The speed of trust

This is a reflection I wrote for and delivered during a service at First United Church recognizing Indigenous People’s Day in 2024.

Thanks to Joëlle Morgan for editing and tone recommendations.

It has been said that “change happens at the speed of trust.”

When I heard this a few weeks ago, I was immediately transported into thoughts about this morning’s reflection. “Change happens at the speed of trust”.

I was born into Treaty seven. The first five years of my life were lived on the Stoney Nakoda Indian reservation at Morley, Alberta. Later in my life I lived on territories governed by Treaties six and eight, and by the Douglas Treaties on Vancouver Island. Although for much of the last twenty-five years I have lived on unceded Algonquin land, I am and will always be a Treaty person — born into an agreement formed between nations long ago, and which gives me both the rights and obligations of Treaty seven.

Overlooking the Morley Rodeo grounds in about 1976. The foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the background, and two children sitting in wildflowers in the foreground.
Martin (blond hair) and his brother David near the Morley Rodeo, circa 1976

My people – the mostly white settlers who imposed a colonial system of governance on this land – we’ve been very good at demanding and even overstepping the rights granted by our Treaties, and very bad at fulfilling the obligations that these same Treaties place on us. This lack of respect has led to centuries of broken trust.

As a person who believes in justice-seeking, this is not how I want the world to be. I want to contribute to healing. I want there to be Right Relations between Indigenous and settler communities. And sometimes, my brain says “I’m ready.” I even feel a sense of frustration that more isn’t happening.

So I come back to the quote: “Change happens at the speed of trust”.

It’s a reminder to me to temper my expectations. And, like any good proverb, there are layers of meaning and interpretation.

First, and maybe most obvious, it is rather optimistic to assume that centuries of broken trust can be repaired by a couple of decades of well-intentioned efforts by a minority of the settler community.

Trust is a fragile thing. Damaging it is easy, and building it or rebuilding it takes time and commitment. During that process small missteps and mistakes can wipe out gains, create greater tension in the relationship, and even close doors. And this is where I have to go back to my brain saying “I’m ready”.

I’m not.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural scripts – the way the world programs us to understand our place in it and how we are to behave as a result. It’s maybe most evident in the concept of gender, which feminists and queer activists rightly declare is not biological, but is a social construct. That is to say, our gender identity is mostly a result of the way our society has programmed us.

I’ve found myself struggling with some of the implications of the idea of gender as a construct. While it has led to the inclusive concept of gender based violence, it can also result in a barrier to effectively addressing the very real epidemic of cis-men committing violence against women. While in the long run we absolutely need to dismantle the gender binary, in the immediate moment we have to deal with the present experience of those who have already been programmed with that binary construction. The perpetrators and survivors in this epidemic understand themselves simply as men and women. It doesn’t matter that these roles are simply cultural scripts that they have been taught. It is the “reality” that they experience, and it is that experienced reality we have to work with. 

A social construct may not be based on any pre-existing or ontological base. Gender doesn’t derive from biological sex. But unfortunately, once our society embeds us with the cultural script that maintains that social construct, it becomes an experienced truth.

The colonial mindset is also a social construction. Those of us who were raised in Settler communities have been programmed with a colonial cultural script. This programming happens invisibly, and pervasively. Most of us aren’t aware of the many ways that we adopt colonizer attitudes and behave in colonizing ways. We can say that we don’t want to be colonial, but like gender for most men and women, our colonial cultural script is, in fact, our reality.

For many of us, that reality becomes evident – or at least impactful – when we try to engage directly with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities. Our colonial cultural script leads us to unconsciously cause harm; microaggressions or gross errors that hurt or replicate past oppressions. Without doing the work to become aware of and change our own programming, we are unlikely to be worthy of the trust we wish to be given.

It’s an inversion of the proverb. Change happens at the speed of trust, but trust is only possible in response to change. We have to break down the colonial construct before we can reasonably ask Indigenous communities to give us their trust.

It is hard work, and it takes time. The First United Right Relations group has spent more than a decade reading, studying, and learning together. As they move towards a more outward and relation-building phase they are aided by their assessment of the colonial cultural script. They have examined their own assumptions, confronted lifetimes of misinformation, and explored perspectives of history that were previously hidden or even censored. They have done some of the work to be worthy of trust. We as a community are invited into that work of becoming worthy of trust with their informed leadership and action.

A challenging reality is that we will probably never overcome the colonial social construct in our lifetimes. We have glimmers of hope  and I am inspired by today’s scripture reading1 – by the hope, faith, and confidence of the one who scatters seeds on the ground. We need to sow decolonial seeds. Not ones that will necessarily give fruit in our own lifetimes, but which will rewrite the cultural scripts of the generations to follow – in the same way that the gender binary has become a confusing limitation to many of our children. We need to sow these seeds, and have faith that in time, trust will flourish and change will come.

But I also want to flag that this scripture is a serious oversimplification. There is not a farmer on the planet who sows seeds and then walks away. Tending to the seeds – fertilizing, watering, weeding – is the real work of farming. None of these things cause a seed to grow. That is still a mystery. But the farmer will do everything possible to give the seed the best environment in which to grow. 

And that is our task – to plant seeds of decolonial culture, and while we wait in the mystery as they take root, we must tend to them and do all that we can to shape the environment in which that transformative culture can flourish.

  1. Mark 4: 26-32 as translated by MGVHoffman

    And [Jesus] used to say,
    “The dominion of God is like this:
    like someone who would throw seed upon the ground,
    and then they’d go to sleep and get up, day in and day out.
    And the seed, it would sprout and keeps on growing…
    how it happens, they don’t know.
    The ground keeps on producing the crop all by itself:
    first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
    But when the crop is ready,
    right away they’re sending out the sickle,
    because now the harvest has come.
    And [Jesus] used to say,
    “How should we liken the dominion of God?
    Or with what parable should we present it?
    … As a mustard seed!
    Which, when it’s sown on the earth—
    though it is smallest of all the seeds that are on the earth—
    and when it’s sown,
    it sprouts up and becomes greatest of all the … shrubs
    and forms great branches,
    so that under its shade the birds of heaven are able to nest. ↩︎


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