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    Cultural Awareness

    February 19, 2016
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    Pastor Nathan Wiebe

     

    When I first moved to Wetaskiwin, I knew that geographically it was located north of Hobbema, a First Nations Reserve.  As I settled into the community I found that many people had strong feelings, often negative ones, about the people from the reserve. The racism wasn’t so subtle. 

     

    As someone new to the area, this surprised me. I grew up close to the Six Nations reserve in Ontario and seldom heard negative comments about the people who lived there. I played lacrosse through most of high school and had many teammates who were Native.  They called themselves Indians and we became friends.  I would like to find a friend from Hobbema, which is now named Maskwacis. 

     

    I have a desire to understand the culture better so a few weeks ago I attended a cultural awareness training session that sought to educate the community about some of the nuances of First Nations culture.  Two men from Maskwacis led the sessions and shared some of their history.  One man shared a list of differences between First Nations and European cultures, which I found quite insightful.  

     

    For example, European descendants tend to look people straight in the eye when they communicate, which is seen as a sign of confidence and respect.  The First Nations person will often avoid eye contact as a sign of respect. But if this difference is not understood, lack of eye contact may be seen as a sign of shame or deceit.

     

    There are also cultural differences in the area of spirituality. While sharing the idea of a creator, there are no doubt some major differences in the understanding of spiritual things between First Nations Spiritualism and Orthodox Christian theology.  But beyond varied theology, the challenge for Christians here in Wetaskiwin is, how do we love our First Nations neighbours? 

     

    The longer I have lived here the more I have heard the stories of people who have suffered wrong at the hands of First Nations people… ranging from vandalism to theft to murder. While I don’t endorse prejudice, I am beginning to understand why some people carry the racism that shocked me when I first moved here.  I have not heard the individual stories of my First Nations neighbours who have been wronged.  However, I believe we need to strive for a greater level of understanding by seeking to listen and understand each other in a fresh way.  That is why I attended the training session.

     

    I began to think -- what might it be like to look at the Bible with the eyes of a First Nations person? One example that helped me think more deeply in this way arose from the narrative of the Exodus; Moses leading his people out of slavery to freedom.  This is a story that may be relatable to the First Nations people. They experienced oppression and persecution while desiring a path to freedom.  However, the story takes a turn when the people are freed and eventually arrive at the “promised land.”  They commit genocide in order to take land away from another group of people.  Whoa! That element of the story would be very hard for a First Nations person to see in a positive light because they were the victims of that type of thinking.

     

    My goal in sharing this reflection is that we might take a moment to give thought to the perspective of those who are different from ourselves, and to remember the challenging call of Jesus for his people to love their neighbours as themselves.  The specifics of how to love need to be wrestled with as individuals and as a church family.  Forgiveness, charity, kindness, patience and sacrifice: all these things will be required, and more. Yet, with the Spirit of God dwelling in us, these things are possible.

     

    - Pastor Nathan

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