The Rev. Ray Aldred, Jan 4th 2018 Why No Lunch?
These comments are from the Musqueam web page.
MUSQUEAM TRADITIONAL TERRITORY
Musqueam ancestors have lived in the Fraser River estuary for thousands of years. Today, portions of Musqueam’s traditional territory are called Vancouver, North Vancouver, South Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Richmond.
2017 30 Yr. Agreement between Musqueam and YVR
“Some of the details of the Agreement include a path of education to employment with a number of scholarships and new jobs, one per cent of annual revenue from YVR, identification and protection of archeological resources and support for ongoing operations and long-term development at the airport.” (June 21, 2017)
The North American Academy of Liturgy held our recent annual meeting in Vancouver, BC. Jan 4-7, 2018. This gathering of liturgical theologians and other related artists, musicians, scholars, and worship leaders, etc. has demonstrated over the recent past a concerted effort to expand the important work of the Academy to include a much wider range of cultures and ethnicities.
To that end, a lunch time gathering with local BC First Nations leaders was offered as one of the optional events to those attending this NAAL meeting. Shortly before the date of the conference, those who had signed up for the lunch were sent an email saying that there would be no lunch. The planners had not been able to make the necessary arrangements.
[I was deeply thankful to see that invitation and had registered to go to the event. With many years of coming to Vancouver to take part in various First Nations gatherings (the Native Ministries Summer School and Winter Talk at VST) that invitation felt like an important effort to connect two communities who are important to me – First Nations people of the PNW / Salish Sea and NAAL. I know from my own experiences something of the rare gifts that come from being present among both of these groups… each in a very particular way offering an otherwise very hard-to-come-across-access to what matters, to the Holy. [And after this long, I know that neither group is perfect. Both are very human.]
I am a member of NAAL and have been active in various aspects of Native American ministry through the Episcopal Church since 1989. Thus, when the lunch was cancelled, I knew that we had lost an important opportunity and I wanted to know why. I have learned so much of beauty and pain- some very difficult — from being with First Peoples, that I wanted others to have at last a small taste of that.]
Upon reading the email it occurred to me that if in fact we could not have that lunch, we might be able to have another one in which we explored the question as to why that proposed lunch was not held. Thus, I wrote to ask the Rev. Ray Aldred, the Director of the Native Ministries Consortium at Vancouver School of Theology if he would be willing to have a conversation with us. The purpose of the lunch was to gain a deeper understanding of what is necessary if dominant culture leaders hope to open up appropriate and mutual conversations with First Nations, and other cultural and ethnic communities.
In that it would have not been appropriate to take notes or to record the conversation, these reflections are taken from memory of a luncheon conversation held on Jan 4, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Vancouver, BC.
A group of 9 NAAL participants and Ray Aldred came together with the hope of understanding why the proposed event did not take place and why such cross cultural encounters are so difficult to arrange.
What follows includes a summary to the best of my ability from memory of what happened during the lunch conversation, followed by my reflections on the significance and implications of that conversation.
from LAKSHMI SINGH’s interview with Alexandra Fuller Talks New Novel: ‘Quiet Until The Thaw’ 7:12 July 9, 20175:31 PM ET Heard on All Things Considered, NPR
FULLER: Yeah. I think that’s – I mean, I think it’s an essential thing if you are a white settler and you’re taking on the stories of people, you know, who have been othered for so long. Also to remember, listen, it’s not as if the whites came and just took the land. They took the land, the water, the power but also the dominant narrative. And I’m deeply aware of that, I mean, deeply, deeply aware of that because of also have growing up in Zimbabwe and seeing how the dominant narrative throughout my childhood and for a lag time afterwards was always white, even though the dominant stories were coming out of the indigenous community.
So yes, I think this is a very important question. On balance, I had to weigh it up. What is worse here, my silence or my speaking out? If it further wounds and harms, you know, indigenous communities, then I’ve desperately failed. But really, the conversation I want to be having is with fellow white settlers, not with the indigenous community. They already know their own story.
(end of insert)
- What Happened at this Lunch?
[This record of the conversation does not capture the full depth of what unfolded. It was even more substantial than I have been able to report.]
