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Part 6: Our Children Are Leading Us Now

In our final episode of season 1, we are going to hear from two generations of Ojibwe women. Deacon Colleen Bernu (Director for Evangelical Mission and Synod Minister for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of ELCA) and also from her high school daughter, Johanna. They share with us about what living together well might look like. Specifically, they reflect on the significance of the Duluth Reparation payment, their perspective of living between worlds, and what it's like to build community from this place. They also provide some additional context to the importance of bridge building, noting that in addition to mending the cultural divide between Indigenous people and settlers on these lands, we have another gap to cross–the divide of being both spiritual and human at the same time. We also look to the future from a young person's perspective: how Johanna views her place between her ancestors and the generations to come.

Deacon Colleen Bernu

Colleen Bernu: I think the most immediate learning opportunity as a result of the payments that our Synod Council unanimously voted to make to the Minnesota Chippewa tribe is going to be a better understanding of why we would even do such a thing. What is the point and purpose of offering any type of payment, and especially a payment of 185,400, plus 100, plus 1100 dollars? And I think that opportunity – that breaking through – is going to really create these fractures in these cracks where light can shine into the areas that have been so clouded by a history that really has been perverted and has been operating in two parallel dimensions.

One is a settler narrative and the other being an indigenous narrative. And having this indigenous narrative that ebbs and flows into this other space, but not necessarily the reverse being true. So this opportunity for us to start to create a shared historical narrative, so when we do come together and we do sit down at a table together, we are entering into that space with a broader understanding, that we are coming together with more of an understanding of each other's existence and each other's experiences. And maybe we can talk to each other instead of past each other.

I think that we have hundreds of years of talking past each other, thinking we're saying the same thing. But in reality, we aren't. And that's both the short game and the long game, right? As far as the long game, I have my own hopes and dreams and wishes, and we have to start healing from some of the fractures that we have exhibited on each other. I have this opportunity and both responsibility to stand in this liminal space where I can be both – I stand as someone who acknowledges that the Jesus way makes sense and that there's room here and that creates community. And because of that, there is a possibility for reconciliation, because that's a promise we've been given.

But I also stand in a real lived reality that hasn't been something that so many people have been able to experience within my community. So I think that at the end of the day, I will feel like we've had a win, so to speak, if we can say, ‘Yeah, this is possible.’ And there's some bridges that have been built and some healing that started to occur.

Dr. Matthew Cobb: Now let's hear from Colleen's daughter, Johanna, as she reflects on her perspective of living between worlds – and what it's like to build community from this place.

Johanna Bernu

Johanna Bernu: I was born to two native parents from very different backgrounds. One grew up in a community that was strictly Catholic. My dad said, and he was – he developed a hatred towards the Church, felt like it was forced. And then my mom grew up in a community that had a little bit more freedom in religion, was less forced. It was okay to push the boundaries a little bit. And that's kind of where I find my driving factor, my force.

So my mom has created this ministry setting through many, many years of work and trial and error and kind of connecting all pieces of life – both in our indigenous community and our community and living with God and God's family and Jesus specifically. That's complicated at times.

I think it's really hard for me to learn to accept the fact that I was raised as a Christian person, and that meant that I was born to a community, and I was raised in a community that was complicated and messy and had a very difficult and traumatic past. So I think that in a way, it's not really the life that I chose for myself. It was very spirit-led of: ‘Well, this is my life now.’ So it was more of an acceptance than a choice, I think.

Community for me is the people in your life who are there no matter what. So some people may call that family, but it's a little more complicated when your family isn't necessarily blood-related, and it's just a communal group of people that doesn't always believe the same thing and doesn't always act the same way, doesn't always accept the things you do, but is still there for you and would be by your side no matter what. So I think this communal identity is, like, a piece that you create with those around you. It's that you've accepted in yourself that