Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo…

I just finished having a quaint discussion with my younger brother – who is as opinionated as I am – and maybe a bit more. We discussed something I want to blog about – keeping your cultural identity and embracing faith (how I think they can actually work in tandem). 

I am from a First Nations cultural group (and spiritual tradition) and I am a Christian. I am a Canadian but I am also from a distinct culture in Canada – that was actually colonized by Canada. This is where this discussion all begins. How does a culture remain unique and bona fide – in the midst of being colonized? Can it? 

I think the Jewish survival serves as a great example in this regards. Think about it – they retained their culture, writings, and practices for over 3000 years or so – even in the midst of being conquered and without an actual country for many centuries. I thought about their example as my brother and I bantered back n forth about First Nations people groups keeping their culture alive. 

The problem is one of simplicity to me – what keeps a group of people together and communal? A place to meet, land maybe, and the writings and history. My people do not have a good shared place to meet – there is no synagogue of sorts – and we do not have our teachings from elders written down (not a lot of them anyways). We do have treaties that bind us together – but that’s really it. I personally think this is where the struggle lies in keeping a culture vibrant and living. 

I guess this is where oral history (preserved quite well in my community) meets current status of a society – a written society. My culture needs to record these things and put these teachings in writing – like a scriptural text of sorts. This way each generation and every family can read these things and teach them to their children…and know their history/identity. Plus, we need to find our commonality – something that brings us together as a community – a meeting place.

What seems to be happening – and this is my fear – is the Aboriginal people will just become another people group – and lose the unique cultural portions of ‘our way of living’. I think this is happening only because we are losing a grip on keeping the community together – there seems to be mass identity issues and problems that need to be treated. 

In Canada, my people group (Aboriginal peoples) have the highest rates of incarceration, violent crimes, unemployment, suicide, and substance abuse. We also have the lowest mortality rates, educational rates, and income earnings. Basically, as functional as our community can be at times – there are some huge gaping problems that exist. Why do these exist? 

I can see in history the problems that created them – but it is taking a lot of time to weed out these problem areas and find healing. The problem seems to be that my community does not where to turn – for communal support. There are no teachings/standards to turn to; everything spiritual is basically oral in nature. The people have no place to go – no meeting place with all the other people in your community (resident experts if you will). This stuff does not exist – and where it does not exist – people will develop their own rules for functionality. In essence, we start diluting what the idea of being a part of this culture actually means. 

I know for a fact I have more friends that listen to rap than listen to pow-wow or anything even remotely traditional. All of my friends growing up were of non-faiths – had nothing – and never knew their traditional ways (including me). I think about 80% of my friends growing up (maybe even higher) were in jail or juvenile detention 1 to a few times. 90% (or more) dropped out of high school (including me). Most of our parents were single parents – and could not really control us. We were all relatively poor – sometimes extremely poor. But nothing around us offered any hope either – there was nowhere to turn for communal support. These things were unheard of – no teachings I could reference. Most of us just did as we wanted – we really didn’t know better. 

I became a Christian – by choice at 17. What choice was I really left with? No single group was offering ‘hope’ at this period of time – and I grasped at what seemed like a good bet. I was right. I found a place to meet with others (communal) complete with foundational writings for direction. This gave me stability – a place to grow and mature. And that’s what I did – now I own a home, can go for my Master’s if I choose (and I think I will), married, have permanent employment, and many great friends. 

What is missing from my community? Stability and a place for people to come and experience their cultural lifestyle first hand (which includes spirituality as one of its 4 core components). We do not have that – no place to meet and no place to study. University functions this way for many Aboriginal students – but that’s a good 4 to 5 years of it – then back to the world that forgot us. We have community – that’s not the problem so much – but it’s fractured and everyone does as they please (lack of guidance truly exists). It’s not very directed – it seems chaotic…and sometimes it is. 

Final word: The community I come from will continue to suffer if we cannot come to some point where we develop a communal way to keep our culture in tact – meeting one with another – and even studying what it means to be from this culture. If not, we might be slowly going the way of the buffalo.

