Neo-Pentecostal Revival Suspected for Destruction of Ancient Arctic Art

UPDATE: The archaeologist cited in the newspaper article below has since claimed he was misquoted, and that there has not in fact been a “pattern of previous attacks”. Please see my entry here for fuller details.

From the Canadian Leader-Post:

Canada’s only major Arctic petroglyph site — a 1,500-year-old gallery of mysterious faces carved into a soapstone ridge on a tiny island off of Quebec’s northern coast — has been ransacked by vandals in what the region’s top archeologist suspects was a religiously motivated attack by devout Christians from a nearby Inuit community.

The petroglyphs were created by the now-extinct Dorset culture, and it was hoped that the site would become a UNESCO world heritage site (all links in this post added):

Now, dreams of global renown for Qajartalik may be dashed after a visit to the island last month by Quebec cultural officials revealed extensive damage to the prehistoric drawings, including deep gouges across many of the faces.

…Daniel Gendron, chief archeologist with the Inukjuak-based Avataq Cultural Institute, the key promoter of indigenous history and identity in Nunavik, said the latest vandalism at Qajartalik follows the pattern of previous attacks by members of what he called “a very strong movement” of conservative Christians in Kangiqsujuaq and several other Inuit communities in northern Quebec.

The carvings were recently featured in the Nunatsiaq News, in an article which begins with some sadly prophetic words:

Anyone can pick up a piece of ancient mummified wood in Nunavut’s High Arctic, or write graffiti over Nunavik’s delicate rock carvings.

…Qajartalik is home to the only major rock carving site in the Canadian Arctic. The rocky island looks like a dark strip of soapstone. On its 130-metre-long kayak-shaped ridge, lichens camouflage what some have dubbed “devil’s faces.”

Qajartalik’s etchings resemble the tiny carved masks archeologists associate with Dorset culture, believed to have flourished in the Eastern Arctic 1,000 to 1,500 years ago.

Some display cat-like features, and appear to have horns. Lines radiate from many of the mouths, perhaps symbolizing the breath of a shaman, archeologists speculate.

The Christian “movement” mentioned by Gendron is a neo-Pentcostal revival which has been gaining strength for several years. Canadian Christianity has some details:

A “MOVE of the Spirit” in parts of northern Canada is moving south, and beginning to touch some troubled communities in Labrador, according to Roger Armbruster, director of Canadian missions with Maranatha Good News Centre in Niverville, Manitoba.

…Some Nunavut and Nunavik communities have undergone near total transformation, and many northern Inuit now see themselves as missionaries, says Armbruster. He recently accompanied 12 Inuit from northern Quebec and Nunavut on an outreach trip to Nain, Labrador, a community that has seen a large number of suicides — 22 since January, 1999.

During that visit, one of the women, Annie Tertiluk, declared that at one time some 90 percent of the adults in her community were alcoholics; and of those, she said, “we [she and her husband] were some of the worst.”

Today, however, Tertiluk can testify that in her community of Kangiqsujuaq in northern Quebec, the situation is exactly reversed. Now only about 10 percent of the adult community are alcoholics, and 90 percent have been set free by “the truth of the gospel, and the liberating power of the Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and that now lives within us,” reports Armbruster.

The revival, as expected, strongly stresses the supernatural. A 2004 report posted on Worldwide Religious News explains:

…After years of patient work, fundamentalist religious leaders across the eastern Arctic are about to join hands and their rapidly growing flocks to form a new church that combines speaking-in-tongues, cast-out-the-devil Christianity with Inuit cultural pride. “We are organizing,” says James Arreak, the cherubic, 36-year-old former bank employee who is now pastor of the Iqaluit Christian Fellowship and one of the movement’s shepherds.

…Pentecostal Christianity, brought in by southern evangelists, has been present in the North for at least two decades. But the advent of a new generation of Inuit preachers such as Arreak and Billy Arnaquq has made the difference, says Roger Armbruster of the Maranatha Good News Centre in Nivervillle, Man.

