Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization, Cascade, Eugene, Oregon, 2021. 426 pp. $38.00. US ISBN: 978-1-7252-5535-7.
Healing Haunted Histories weaves together the stories of Indigenous peoples of North America with those of Russian Mennonites who now find themselves in these lands. It is a practical handbook for those on a journey of healing and reconciliation. While it has application for all settlers, it is especially relevant for those of Anabaptist ancestry.
The book is a combination of a family memoir, a decolonization workbook, and a critical theological analysis. In tracing her own ancestor’s migration and settlement journeys, Elaine Enns explores histories of trauma and resilience in her family and in the wider Mennonite community. She treats these stories with tenderness and grace but does not let the Mennonite community off the hook: there is a tremendous response-ability among Mennonites to be taught by the experiences of trauma and persecution, and to use this learning to deepen relationships with Indigenous people. Mennonites must acknowledge and heal from their own painful past in order to not carry these wounds into their relationships with Indigenous people. Those who heal from their own experiences and from participation in colonization can begin to work in solidarity with First peoples. For Mennonites, reconciliation must involve a deep reckoning with the past and dealing with the haunted histories of Anabaptists before coming together in joint healing with First Nations peoples.
To organize the book, Enns and Myers have created a framework of Landlines, Bloodlines, and Songlines. Through the concept of landlines, the authors explore how experiences of displacement and settlement have shaped both Indigenous and Mennonite peoples. They follow this by looking at bloodlines—the social and generational factors that shape particular responses to trauma and assimilation. And they present a vision for how songlines—the cultural and spiritual gifts and traditions imbedded in both Mennonites and Indigenous peoples—help build resilience and create new narratives of hope and restored relationship.
In Healing Haunted Histories, I learned how Indigenous peoples and Mennonite Settlers have become interconnected. I grieved the ways that my own ancestors have unknowingly participated in colonization. For me this book was very helpful because it presented a clear structure and process for the work of decolonization in my life. As a descendant of Dutch and German Mennonites who settled in Russia and then on the Canadian Prairies, I gained a greater understanding of how to situate myself in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission processes currently underway in Canada. Settlers have come to Canada from many different places and contexts, and the journey that my Mennonite ancestors have taken to these lands requires a particular approach to racial reconciliation and healing. My faith distinctives also invite me to have a particular Anabaptist-flavored response to injustice, involving restorative solidarity.
I especially appreciated the theological interlude where Enns and Myers revisit the Gospel story from Luke 9, where Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on a “missions trip.” The authors provide a fresh interpretation of this passage that emphasizes how the good news of the gospel heals, liberates, and restores. I learned from their remarkable re-telling of the story how Jesus’s commissioning of the disciples contrasts with the concept of Manifest Destiny that characterized missions and colonization in North America. Enns and Myers highlight how Jesus specifically taught his disciples to enter a community as a humble guest, to share the gospel in a way that honors and elevates the customs of the host community, and to graciously leave the community untouched if it rejects the gospel message. I found myself wishing I had read the Luke 9 passage with this lens many years ago.
Healing Haunted Histories is an accessible book that provides useful tools for Mennonites who want to face the legacy of settler colonialism and to dismantle colonial relationships. The reader is warned: “A discipleship of decolonization is both demanding and liberating” (24). Enns and Myers have provided a thorough process for looking at both Mennonite history and the Mennonite present through a restorative justice model that gives hope for renewed relations.
Jen Kornelsen lives in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 Territory, and studies theology with NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community. Jen finds a lot of life in her neighborhood house church, “Many Rooms” (Evangelical Mennonite Conference), in being outside, and in living creatively.