Our week at Roseau River First Nations was meant to be a cross cultural learning experience within Canada. Many of us had misconceptions or stereotypes that we believed about the First Nations of Canada, many which we learned were false. We walked into that week not knowing what was happening; no schedule, no synopsis, nothing. We went into Roseau in a posture of listening and learning, not to teach. It is amazing what you can learn if you only take the time to listen.
For me this week involved a bit of culture shock. To see a way of life and a tradition so different than my middle class Christian upbringing was powerful. One of the first things that struck me was the difference in the way time is seen. I tend to schedule and like to have exact times; at the reserve, everything revolved around the speakers. Our speakers shared from their hearts, and it didn’t matter if that took 20 minutes or 3 hours. It was a bit of a shock and adjustment to go from my structure into a free flowing way of life, but I found that the flexibility led to more honest communication from our speakers.
Throughout the week, we experienced this culture in many ways. We had many speakers from the community who taught about their creation stories, spirituality, traditions and the treaties. We had the opportunity to participate in a smudge ceremony, pipe ceremony, and sweat lodge. The people we met were honest about their beliefs; they spoke not to offend or to sway our opinion, but rather to inform us about the parts of their culture that were important to them. They were also very accepting of our personal beliefs and didn’t force us to participate in the ceremonies.
One of the questions many of us asked throughout the week was “How can we engage in culture well and be open to learning, without compromising our own beliefs?” One of the examples for me personally was with the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge was described to us as being a very spiritual ceremony for the First Nations, where they communicate with their ancestors, with spirits, and with the Creator. We were invited to join in this experience as a cultural aspect of our week.
Many of us discussed some discomfort with some of the spiritual aspects of the sweat while still wanting to experience it as a part of the culture. I walked into the sweat lodge nervous about the spiritual aspects of the sweat while also living in faith that Jesus has all power. I would love to explain what happened in the sweat, but to the First Nations it is sacred and what is said in the sweat lodge is between the individual and the Creator, and not to be shared. In the end, I found participating in the sweat an amazing experience between myself and God while also learning more about the culture that we were visiting.
After our week at Roseau River First Nations, I still feel like I have many unanswered questions about this culture whose history is so intertwined with our own. The First Nations people are our neighbours; we are living in and on the land that was once their home. The more I learn about our history with the First Nations, the more sadness I feel.
At the same time, the more I hear about rising First Nations voices, the more hope I have that we will be able to make amends and acknowledge what happened. This is an effort that needs support and openness from all sides, because we are all Canadians, and we are all treaty people.
Coming out of this week, I’m still unsure how to balance cultural openness with spiritual rootedness; I still don’t necessarily know the line between observing and actively participating. However, this week helped to teach me the power of discomfort as a warning but also as a powerful way to learn. Discomfort warns us and protects us from things that are potentially dangerous to us. However, leaning into discomfort and embracing the things that make us feel that way can help us to grow as people and as communities.
Discomfort is beautiful.