Arreak, along with his Anglican clergyman brother Joshua, believes that God revealed himself through a supernatural event while he was leading worship at a church in Pond Inlet, on Baffin lsland, in 1999; reported:

It started like thunder, and at first no one knew what was happening. Moses Kyak, who was operating the sound system, turned the volume off but the noise kept getting louder. Then people began falling down without anyone touching them. James Arreak, who had been leading worship, began to shake. The building began to shake. For about a minute the noise continued to fill the church, like a mighty, rushing wind.

“It sounded like Niagara Falls,” says Rev. Joshua Arreak, who was helping lead an afternoon youth service at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church with his younger brother James. And then the sound went away.

The revival also has a political aspect, and the missionary Armbruster has given strong support to Tagak Curley, a local politician who is a “Christian gay-rights opponent”. The Nunatsiaq News explains:

In a section of his web site headed “Jesus is the Lord of Government,” Armbruster said, “Jesus proved his supremacy of his authority over the government when he rose from the dead.”

And he said that in Nunavut, “there is a real warfare over the government, as the enemy seeks to influence those in office to be controlled by deceptive thoughts or by humanistic thinking rather than by the Word of God.”

…Armbruster’s ministry, “Canada Awakening, “is devoted to “building the indigenous church in Canada’s north,” a church that respects Inuit traditional cultural values and Inuit leadership. It’s one of several ministries that have helped the Inuit Christian movement in Nunavut and Nunavik grow by leaps and bounds since the 1990s, sometimes with the help of municipal governments.

The Hamlet of Cape Dorset, for example, donated $25,000 last year [2003] for steel pylons for a new church built by the late John Spillenaar’s Arctic Missions Outreach, now headed by David and Joan Ellyat[t] of London, Ont.

…A bible conference last September in Baker Lake drew about 600 people, and cost $300,000 in charter fares alone. In April 2003, a conference in Kangirsuk drew hundreds of Inuit from 21 communities throughout Nunavut and Nunavik.

At the Baker Lake conference, participants such as Patterk Netser, then the newly elected member for Nanulik, held up signs saying “Jesus is Lord over Nunavut,” printed for them by a group called Prayer Canada, which encourages political activism on the part of fundamentalist Christians.

Armbruster also spreads the gospel of Christian Zionism, and has led solidarity tours to Israeli communities. He explains in a Christian newsletter:

From January 23 to February 3, 2005, the Inuit and First Nations of Canada made their sixth annual pilgrimage to the land of the Bible.

…The vision is therefore to build relationships with all people groups in Israeli society, spreading joy through our songs of praise to the Lord, and spreading healing and comfort.

…This year we were able to visit the community of Sderot near the Gaza Strip, a community that has been the target of over 500 rocket attacks since June of 2003.

…Some Jewish Rabbis have an oral tradition which says that when the North American Native come to Jerusalem to pray, it will be a sign that the coming of the Messiah is near, because it will be a sign that the Torah has gone to “the ends of the earth.”

On his website, Armbruster stresses the importance of reconciliation between different native groups – if original inhabitants are resentful of newcomers, he explains, this will create a curse that will bring “defilement” to the land. He claims that a recent ceremony of reconciliation (led by a Fijian Pentecostal group) has led to the land becoming dramatically more fertile:

…There are rigid and dogmatic mindsets in the world who presuppose a naturalistic explanation for everything.   But it is the indigenous people of the world who have something to teach the western mindset, and it is that the spiritual and the natural worlds are connected, and that the things we see in the natural flow out of the supernatural. Everything that we see around us had its source and origin in the spirit, and then it manifested into the natural from there.

Those like members of the Fiji Healing the Land Team have seen this happen far too often to be a mere co-incidence. They have seen a pattern that when certain things are addressed in the spirit, and that when repentance of the sins that defile the land take place under the authority of the local gatekeepers and authorities, that that is an outward manifestation that takes place that affects the environment, and the land itself!

As he makes clear in the comments section to this blog post, Armbruster is just as appalled as the rest of us by the vandalism of an ancient heritage site – but it’s also very likely that the non-Christian religious art of Qajartalik is going to be seen by some Pentecostals as one of the things that “defile the land”. This is not unique: as I blogged recently, Kenyan Pentecostals have been threatening to destroy colonial-era art which they believe to be associated with Freemasonry.

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

UPDATE: I explore the political issues further at Talk to Action.