We sat at a long table in the hotel dining room, with Ray in the middle; two to his left, three to his right, and five across. He began with informal social chat. Various people at the tables sought to identify their past relationships with Native Peoples by mentioning Native Schools that they support, etc.
At a clear point the conversation turned when Ray asked…
“Why would First Nations people want to with a bunch of academics?”
[Later on he acknowledges that he too is an academic, which was very well demonstrated by the breadth and depth of his comments, as well as the extensive list of sources referred to in his comments.]
After a clearly delineated “beginning”, Ray opened the formal aspect of our conversation through the use of this inclusio:
Inclusio- “We are here in this hotel on the unceded land of the Musqueam People. We are all visitors to this place.”
Our conversation began and ended with this formal acknowledgement and honoring of the specific land that we were on, and briefly declared our relationship to the people of that place. We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation.
PROTOCOL –“You needed a broker.”
At some point, someone asked the person who had attempted to set up the proposed lunch with First Peoples how she had gone about it. Using the advice to contact certain band offices, leaders, she had called and inquired as to their interest in such an event.
In response Ray told a story about a friend who owns property of some kind in various tribal communities. That friend has a small notebook that he brings with him every time he visits one of those communities. In the book are notes about: whom to greet upon first entering the band office, (whatever official positions they may or may not hold), what kind of gift to bring along for each community, and something about what happened last time he was there, etc. “You needed a broker”… to help arrange the lunch, someone who knows you and who also knows the specific First Peoples you are hoping to meet with. Ray then went on to say that even with such a list, and even being First Nations, no one can assume that he or she could walk into any tribal setting and expect to be welcomed, etc. without the connecting function of previous trustful, mutual relationships.
At one point in the conversation there were comments from Ray about the kind of personal qualities needed for such interactions. These qualities, forged from difficulty, tend to precede and possibly outweigh any words that follow. Thus, it is not about accessing or relying upon one’s brilliance or status as a scholar, educator, leader, etc., but rather more about simply being a straightforward, clear and open person who fully uses all of one’s capacities but does not seek “credit”, recognition, or authority because of those skills and capacities. Rather, one’s authority [ground for dealing with other people, earning respect and trust] comes more from “who knows you”, how you are “related” to others, and from the history of your mutually respectful and trusting relationships with others in the past.
As Ray said, he too is an academic and scholar. [And, as Paula mentioned, he is a very good one. “How many scholars do you know who read, write, and speak Cree and Latin? His academic credentials are embodied within the conversation rather than mentioned.]
[After this point in the conversation the best that I am able to offer is the following five questions. They may not be in the order in which they were asked and discussed.]
Five Questions Addressed during the Conversation:
1.) Building Mutually Trusting Relationships
How do “white people” go about building constructive, mutually trusting relationships with First Peoples?
Ray’s response was, “You build trusting relationships out of your own suffering and vulnerability. You get in touch with the suffering within your own life, and then use that experience, awareness, and insight gained through your own vulnerability to come together with other people who are also suffering and vulnerable!”
[In other words, from this perspective one does not make connections primarily through one’s strengths, excellence, success or power, but the opposite.)
At some point in the conversation there was a comment from Ray about the importance of using “appreciative inquiry” when seeking to broker relations among diverse communities.
2.) Unawareness of Theological, Cultural Philosophical Incompatibility
[I do not remember the precise context for this comment, and even though I do not understand it, nor have I been able to find anyone who does, it seems to be significant and worth noting.]
Ray said something to the effect that “Schleiermacher doesn’t work for Native people.”
At another point, Ray mentioned that many First Peoples see that Incarnation is inseparable from a strong sensibility of the Sacredness of the Earth. From this perspective there is no understanding of Incarnation that does not also at the same time experience the Earth as part of the Sacred Body and in mutual relationship with Creator, humans and creatures. So, a Christianity that doesn’t see the land as sacred won’t work for First Peoples.
3.) How are First Nations’ sensibilities manifest in worship at the VST, Native Ministries Summer School worship?
Ray offered a brief summary of VST/ NMC Worship. [I have elaborated somewhat in that I have been there for this worship for many years, including the 2nd week of 2017.] On each of the five days of the two weeks of Summer School, a different Indigenous community, group, church or denomination plans and leads the worship, according to their ways of doing things. Thus, the shape, music, content of each of these liturgies varies considerably. In the summer of 2017, the second week worship was led by:
1 United Church of Christ, Hawaiians, with singing in Hawaiian, with music played on ukulele, and Hawaiian guitar, (and some years with sacred dance, hula, and greetings in Hawaiian.)
