. Later in his French journals he referred to Donnacona as the ‘lord of Canada’ with whom he had to negotiate.
At the end of his first voyage Cartier took Donnacona’s two sons on his ship and sailed back to France. Whether they went willingly or were kidnapped is not clear. The plan was to train them as interpreters for Cartier’s next voyage to Canada. But no sooner did they return, than the two sons abandoned Cartier and returned to their home village of Stadacona.
Over the course of several voyages there was more interaction between Cartier and the aboriginal people who lived in the area of Quebec City. Despite warnings from Donnacona’s people, Cartier decided to sail further up the Saint Lawrence River where he ‘discovered’ another First Nations community named Hochelaga. He named the mountain in that location as ‘Mont Royal’ which later became Montreal. True to the warnings from Donnacona’s people, when Cartier attempted to sail back up the St. Lawrence to return to France, he left too late. The winter ice set in so that his ship became trapped in the worst place possible: Stadacona.
At a time when the French explorer was most vulnerable, stuck in the frozen St. Lawrence seaway with some of his men dying from scurvy, the natives could have easily overpowered them. Instead, Donnacona and his sons recognized the symptoms of the disease and they knew the cure. They brewed a medicinal tea from the leaves of a local tree, to serve Cartier’s people who then recovered. In this way the Creator used the First Nations people to bring healing from a form of treachery that used the sign of the cross to completely misrepresent Him in the new world at a political level.
From then until now Canada’s three founding cultures – First Nations, French and English – have struggled against each other until the 20th century when some of their men stood shoulder-to-shoulder in two World Wars. We’ve turned a page in a way that people from all three cultures were used by God to produce a unique Judeo-Christian cultural macrame based on repentance for wrongs done in the past, reconciliation, healing and peace for the sake of each other’s younger generations. At the very heart of it all is TRUTH – the importance of speaking the truth in love and to quote one prominent First Nations Canadian: “Speaking truth to power.”
In this way the Canadian identity is one based on three founding cultures that are moved with compassion for the world’s marginalized, hurting and dying people, but at the same time have a backbone to stand up for what’s right and refuse to give way to fear. Forgiveness and healing leaves continue to play a prominent role so that the Kingdom of God can truly manifest – not in wars and political strife but His government of peace without end (Isaiah 9:7).
On the global stage what looks like political weakness is sometimes the result of choosing to err on the side of faith expressed through love (Galatians 4:5). The Bible is clear that if we are not motivated by the love of God whatever we do is ultimately futile (1 Corinthians 13). It doesn’t mean we lay down and let people walk all over us, but it also doesn’t mean rejecting the world’s poor, destitute, homeless and marginalized. It’s a fine line between exercising compassion for the rest of the world and maintaining eternal foundations put in place by God. If it means free-falling in the grace of God and trusting Him to have our backs, that’s generally considered to be better than turning away countless souls who may be lost for eternity otherwise.
“And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).