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18 thoughts on “Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo…

  1. “My people do not have a good shared place to meet – there is no synagogue of sorts – and we do not have our teachings from elders written down (not a lot of them anyways). We do have treaties that bind us together – but that’s really it.” -SVS

    This is a really good point. I get frustrated that Elders are afraid to share this knowledge except orally. The fact is, all Native cultures have been tainted by colonalism and Native people need to understand and accept it. We are not going back to teepees and bow and arrows. That lifestyle is gone the way of the buffalo. We need a Native Spirituality that incorporates modern society and gives us answer to living in it.

    We need teachers to tell us how to be “Indian” in the workplace, “Indian” at home with our kids, “Indian” in our modern scociety.

    If we keeping looking to the past, we will never get ahead or even get equal with modern society.

  2. “That lifestyle is gone the way of the buffalo. We need a Native Spirituality that incorporates modern society and gives us answer to living in it.” (Wolf)

    Unbelievably John (our brother) disagrees with me on this point – he thinks we should keep it oral – why succumb to Western society? I tend to think that’s a great notion – but of you can wear DC shoes and play fantasy football (Western society inventions) – then how come one area has to be off limits? That makes no sense to me.

    Plus, i am concerned with the actual problems happening in inner-cities and the lack of direction that exists for the Aboriginal communities. Wouldn’t it be much better if we had some centralized service somewhere – where Aboriginal people could go for guidance and help? It exists at the university I am part of – complete with classes and books on language and identity – and even elders to share their info and ceremonies. Yet this model does not exist within the city anywhere else.

    The thing about this model is it works. Most Aboriginal university students leave with a sense of identity, pride, cultural awareness, and even deal with many issues they faced from childhood. The model seems to produce people that become aware of their identity and in turn become great role models – even experts in certian areas (ie: language, history, and even counselling). But it has to come from a pay for school institution…how can anyone defend that our own culture is not capitalist in that sense?

    I think of the long-house – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_long_house – and it’s role in a few First Nations societies. It was a proto-typical gathering place for the ‘people’. In a central location like that we could house stuff like a library, hold language classes and other types of classes, have resident experts and elders present, and hold services for the community. This is the one thing lacking relating to keeping the culture strong – and alive.

    Many kids are losing their identity at the cost of doing nothing. With nowhere to go for help and guidance concerning personal living – they will resort to what they can only think of. But give them a place to discuss these issues – where the prominent people of the Aboriginal community reside – things can change – the community has it’s premiere place to ‘meet’.

    It;’s an idea – but it’s one lacking in most of our communities. I know we did not do this ‘long house’ idea within our culture per se – but neither did we have a FSIN gov’t assembly or some of the pow-wow dances we now use. Cultures change over time – and this is an idea that matches change with the past. It’s a way to preserve culture and demand respect within the community for the Aboriginal world-view.

  3. Obviously, I have alot of opinions regarding this topic. I will do my best to collect my thoughts and be coherent in my comments, but I have a flood of thoughts flowing at the moment and it is difficult to capture them in a few brief words. It feels like trying to take a cup of water from a river and using it to explain the life that exists beneath the ever flowing stream.

    The sad part of this whole topic is that for the most part it may just pass by the other commentators on this blog as something interesting, but not important.

    Anyways the river flows

  4. The sad part of this whole topic is that for the most part it may just pass by the other commentators on this blog as something interesting, but not important.(thejust1)

    The truth about this for me is that in some strange way I totally relate. Even though I am a white man living in a white world, the core of what Jason is saying, says to me, “Who am I” and where do I fit in this world? Do you think that maybe our connections to our worlds are determined more by our immediate families rather than the outside communities? If yes, then maybe our relationship with it is skewed because in essence our models were pretty f….. up. Being fatherless and living through violence and addictions isnt necessarily only a Native persons problem. I think what we may be struggling more with is how to be a Man. At least for me anyways.

    The river may be flowing, but how do we get rid of the crap in it?

  5. “The sad part of this whole topic is that for the most part it may just pass by the other commentators on this blog as something interesting, but not important” (Just1)

    Very possible. But this is not an issue of concern for them – if they have not been touched by the problems the Aboriginal community has to face – so I don’t really blame them for not taking an active interest. What does matter is we are able to discuss the issue within our community in an open and positive way – I am just throwing it out here (on the blog) for some feedback.

