A transformational journey: Learning Indigenous culture together
“Do you hear the sound of the drum, Canada? It is time to find our children. Show them they are not forgotten. That they mattered and are loved.” ~Anya Talaga
“Christianity has never been ‘culture-less.” Pastor Ben Peltz.
When someone is grieving, it is an inexplicable painful time in life – and God knows, 2020 brought a lot of collective grief – and for some, the deaths of our loved ones.
When a nation is going through grief – like the discovery of over one thousand children and unmarked graves buried in deep shame beneath former residential schools – this grief, too, is collectively palpable.
This is something as a nation, collectively, we cannot bury.
- Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
- Luke 6:21 “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
- Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are familiar to Christians. They ground us within our own imperfections as we grow into and with Christ: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self Control.
These tenets to live by are similar to the Seven Grandfather Teachings of Canada’s Indigenous peoples: Courage, Love, Honesty, Humility, Wisdom, Truth, Respect.
Ben Peltz is a pastor at Curve Lake First Nation and devotes his life to working with Cree youth in northern Quebec. Ben’s ministry with Indigenous people is with a posture of learning and an awareness that as he proclaims, “I am inadequate,” when it comes to knowing the truth and wisdom and culture of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
“One congregant at the church I pastor went to a residential school, and the uncovering of mass graves has certainly had an emotional impact. Even among those who are not survivors, the graves are a harsh reminder of how poorly their people have been treated,” Ben told Context. “The people I work with seem to understand that the church’s actions are not reflective of who Jesus is, but it still can be hard for them to reconcile their cultural identity and Christian faith. This is a big conversation point at my church.”
Ben was studying Politics at Trent University, intending to become a journalist, but sensed a call into ministry. After completing his Bachelor of Political Studies, he went on to earn a Master’s degree and Doctor of Ministry at Tyndale University.
Ben first became involved in ministering and working with Indigenous people at a sports camp in Nemaska where the first language is Cree, second English. Heading to the camp without any cultural training and not accounting for the extremely high prices of food in the north, Ben and his team had to live on hot dogs and peanut butter for three weeks before the company that hired them shipped in some other food!
Upon arrival, Ben and the team quickly learned a cultural difference – of time. As the kids poured in at their own leisure, the team had to learn to, “just relax, and don’t worry about it.”
Thanks to that experience and many more over the next decade, Ben learned key points for successful connection:
- Be a good listener
- Be slow to speak
- I am here as a friend
- Hospitality is a key value
- Most indigenous people are not hostile to us – they practice hospitality
As we all go through our transformations walking with Jesus in this beautiful, complicated, and difficult world, pastor Ben offers us a way to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples:
SIX KEY TRUTHS:
- Colonialism and its ongoing effects are real
- Reconciliation and restoration are our collective responsibility
- There is no such thing as culture-less Christianity
- Indigenous values are more biblical than many of our modern values
- Coercion has no place in discipleship
- Ministry begins with reciprocal relationships
FIVE STEPS FORWARD:
- Listen and learn
- Lament, confess, repent
- Find a good first point of contact
- Form deep relationships
- Serve as invited
- KAIROS blanket exercise
- Chief Murray Sinclair and Dr. Marie Wilson’s book: What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation
- Free Indigenous Canada courses offered on Coursera
- Residential school survivors
- UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
- Native lands http://native-lands.ca
Many of Canada’s Indigenous peoples have long been relentlessly stigmatized as lazy and lack of motivation.
When pastor Ben spoke with the youth about their hopes and dreams in life, he found their aspirations were often limited. One young man said, “I guess I’ll just party like my dad.”
Ben says we need to understand inherited disadvantages of our First Nations, and how over time, particular groups have suffered generational trauma resulting in apathy and discouragement that can be interpreted as laziness and lack of motivation. “Instead of condemning those who struggle, we should celebrate those who overcome these challenges, embrace the healing that is happening.”
Perhaps the book, What Happened to You? sums it up well.
Dr. Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey discuss the fact that many children – and a disproportionate number of Indigenous and Black children have, “no idea that there’s an underlying cause for their struggles. They end up adopting the world’s (or education, health, institutional system’s) view of them: They are dumb, slow, lazy. It’s a cycle of failure that chips away at their self-esteem until the student becomes so frustrated or ashamed that they give up.”
See Ben’s website at: www.benpeltz.ca