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.