    “Even though I am a white man living in a white world” (John)

    There is no such thing as a ‘white man’ – just like there is no such thing as a ‘black man’ or a ‘red man’. We are all people from various cultural backgrounds – whether that be Cree, British, Irish, Japanese, Saudi, or African (and the various people groups there). What many people in the West fail to realize is that they come from a distinct cultural lineage – and culture is not a bad thing to study…fact is – most people are unaware of the beauty of their own. So we create cultures (ie: kids wearing rap clothing and trying to be gangsters or the hippie communes idea).

    “Do you think that maybe our connections to our worlds are determined more by our immediate families rather than the outside communities?” (John)

    I agree here – family effects our worldview first and foremost – then outside community is 2nd. However, for a point of clarification, in Aboriginal communities the nuclear family is considered as close as the immediate family (ie: uncles could be considered brothers or even father figures). But in my experience, close immediate family effected me more than nuclear family (people a little further out).

    However, what you are discussing is individual in nature – although many of us can share the same experiences (on that same level – including me). Now imagine, being in a place – for example a reserve or inner-city – where almost everyone shares the same story as you (ie: abuses of many sorts)? There is more to the story than one individuals experience to be considered there (and it’s not that the individual story is not important – it is – it’s just a lot bigger than that single person).

    And that’s the real crux of the problem – how to heal a community – a culture – across the board? Individually – I think great strides are being made – but there is a lot of work yet to do. Kids now join gangs like it’s part of being an Aboriginal – expect you to be dysfunctional to be Aboriginal – poverty is expected, etc. This is the largest generation of Aboriginal people ever – this youth movement of this generation. If the direction is not there for them – then problems that exist now (which are bad) will get even worse – and no direction leaves people to their own whims.

  6. I started to write last night but my post disappeared so I will try again.

    You mentioned the model of Jewish survival so perhaps we can look at it more closely and see if there is anything you can take from it to help in your situation.

    We were exiled to Babylon. We had lost everything and were in a totally strange place. Our leaders were reduced to nothing, our priests didn’t know what to do without a Temple. Who stepped up to the plate? The trader, the artisan, the average person. We have many gaps in the history of this time, but what we do know is that the sages and the synagogue came from the common person. Don’t think of the sages as religious leaders. They weren’t . Perhaps a few people started getting together to talk about the old days, someone who knew a bit more told a story, perhaps a prayer was offered, familiar food eaten. We don’t know. But, what we do know is that we arrived in chains, either literally or figuratively and built a vibrant Jewish community which lasted in Iraq right up until the founding of the State of Israel when it was kicked out.

    That was one disaster. When the Temple was destroyed our sages again stepped up to make sure Judaism continued on. We began in a small town with the remaining scholars gathered, we began writing down the traditions for fear all would be lost. We suffered great persecutions right up to present day, yet we carried on.

    Some would say it was God who did all this, but that is a simple answer of no use to anyone because the flip side of that would be that God likes us but lets us get beat all to hell along the way while still insuring our survival but God doesn’t like First Nations so you just get beat up with no guarantee of survival. I reject such thinking. Only those who are in power can hold to such a view, IMO, because they’re the ones always doing the beating and it justifies their actions.

    Humans taking action in crisis situations are what helped us survive. Their wisdom and foresight helped sustain us to this day. And those humans were not the leaders of their days, they were the average person passionate about their traditions and about their people.

    A Jewish teaching: You are not required to finish the task, neither are you allowed to desist from it.

    My advice to be taken for what it’s worth: You see the problem, you begin to be the solution. There is no place to meet, how about your basement? The leaders won’t help? Go on your own. It won’t be the same as before? Nothing ever is. Take the past, connect to it while making it meaningful to the future. In reading my writings you had to have seen that theme over and over. The sages kept Torah alive for us, kept our connection to our ancestors and the covenant alive even in very different circumstances.

    Another Jewish teaching: To save one soul is to save a universe. To destroy one soul is to destroy a universe. (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)(Save is used in the Jewish way of literally helping one life get on track.) You can do that Jason. You can’t help all the kids, but start with one or two, teaching them your traditions, letting them be a part of your life. You have learned much, you desire to be a tzadik. Start now.

    All this blogging stuff is fun, but you and I both know it’s just mostly blah, blah, blah, here we go round the mulberry bush one more time. You have real work that needs doing. I really hope you will begin.

