Rev. Alf Dumont is a United Church minister of Anishinaabe and European heritage. His recently published memoir, The Other Side of the River: From Church Pew to Sweat Lodge, tells the story of his spiritual journey as someone of dual Indigenous and settler identity.
On the book’s title: I used to stand on the side of the Shawanaga River in Parry Sound, Ont., and look across. The river was a symbol of my search: where do I really belong? How much of my heritage is over there, and how much is over here? There was a real wrestling inside me with my cultural and spiritual heritage. It hasn’t been the easiest journey.
On balancing different teachings: I remember what Lakota Elder Tatanka Husti said: “Take what you can from this. Leave the rest behind.” When I would offer a Sunday sermon, part of me would reflect on the scripture and part on Indigenous teachings — always understanding that truths from both have influenced me.
On humour: I was born into a family that uses humour as a way of trying to cope with challenges. It helps us see truths we otherwise wouldn’t. When you’re on a spiritual journey, you have to be able to laugh at yourself.
On sharing mystical experiences: I have had these experiences that I can’t explain, where the Spirit or the spirit world has come to me. It was a risk to describe those because I didn’t know how people would interpret them. But I think we all have experiences we can’t explain that help us move into deeper levels of thinking.
On the future of reconciliation: Part of the struggle has to do with learning to walk together again. It means being as open as we can. You bring a gift that I don’t have; I bring a gift that you may not have. And as we share, we learn from the gifts that we have been given.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. It originally appeared in Broadview’s December 2020 issue with the title “There was a real wrestling inside me.”
Julie McGonegal is a writer in Barrie, Ont.
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