In the midst of the stories of churches being burnt down and vandalized across Canada in response to the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at three Indian Residential Schools, another story is emerging out of Canada’s religious past.
It provides an interesting history on the spread of Christianity amongst indigenous tribes in British Columbia, one that I had never heard of before.
It makes me wonder if God is taking this bad and working it together for good as promised in Romans 8:28, because it is bringing to light how Canada’s earliest Christian prophets were in fact found among indigenous peoples.
They were prophesying before the Azusa Street Revival, that broke out in 1906 in Los Angeles, which is credited as the break out of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts in North America. They had also developed the office of the prophet that would not be fully functional in the church until the revival in North Battleford, Saskachewan, Canada in 1948.
In a fascinating story in the National Post by Terry Gavin stated that when James McGuckin, a Roman Catholic missionary, arrived in British Columbia, Canada in 1870, a very unusual thing happened.
When he visited the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan people living in the Northwestern corner of the province, they had already embraced Christianity before he arrived. They were aware of the ten commandments. They knew about heaven.
And incredibly one of their chiefs, Uzakli, who was also a Christian prophet, had previously told his tribe to expect visitors from the ‘land of ghosts.’
Uzakli had received this revelation in a dream.
And he wasn’t even the tribe’s only Christian prophet, Glavin writes that in addition to Uzakli there were four others who were considered prophets in the tribe, including two women.
But they also spoke of an older prophet, who had been deceased for several years by this point. Originally believed to be a chief called Kwis, Bini left his leadership role in the tribe and travelled, establishing indigenous Christianity throughout the region.
He was the tribe’s most famous prophet, who performed miracles, had visions, dreams and delivered prophetic words.
Because of Bini’s work, by the time missionaries arrived, the Christian faith was established in the region, thriving and God was raising up other prophets and Christian leaders among the tribes.
Several anthropologists who visited the region in the 1800s and early 1900s were amazed how they had embraced their own Indigenous Christianity and wrote down the stories about Bini, told by people who actually knew him.
The stories indicated that Christianity had arrived in the area sometime in the 17th century. It is uncertain where the Christian influence came from, but it had impacted the tribe because by the time the Europeans arrived, they were moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit decades before it was popularized by the Azusa street revival.
And because of this, these tribal groups had a different reaction to the Europeans and missionaries that were moving into British Columbia.
“In the analysis of the University of Manitoba’s Jason Allen Redden, the indigenized Christianity was like a manifesto, a declaration to the churches to the ostensibly Christian authorities and settlers that ended up as thick as fleas on a dog’s back by the late 1800s; you don’t own this, we are entitled to it by our own lights, it’s not yours to give.“
They referred to their revelation of God as “our own lights.” The tribe did not believe the Europeans “owned” Christianity. Further, they did not consider the missionaries as peers, but rather as allies in the faith.
As mentioned earlier, we are uncertain how Christianity arrived in this region, but it reminds me of other Biblical figures, who similarly had a revelation of God, and we don’t know where it originated.
Melchizedek just appears in the Biblical record. The ancient patriarch, Abraham, encountered this priest living in Salem, that is believed to be the original site of what would eventually become Jerusalem.
Abraham not only paid a tithe to Melchizedek, but referred to him as a priest of the Most High God.
We don’t know Melchizedek’s origins, and we never hear about him again, though the Psalmist suggests there was actually an order of Melchizedek priests.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is quite capable of developing people’s faith in the Biblical God outside traditional lines, to the point a person could become a priest or even a prophet.
I was excited to see this story about these Indigenous Christians taking control and responsibility for their faith and uniquely moving in the gifts of the Holy Spirit that up to this point were still just words on a Bible page for most Christians. They were a step ahead of most believers at this time and functioning as equal partners in the faith, as they should.