2 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, USA with hymns in Dakota, etc.
3 Lutheran – Local Native lay person, + Canadian Lutheran pastor of Norwegian ancestry using the Lutheran Book of Worship
4 United Church of Canada + Anglican Haida singing, prayer, drums, preceded by smudging of worshippers at the entrance to sacred space.
5 Gospel Based Discipleship (Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church, USA)
4.) How do Native Young People respond to various styles of Christian Worship?
According to Ray, the young people he deals with are drawn to worship characterized by heart felt, strong emotions such as those found in charismatic worship, with great outpourings of praise, and deep petitions for forgiveness, healing etc.
There was also a comment (not sure where) in which Ray said something to the effect that whatever goes on in such “emotionally appealing worship” has to speak to both the incarnation of Jesus Christ and sacredness of Creation.
5.) Is there one [universal] system or method that can be used at institutional levels to “broker” a way through these cultural differences?
[This part of the conversation took place more among the three women at our end of the table, and not as much with Ray.]
Near the end of the conversation a woman looked towards Ray and then asked me, “What was that, what was he doing?” I replied “that this is all about relationship.”
It appeared that the style of discourse and conversation we had just been part of was sufficiently “different” for her, that she did not recognize it as fitting within her frames of reference.
A few of us had some exchange about how much various tribes and bands differ. For example, at VST/ NMC we have had the rare opportunity to see and hear a Coastal Salish woman’s war song, sung in their band’s language, and accompanied by women playing drums. This is contrasted with the practices among the Muskogee of
Oklahoma where women are not allowed to play a drum in a public gathering. The practices, values, and sensibilities are not universal among First Peoples. As such, there is no one single organized method or structure that is going to systematize and manage such challenging relations as those between Native and non- Native peoples.
The conversation with the whole group concluded when Ray repeated the comment with which we had begun.
Inclusio – “We are here in this hotel on the unceded land of the Musqueam People. We are all visitors to this place.”
Jesus with the Woman at the well… all land is holy, This land is holy.
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. John 4: 21-23 NRSV
What can we learn from this conversation?
> We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation.
> In other words, from this perspective one does not make connections primarily through one’s strengths, excellence, success or power, but the opposite through one’s struggles, failures, vulnerability that actually leads to great wisdom, of a kind that is not easily if at all adequately conveyed with words.
> This reference to Appreciative Inquiry was certainly not the kind of AI that would in any way shut down lament over the past. Rather, it would instead seek to know the other with awareness, attention, and gratitude for what may, at first, appear to be strange, unrecognizable, or even frightening.
> See the proposed new Baptismal Vow #6. “Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?” (This refers to a potential addition to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer Baptismal Vows.) But, does this new language mean that the Earth is Sacred?
> Our conversation began and ended with a formal acknowledgement and honoring of the specific land that we were on, and briefly declared our relationship to the peoples of that place. We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation. The return to a mention of “this land of the Musqueam People” being holy land was the other end of the inlcusio and the indication that the conversation was over. There were a few side conversations after that point.
> She was seeking something “universal” about the conversation we had just had; something that would by-pass reaching out from one’s own particular struggles and vulnerabilities towards the (different) particularities of others. [I suggested that if it is a universal it is a universal built out of particulars.]
We do have members within NAAL, from BC and the Pacific Northwest, USA who could have helped those planning for the lunch with First Nations leaders meet those who may have been able to broker the proposed lunch. [As far as I know, they/ we were not contacted.] However, some of these local people are retired or not yet full members. Somehow, there was a gap in making connections with those in the area that do know and have long standing relationships with First Peoples. It is not clear to me if local people were not asked to help or were unwilling or unable to help. The approach that was used– phone calls to people we do not know and who do not know us– were highly unlikely to bring about the desired lunch. It appears that in such cases it would be more appropriate to find those among us who already have long standing relationships to try to assist make the connections.
