Three of us from James Bay were part of a multicultural gathering in Montreal from June 9 to June 12. The gathering was a conference of multicultural parishes from across the Anglican Church of Canada, and we were representing St. Philip’s Church, Chisasibi.
In addition to First Nations people, there were people from a variety of African, Caribbean, European and Asian backgrounds. We all came together at Montreal Diocesan Theological College to talk about our experience of living, working and worshipping together as multicultural faith communities. All together, in addition to committee members and resource persons, there were 28 people representing 17 parishes in nine dioceses across Canada.
We were invited to speak on “Aboriginal People in the Life of Our Church,” and we spoke from our own experience. We talked about ways in which Cree culture is preserved and expressed in the life of our church, especially in dealing with the crises of life. We told about how, for example, at the time of a death, the whole community grieves with the bereaved family, and how this is expressed in customs that are an important part of the local culture. We also spoke of the struggle to preserve the Cree language and culture.
We tried also to talk honestly about the negative things in our experience. Abraham Fortchimo told us how as a child in school he had been punished for using his own language. This met with a strong response from other delegates, and we were told of how the same thing happened in Africa and elsewhere. Eliza Webb spoke of how missionaries put pressure on people to abandon the traditional drums, and about how people are now trying to recover this and other aspects of traditional culture. We also talked about the need to fight against prejudice and racial discrimination even in our own community.
We also heard many stories from other places. People from the Church of St. Alban the Martyr, a multicultural parish in Ottawa, told of the prayers of the people in the communion service in many different languages, and of a nativity play in which Mary and Jesus were black, and the angels were of mixed races. This was not accepted by everyone, and a few even walked out, but it was still an important expression of the multicultural nature of the church.
Some of the stories were painful, as people told of the discrimination some of them have to face every day. We talked about the need to work with other Christians and people of other faiths for justice and an end to discrimination.
We were joined in these discussions by invited guests of the Muslim and Hindu faiths. The Rev. Paul lllical of St. Michael’s Church, Surrey, B.C., told us how they invited members of the Sikh community to their services at the time of the Legion-turban controversy, thus helping to lower some of the barriers caused by prejudice.
Sunday morning we attended the communion service at the St. Lawrence Church, a multi-racial and multicultural church in LaSalle. They gave us a very warm and friendly welcome, and the service was full of joy and enthusiasm. The service was followed by a feast with many different kinds of food. We were very conscious of the need to keep in touch. Our Cree parishes have much in common with city parishes which seek to build fellowship across barriers while working to help people to maintain their own cultural identity. One practical proposal that came out of the conference was fora Multicultural Parish Newsletter, which we hope will be coming out in the near future.
There was a lot of talk about being a different race. Some people have problems accepting different races. Some suggestions for approaching these problems:
a) I need to understand and value myself, then encourage others to do the same.
b) opportunities need to be given for cross-cultural meetings of people formally and informally.
The people at my table were very open to talk about their experiences. Some have left their church to join other religions. Many experience a difficult journey as they adjust to a new setting.
The theme of our conference was: Though many one body. We should remember God accepts all races and religions.