Yesterday I listened to an interview of one of Canada's First Nations chiefs. He spoke of how for 500 years missionaries have brought Christianity to First Nations people, yet only 3 per cent have truly accepted. He noted that most missionaries insisted that the aboriginal peoples must, to become Christians, give up all that related to their culture, and take on the missionaries' format of church. They demanded the new believers give up their regalia, their drums and music, their language. They informed them that those things were evil.
The chief described how this approach stripped the new believers of what made them the unique people the Creator designed them to be. It removed them from the places God had planted them. This missionizing approach worked hand-in-hand with the aim of the government to "assimilate" the native peoples. Generations of children were removed from the influence of their families and their peoples, to residential schools (often operated by churches), where they were meant to be transformed into nice little white-man-Christians.
Of course none of this information is new. The results of these missionary efforts are well known. My own husband spent some of his childhood years in residential school, and I see every day the outcomes of that experience on him and on his people. But watching the interview (you can watch it here, here, and here - 3 parts) made me think about the value of our cultural roots, and how that fits in with our identity in Christ. More and more, First Nations peoples are embracing Jesus, and re-embracing their culture at the same time. What does that mean for me? What does my culture, my identity, have to do with my relationship with Jesus?
The next few posts will explore some of those thoughts.