First Nations Cultural Awareness Dinner
by Angelos Kyriakides
Culture is a valuable part of life. It shapes our traditions, helps teach the next generation important lessons, and is a reflection of beautiful variety, endowed by our Creator. While there’s no such thing as an infallible, perfect culture, we can hardly deny the role it plays in maintaining a happy and healthy society.
Most of us have never had our cultural traditions, our music, our stories, and language taken away from us. But the First Nations of Canada are lamenting a significant loss of culture, taken from them during the residential school era. Families were stripped of their children and the ability to teach them vital skills, and children were stripped of their language. This was described in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report as “cultural genocide.” What followed was a generational cycle of families suffering the trauma of not knowing where they came from, who they were and how to raise their children. We can still see the effects of this abuse in our communities today. There is good news though: the situation is changing.
Many First Nations people are reclaiming their cultural roots, their music, their art, and their vital skills. Now one church in East Vancouver, made up of predominantly First Nations congregants, wants to celebrate their culture with the rest of the Lower Mainland. New Beginnings Baptist Church began 26 years ago at the Tillicum Centre on Main and Broadway, by North American Indigenous Ministries. Pastors Joe Russell and Byron Grant, along with other leaders, began using a furniture moving service as a way to reach out to the community. By God’s grace, relationships were soon built with many First Nations people in the community. Today, New Beginnings Baptist Church is near Commercial Drive and Hastings Street, and is well known in the community, even among those who aren’t Christian. Those who do belong to the Church feel a burden to share with the rest of the Body of Christ the role of culture from a First Nations’ perspective.
After the stirring of different hearts and many conversations, they are hosting a “First Nations Cultural Awareness Dinner” on April 22. New Beginnings will host the night of native music, dance, food and Christian testimonies, in hopes of breaking down walls and building bridges with the rest of the Church.
One of the elders of New Beginnings, Andrea Nisyok, whose husband Glen is the church administrator, came up with the idea for the dinner after Missions Fest in January. “I was asked many times (at the conference) as to how our culture and Christianity can go together. I am a living testimony that it can. I am a strong believer in Christ and our culture as well.” Nisyok had to ponder and pray about these questions after some troubling experiences that almost took her away from church: She was rebuked and alienated in several churches for wearing her native art. She’s thankful though. “God is good, He didn’t allow that to happen.” Today Nisyok wants to pop bubbles that separate the rest of the body of Christ from its First Nations people. She thought having a night where traditional food, songs, stories and dance would help do that. The rest of New Beginnings Church has gathered behind her.
Another woman at New Beginnings, Fawnda Bullshields, is also excited about the chance to share her culture with the rest of the Lower Mainland. She says: “As a Christian First Nations person, I wondered how my culture and my faith fit together. But learning about my culture helped me understand how God created me to be.” She’s become a role model for other young First Nations learning about their identity. She dances at pow wows, incorporating biblical themes into her regalia. At the First Nations Cultural Awareness Dinner she’ll share her story and some of her traditional moves. She believes it’s especially important for young First Nations to love and value who they are because many struggle with issues of self esteem.
The Bible says “every tribe, and language, and people and nation” will be gathered together in heaven (Rev. 5:9), but learning and engaging with different cultures doesn’t sound like such a bad idea on earth either, especially if they’re providing a delicious home cooked meal! The First Nations Cultural Awareness Dinner starts at 4 pm on April 22nd, at New Beginnings Baptist Church, 1587 Frances Street, Vancouver. To attend, email Andrea Nisyok at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact her husband Glen at 604-836-1911.