    I will finish up with a few last teachings…..You know you like them! The Wisdom of the Ancestors….

    * If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when? [Rabbi Hillel (Avot 1:14)]

    * Say little and do much. (Avot 1:15)

    * In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. (Avot 2:5)

  7. globalization is an awful awful thing. people say the world is flat but those people are usually the ones benefiting from the system. these people are not the ones being asked to give up their traditions and culture.

    the dalia lama has some thoughts on what to keep and what to throw out in terms of tradition… if science comes out counter to a belief, he goes with science. there are traditions that say man is over woman, those are out. there’s a point he says where traditions meets modernity. if by looking back you see the future, and by looking to the future you see the past, that is the tradition to keep.

  8. I guess this is where oral history (preserved quite well in my community) meets current status of a society – a written society. My culture needs to record these things and put these teachings in writing – like a scriptural text of sorts. This way each generation and every family can read these things and teach them to their children…and know their history/identity. Plus, we need to find our commonality – something that brings us together as a community – a meeting place. (SVS)

    In a lot of ways, I prefer the oral tradition. The great thing about oral tradition is that you have to seek out someone (a wise one) to have a conversation with about traditions. Oral tradition requires the creation of a community, a creation of relationship.

    Although it might be helpful to have a written text to refer to in these times. The problem with having a text is that it creates limitations and debate. One will say the text says and means this, whereas another will say, No, the text says and means something else.

    Oral tradition means you have to trust that “the wise one” is giving you credible teaching. Something that is becoming increasingly more difficult these days.

    As for the meeting places that promote and teach culture, they do exist. Sweatlodges, powwows, sundances, big lodges, feasts, culture camps, gatherings, and so on. They are pretty well attended from what I have witnessed. The real problem is that the teaching of these events sometimes does not get put into practice.

  9. “The great thing about oral tradition is that you have to seek out someone (a wise one) to have a conversation with about traditions” (Just1)

    I think the ‘seeking’ part is cool – but let’s face some facts here – the type of society we live in is quite fast pace these days. Most people have their attention being grabbed by so many things around them – that people seeking will prefer convenience first and foremost. Written makes sense here – even videos – so the knowledge can be passed on…via taking some time to yourself.

    “Oral tradition requires the creation of a community, a creation of relationship” 9Just1)

    If people do the seeking part – but then they have to find the person (no real set place exists to find these people). It’s way easier to go to a church and approach a pastor (who will likely despise most of these traditions) than it is to find an elder. Just an obvious fact of life.

    “The problem with having a text is that it creates limitations and debate” (Just1)

    I would they debated these things than never heard them at all.

    “As for the meeting places that promote and teach culture, they do exist” (Just1)

    Meeting places do exist – but not one solid place to find these people – namely for inner city folks. These places you mentioned – they contain no set addresses – so they are in constant movement – one has to chase to follow. We keep these things nomadic – yet we live in homes with addresses…modernization works for us on every level but the spiritual?

  10. “We keep these things nomadic – yet we live in homes with addresses…modernization works for us on every level but the spiritual?”(Societyvs)

    Do you honestly believe it works for us on every level but the spiritual. Im not sure what world you live in. The problem is that it doesnt work on most levels. Thats why were to hurried to connect. Internet is like fast food. Tastes great but youre hungry very shortly after consuming. I will post again later as I have much to say on this and other topics being shared. 😉

  11. “The problem is that it doesnt work on most levels. Thats why were to hurried to connect” (John)

    I do not doubt this part John – that as a society we are pulling apart from one another and losing that ‘human touch’. I am no disagreeing there so much – I actually agree with you there…as a society we are pre-occupied with many things – so much so – we have lost time for one another (and blogging – to the contrary – actually sits us down and connects us – in one form).

    My problem is addressed to the First Nations ceremonies and cultural events being held in a variety of places – but not really in some activity centre (area) where the whole community can come and participate (like a church or a synagogue). That’s the nomadic part I am raising questions about – since I think that can be modernized also. Maybe it’s not the best choice – but at least people can find it, stop by, ask questions, and sit with an elder that is easy to find.