That type of connection across cultures and locations is more about “who knows you”, not so much in terms of power and influence, but rather in terms of relationship, respect, and trust. In the “white world”, many of us assume that we can walk into just about any place, and given some exchange of information and perhaps money, manage to walk out with whatever it is that we came in for. Such is not necessarily the case among First Peoples. Although I have more than twenty five years of experience among various First Nations peoples, none of that allows me to assume that I am welcome any place in “Indian Country.”
It is my observation that some of “our” questions to Ray indicated a hesitancy to explore the question that had brought us together….“Why no lunch?” The questions asked seemed to be asked from afar, from a safe distance that would involve less risk of messy relationship or vulnerability. It was as though we did not actually want to know the answers to that question. We did not want to know the answer if it meant stepping out from behind/ underneath our positions of power and security that come with being “faculty”, professors, diocesan staff… etc.
It seems to me that our presence on “unseeded Musqueam land” was acknowledged in the opening liturgy of the meeting. Yet, although we knew enough to do that, we are still learning the a deeper understanding of what it means to say such a thing. For, in saying such a thing we are acknowledging the relationship declared by those words. Yet, when it came to actually planning the meeting, we did not know how to access that relationship, i.e. did not know how to behave in light of it. …because such relationships call for behavior that is not that typically associated with “the academy”.
Perhaps it is like when a small child uses words that she has heard adults use, even though she has no idea what they actually mean. She knows what to say, but not why she is saying it or what difference saying those words might make.
A Point of Reality
One of the frequent hazards in initial attempts to build bridges between Native and Non-Native peoples is the unrealistic / exoticization of Native Peoples. That does not happen as easily when one listens and looks more deeply.
This “point of reality” did not take place in that conversation on Jan 4th, but it would be far from honest not to mention it. Everything that took place in that conversation was gracious, well meant and well received on the surface. Having said that, it is also imperative to say that dealings between Native and Non-Native peoples are overwhelmingly layered and fraught with hundreds of years of distrust and deeply embodied unhealed pain and wounding. That that conversation went as well as it did, does not mean that any future such conversations would be the same, or that the wounds are healed etc. or that each of the people at the table would not have to renegotiate his or her relationships with any future Native People he or she might deal with.
My place in that conversation as one who was able to invite Ray to be there is not a matter of great success, or power. I have been party to Native – Non- Native relationships, gatherings, almost entirely within the Episcopal/ Anglican Church) for more nearly 30 years both within the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia in WA St, and the National Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church, including being one of the first non-native people to be invited to Winter Talk, held at VST, and something like 15 years in and out of the Native Ministries Consortium Summer School at VST as student, faculty member and tutor.
It was an honor to be part of that conversation, and to be there at NAAL, perhaps for the last time. I am so deeply appreciative for many years of learning, and inspiration that I have encountered at these gatherings. What we might learn from the First Peoples of BC could only expand and intensify what is already abundant in these gatherings of faithful, worshipping academics.
Conclusion: Four Insights Based on the Lunch:
1.) On Building Mutually Trusting Relationships across lines of diversity
We need brokers and trail guides in order to enter new lands. It doesn’t work to enter as unaccompanied strangers in a land that is strange to us.
2.) Unawareness of [Theological and Philosophical, Cultural] Incompatibility
Knowing that we do not know a great deal about other lands/ people, in terms of both worldviews, intellectual/ spiritual modes and practices ,– we would be wise to seek encounters on the terms of the other, (i.e. lunch might not have been the appropriate encounter.) We’d need to listen a lot, and perhaps ask, gently.
3.) Inquiries into the worship practices of others
Why we ask questions or seek to learn about the worship practices of others matters. What do we intend to do with what we hear? Unless and until there is a rather deep level of mutual trust in place, within which our inquiries are actually made with a daring openness to what we do not understand or even recognize, our inquiries may be inappropriate. And, they will be received as such.
4.) On the search for a method that can be used at institutional levels to “broker” a way through cultural differences
As people who teach, learn and live within large institutions it is understandable that we seek approaches that can be used in more than one community at a time. However, when the power and sacredness of any one particular people and place is subsumed with a broad brush under that of other peoples and lands, we all are harmed. Each sacred encounter among diverse peoples calls for this grasp of the sacred by which all peoples and all lands are Holy.