First Nations: Faith that inspires hope and love
by Agnes Chung
The First Nations people have lived in this land we now call Canada for at least 12,000 years or even longer. In fact, the name ‘Canada’ derived from a Saint-Lawrence Iroquoian word kanata meaning village or land. As we celebrate our country’s 150th birthday this year, we reach out to our First Nations brethren to find out how their Christian faith has influenced the Canadian community.
Peter Eppinga: Hope for Suicide Prevention
The son of Christian leaders, Dr. Peter Eppinga wasn’t immune to the struggles of teenage life growing up in Haida Gwaii. Social drinking lead to partying – and eventually drugs until a car accident spun his life around. During his near-death experience, he repented and told God, “If you ever let me out of this car tonight, God, I promise I will live for you and stop living this life and fight for you,” he wrote on christforfirstnations.com.
Eppinga whose Haida name is Gut Guulee (Golden Eagle) kept his promise to God. He went on to complete medical school and his Masters in Public Health. His story brings to mind Isaiah 40:31, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
While pursuing his Masters, he experienced the sad loss of one of his cousins to suicide. He was also aware through the media of Aboriginal teenagers on reserves ending their lives. In medical school, he learnt that suicide is 100 per cent preventable.
“Using what I learned in my Master’s degree and my Christian values I wanted to come up with something that can put a stop to suicide on the reserves in Canada. All I could think about is how wonderful and beautiful God made Aboriginal people and how much of a waste it is for someone to go ahead with ending their life,” he shares.
With some inspiration from the Holy Spirit, he began the “Love My Life” t-Shirt campaign which encourages all Aboriginals to love themselves and who they are. Funds raised from the t-Shirt project go to support Aboriginal teen suicide prevention.
“I have had much support on social media. Many Chiefs from different provinces have invited me to speak to their youth, and for them to wear the t-shirt designed by my cousin, a Haida artist,” adds Eppinga.
“I am thankful to God that many have received this message on loving themselves and the life they have been given. I am happy to say that many lives have been touched and even some suicides have been prevented. Praise God! “
Cheryl Bear: Hope and Healing
Hadih Soo-in-dah (hello, how are you) greets Dr. Cheryl Bear, multi-award-winning singer, songwriter and storyteller from the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation. “I’ve been a follower of the Jesus way since I was eight years old. I didn’t know anything of the Creator: Grandfather, Great Spirit and friend.
“In our Indigenous stories is a character called ‘trickster’. This must be the devil because it’s always causing trouble, or so I thought. After thinking about this for a long time, I realized ‘trickster’ is conflict. Without conflict we don’t grow,” says Bear ,who earned her Doctorate from The King’s University in Los Angeles and Master of Divinity from Regent College.
As a Christian leader, she has spent considerable time walking with marginalized people, overseas missions, inner city missions, Indigenous people and women. They taught her so much. “I was the strong one because they held me up. I was the pastor and they helped me meet the Creator. I was the leader and they showed me the way. I went to help them and God made them help me. Maybe the best change happened inside me.”
In the Regent College’s Youtube video, “Be Fearless”, Bear says, “Retelling Jesus in a native way, that’s the heart of what we are doing.” The gospel she says, was never given to First Nations people as a gift but rather used as a tool or weapon of assimilation against the community.
On her mission to retell the gospel from a First Nations’ perspective, she has travelled to over 600 Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States sharing songs of healing and songs to the Creator.
A respected Canadian First Nations voice, she continues to support churches and organizations in encouraging hope and healing relations with Indigenous communities; to bridge the cultural gap, raise awareness and understanding of Indigenous issues among non-indigenous communities.
On April 7 at the Langley Bez Arts Hub, Bear will be sharing about Indigenous life: the joy, sorrow, faith and journey, through story and song.