    As it stands, if I want to find an elder I literally have to ask around – make calls or go by the rumor mill….I am sorry but those days are over – they ended with the telephone, e-mail system, and cells. Also since we do not use the nomadic tipi idea anymore – then why do we not have one solid place of worship for the spiritual aspect of this Indian ‘way’?

    That’s the problem for me. Everything in most Aboriginal people’s lives is very modern in it’s approach – yet we never settled out spirituality into one ‘solid’ place. This is not keeping up with the rest of our current lifestyle.

  12. Jason

    I think Yael hit the nail on the head.

    ” You can do that Jason. You can’t help all the kids, but start with one or two, teaching them your traditions, letting them be a part of your life. You have learned much, you desire to be a tzadik. Start now.”

    When I read those words I had the sense that is what you are supposed to do. Sounds corny but maybe thats your calling.

    Yael
    “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man. (Avot 2:5)”

    Thanks for these words. I needed to hear that today.

  13. “When I read those words I had the sense that is what you are supposed to do. Sounds corny but maybe thats your calling.” (John)

    I am an ideas man – whatever calling that is. I am good with seeing into a process and finding out the pieces of that puzzle that are missing (and I am good at Jeopardy). Not sure why – but my mind functions in a way that does not waste time looking at the problem and complaining – just looking for useable answers to that problem.

    As much I would like to be the person behind such an initiative – it’s not the way things work around here (in the Aboriginal community). I can propose the ideas – but I really have no say in the connection of the dots for such an undertaking. I just have the idea that can be fleshed out and worked on – if someone with some power saw the desired effect it could have. I see it – but I do not control anything in my community either. Maybe that will change one day – but as it is – I have little to no pull.

    That being said – I like my idea…because it’s mine (lol). I know this idea would not be accepted in the Aboriginal community – since there are a variety of problems and differences of opinion…including getting First Nations governance on the same page (as they are also community leaders). It really is quite a splintered endeavor to try to run – to find concensus.

    I may have a good idea – but that’s really all it is – is an idea…the substance of things not seen.

  14. Being fatherless and living through violence and addictions isnt necessarily only a Native persons problem” John T

    This is so true. There is a common human condition on which we can all relate.

    Now I need to address something not brought up yet. The Native community is not one community. We are Cree, Ojibway, Haida, Huron, Dene, Mohawk, Dakota, etc. so many different cultures within Canada. Which way am I to learn?

    My dad was Ojibway, my mom was Cree. I like the Ojibway culture and I have learned some of the language. My brothers are Cree. There is mix up here (most likely me but I choose to be different because I am the most handsome brother 🙂 ) I think many of the younger generation of Natives are like me, lost and confused about Native culture.

    I guess this separation is something I have to fix, I like what thejust1 had to say about oral tradition being a way to promote community.

  15. Wilfred

    The more I look, I can see why you think youre the better looking bro. I like what you are saying. The more I look at my background I have to make similar decisions. Am I British, Irish, Scottish, or French. More than likely a mix of all.I think the proper term is Mutt. All I know is we all bleed red. And who knows, maybe Im an illegitimate great grand child of an Ojibway and Frenchie 😉

  16. Okay I just watched ‘The Jewish People: A Story of Survival’ (PBS). Many things can be learned from the Jewish culture, as I have been stating, for a culture that may face its share of problems – to remain intact. Here are a few obvious tidbits:

    (1) The Jewish people are a culture that survived a history of slavery, persecution, exile, dispersion, and even a holocaust – yet remained a vibrant culture to this day. A period they predict could span 4000 years.

    (2) This is the only culture to remember and commemorate actions of suffering committed against them. These periods serve as lessons or reminders of what happened and an honor to those of the past…even as they look forward to the future.

    (3) They did not lose hope when all seemed to be lost – including a temple (2 times), a country, a place of worship, and even their economies. They adapted as these things happened and learned new ways of thriving.

    (4) There were always some constants for the Jewish people. There was the Torah and the place of worship – even communal societies remaining intact – history was covered and kept – education remained a focus – learning and study was intact the whole time. This community may have faced struggles to the Nth degree – yet they rallied the community to it’s ‘Oneness’. Faith remains an integral part of that connection.

    For me, there is something to be learned from this community – its long lastingness speaks volumes to other communities as to how they can learn and thrive – even in the face of oppression and struggle. How does this relate to my current cultural questioning?

