On July 2nd, a first nations native pastor shared how she came to faith after being raised by a godly foster home during Alberta’s “60’s scoop”. I’m hoping at some point my home church will share her testimony, because she had a very balanced view of things from her position not merely as a full-blooded native, but as a pastor as well. She is in the middle now of a 5 generation range of family members all walking solidly with Creator God and had her two grand daughters help her with a blanket ceremony honouring a retired missionary and his wife who founded the Hay River hospital. When she was asked what was needed to bring reconciliation between First Nations and the rest of Canada, she mentioned one word, “Forgiveness”. She asked us to pray for her people that God would bring them to the place where they can forgive and move forward.
Then this morning, our latest sermon on the life of Daniel was about humility first toward God and then toward each other. The two weekends got my thinking as I drove away from church this morning. . .
Where I grew up, there was not much in the way of honour among the general native population. Those that got saved were amazing and awesome people to be around, but the general population did not act in an honourable way toward each other or others they came into contact with. Move on well over 30 years later, and the concept of honourable behaviour is returning, spurred by a desire to return to native roots and ways. Near the end of June, I wrote on my personal FB profile about the culture clash that began centuries ago that was not addressed back then. In many ways it is not being addressed now either. I once again find myself sitting in the middle between two sides that are both telling history the way they want others to see it, instead of the way it happened. Natives are leaving out the positive stories in public and only drawing out the narratives that make the white man look bad and the native look good. White people are either ignoring the narrative altogether, or telling them to shut up and move on with life, to pull up their bootstraps and make a name for themselves.
The truth is, there are dark tales on both sides of the fence and there are positive, amazing tales on both sides of the fence. Here in Kelowna, I’ve now heard two positive stories, one from an Order of Canada recipient and another from this pastor. Both of them are full-blood native, not even Metis, or some percentage of native vs white in their heritage (because not all were/are french)
So as I drove home, the question popped into my head: What if the so-called “white man” who represents millenia of how various European and Mediterranean tribes did things right up to present day, asked their local First Nations communities to teach their cultural expressions of honour and deferment? God’s Word does after all speak of treating each other in honour preferring one another. This is the part of the horizontal aspect of humility before God and others.
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
However, that thought was immediately followed by what appears to be a rather silly uproar gaining ground known as “cultural appropriation”. The latest article seemed to infer that if you weren’t French, you shouldn’t be eating French Fries! Um, My background is largely UK and we called them “Chips”! Fish ‘n Chips anyone? What happened to the idea that experiencing other cultures enriched your own? This was a common refrain from world travellers no matter what national stripe they came from. The ability to learn from, engage with, and perhaps bring a little bit home of another culture always left the recipient feeling they’d learned something and become a better person for the experience. Here in Canada, this is at the heart of our cultural mosaic. We borrow from each other with enthusiastic gusto, eagerly eating at ethnic restaurants, taking in cultural displays such as dances, parades, concerts, art gallery presentations, etc. We learn how to make ethnic foods at home and how to sew garments such as mukluks, mitts, and bags. The idea that someone in the “don’t touch me brigade” can’t handle enriching someone else’s life with their own culture comes across as childish.
Having said that, as a Christian there are certain things about any culture that should not be appropriated, such as items dedicated to demonic forces usually referred to as “gods”, “guides”, or other terms. When a client of mine first heard that our cat was named “Diego”, he got incensed that an animal had been given a traditionally-Spanish term of highly-honoured position. He didn’t let up for weeks after that, and he’s Czech! My daughter cringes every time she sees someone wandering around wearing an ancient Egyptian ankh, because it is a symbol associated with the mythical gods that the Egyptians used to serve. There are things about every culture around the world that relate to position, to religious significance, to ritual, etc, that should not be taken lightly. But if as happened to me, a Rwandan group commissions and then gives me a handmade traditional outfit, I honour them by wearing it. I’ve only worn it twice, but if those currently crying out against cultural appropriation had their way, that outfit would be given back to the gifters and I would have insulted and possibly even hurt their feelings because I rejected their gift.
Therefore, current generations on Western shores have an opportunity to be positive rebels with a cause! Enjoying each other’s culture and taking some of it home is not wrong in itself. Being respectful of how that culture does things and including that respect in one’s home however, is important. It doesn’t mean worshiping the gods of that culture and if a person thinks it should, then Christians must steer clear of any culture taking on that demand. It does however, mean not taking into one’s home items that can lead to demonic presence or using items in a way that dishonours the original purpose.
As Christians seeking to find answers to the current problem in Canada, part of the so-called “white man’s” enjoyment, discovery, learning, and appropriation of native culture should include learning about their system of honour toward each other and to those they deem of importance outside, inside, or having an impact on their community in some way. I think as descendants of European peoples, we white-skins can address our own varied history of conquest and conquoring by honestly asking to learn about the ways of honour among the native peoples. God calls us to honour each other, calls us to love each other as ourselves in the second of the two greatest commandments, and calls us to put others ahead of ourselves and to think of their needs as well as our own. What better way to put this into practice than by choosing to learn how a different culture does it, one that most of us have grown up with in one way or another for the past 300+ years.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Our native brothers and sisters, many of them, have not studied or perhaps have not realized that the studies they did do in school that pointed to all the ways the “white man” travelled the world presented a very different world view to their own that impacts how “white” community does things to this day. But many of them will point to various white people who led them to Christ, brought better access to medical supplies to their communities, etc. These are well and good, but when modern sins are presented that the white man engaged in against the native people, any well-doing is swept away in the heat of offense and demands for retribution.
Retribution is not what will bring both sides together. Repatriation won’t bring both sides together and may actually cause more hard feelings as more white people think they see natives being treated in a “special” manner. Resentment will grow against First Nations because they appear to be getting better treatment than themselves, and the rift will actually get wider, not narrower. So instead of seeking measures that fuel resentment on either side, instead of getting upset when others appreciate cultural diversity so much they take it home with them, white people could sit down and learn about honour from our Native brothers and sisters. The cultural diversity they take home with them could be what it should be, the best of the culture they sought to learn about.
When one culture takes home the best of another, they become a better people. Canadians have the opportunity to take home the best of the First Nations, the Asians, the Mexicans, the Jamaicans, the Africans, the Arab, the Israeli, the German, Dutch, and the list could go on. Canadians have the opportunity to take the best of the over 200 people groups in this land, and truly become the best nation on earth! Why? Because Canadians are ALL immigrants to these shores. But it begins with learning! Learning requires humility toward the one teaching, and humility from the one teaching toward those desiring to learn.
I seriously feel that God’s people could lead the way on this as Christian brothers and sisters among the First Nations teach Christian brothers and sisters from among the other cultures, the local way of honour! We sing the song, “They shall know we are Christians by our love. We will walk with each other, we will walk, hand in hand. . . ” As Christians on both sides of this issue, let us come together seeking forgiveness and learning the ways of honour. It may be that our histories are so different that we can’t reconcile them. But through Christ, we can link arms and show the world how to build anew!