    (a) It wasn’t until under Canadian rule that all the tribal groups of First Nations (including the Metis) were grouped under ‘one’ – they were considered a whole Aboriginal group. I saw this in the 12 tribes of Israel also…they were all unique and separate groups that come under one leadership during David and Solomon. They kept their unique status – but became one unified group – Jewish/Israel. This group survives all the following atrocities of history due to its communal understanding.

    (b) The Jewish groups were dispersed and could be found world wide – yet they are all considered part of the same community. In Canada, the Aboriginal groups are nations-wide – throughout the America’s – yet they hold to a very similar view. Whether Miqmaq or Haida or Cherokee or Innu – within the community is the idea of connection to the rest.

    (c) Suffering is not to be seen as the end of it all – but something that can be looked at, memorialized, and built upon. I see this in my own community – from wars, to biological trickery, to oppression, treaties, loss of lands, loss of governing bodies, to assimilation laws, residential schools, to the scooping of our children, etc. Loss has happened – pain has occurred – it resides in our hearts and on our faces. But is this going to be the destruction of the community? It does not have to be.

    (d) Cultures can be despised by the ruling group of a particular country – but the defining factor of continuation of the culture is upon the group being oppressed. The Jewish people lost a lot of things concerning their community’s cultural and spiritual identity. What did not happen was the loss of the tradition and information. They kept their writings (also study) and place of meeting…even communities that were together. Aboriginal people do not have to lose it all – even their self governance – because a country decides they are not legitimate. This is up to the community to decide.

    (e) What keeps a culture strong? It would seem to me the Jewish nation kept a lot of ideas – likely based on their foundational documents – to keep the culture alive. This includes ideas of education, schools, work, creativity/free thinking, economics – and spirituality plays its central part. Many of these things have vanished from the Aboriginal community and can be built up again. The gov’t tried to create ‘wards of the state’ but the process can be reversed with the community working in unity.

    One classic example from the show is the work of Ben Yudha – with bringing back the teaching of Hebrew to children in the early 1900’s. The idea worked – and Hebrew – considered being a forgotten language – revived from generation to generation unto this day.

    (f) Where is our Torah? Where is out history? Where is our understanding of the glories of times past? Are we supposed to be subjects subjected to someone else’s writing of our history? Nothing is written – or not enough is – to build any foundational document for the Aboriginal peoples. We cannot overcome because we know not how to overcome – or what we are calling ourselves back to (historically). If you don’t know your history – then the true doom is not knowing how to re-build it. People are left to their whims – how can I blame the kid that joins a ‘gang’ for safety/belonging – they have little knowledge of what to belong to as it is.

    Example: Could the Jewish people re-build their temple if they chose to? If yes, why is this? Could it be they kept great records of their history and past glories (and meanings to those times)? I believe this is exactly the point. If nothing is written concerning the idea of that temple – then they play guesswork to its building/look.

    I see many things that can be learned from the survival of the Jewish culture and how it can be incorporated into the growth of another’s culture. The promise to Abraham is through him would all nations be blessed – that idea, for me, remains true. I am not alone.

    The Dalai Lama approached Elie Weasel concerning the idea of exile of his nation. When Elie asked him why he would want to meet him – the Dalai Lama said ‘because your people have faced an exile and survived…teach us’ (paraphrase). I tend to agree with the Dalai Lama on that same point ‘teach us’.

  17. “I tend to agree with the Dalai Lama on that same point ‘teach us’.” -SVS

    exactly! keep the traditions that when you practice them or remember them, you’re propelled into the future. here is where the past meets the present meets the future. THOSE are the traditions to keep. if they are oral, ritual, cultural, whatever! traditions that don’t do this need to die.

    if you can wear your traditional cultural garb mixed with some New Balance or Fila or Nikes or Adidas there’s the past meeting present meeting future in terms of fashion. what else can you carry with you? my ancestors were slovakian farmers, completely uneducated until my mom’s generation graduated from high school. i went to college. i remember my past (uneducated) and see how it drives my present (LEARN DAMMIT LEARN!) and will affect my future (of course Luke Jr. you HAVE to be a doctor of advanced physics, it only makes sense).

    RAWK out dude! fight the good fight and be a light to your people.

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