It is always interesting when one visits someone’s home for the first time. The same can be said for going into a place you don’t usually go into, such as the Aboriginal Friendship Centre at Commercial and Hastings. This did happen to the Vancouver Police Department when they had sensitivity training at the Centre. They said they were always afraid to enter the Centre for some reason. When they had to go there for training, they found it to be a nice place where they were welcomed and felt safe.
The Executive Director of the Aboriginal Friendship Centre had said that if the police wanted sensitivity training about Indigenous people, they had to come to our place of work and play. So the Vancouver City Police sent their officers to the Aboriginal Centre and the police had to get used to a different environment and not just to their place of comfort.
When I first met my future wife’s (Linda’s) parents and family at their home it was a shock for me because of the constant talk, and because the talk was loud and, in my mind, at an argumentative level that was a little scary for me. I was just not used to the kind of conversation where people took different positions on things and discussed their ideas in a loud manner. They did this all in good fun, and I had to realize that discussions between people with very different viewpoints were not destructive, and in the end they were all family.
The same feeling of discomfort was experienced by Linda when she visited my home in Terrace, because of the contrast with her family. Our family was not talking, but just enjoying each other’s company without any words being said to each other. It was too quiet for Linda, and that was very different for her. She had to learn that quiet time and simply being together was a good thing, and she adjusted to this, as I did to her family’s way of being with each other.
When we talk about inclusion we need to know how homes operate in different societies and learn what they do. We cannot learn it just by one visit, or by asking people to be part of one event. We have to take time to get to know what Indigenous people need and want from us as churches because, after all, we are guests in their home territories. (I was reminded that some territories are under different religious denominations, and we should make every effort to get to know the Keepers of the territories, even if they are not Anglican.)
We have come a long way yet we will still have many differences, as any family or friends do, and we have different experiences of historical events as they unfolded for all of us. As a Nisga’a person I am aware that we have so many stories to tell, before we lose them all.
The ability to have comfort within oneself is the ability to be comfortable and to be able to talk to another person. Linda and I became comfortable in our in-laws’ homes, and it was all good. Churches and Indigenous people are no different when it comes to how we can open our hearts and come together in a loving and spiritual way.
We are not at that comfort level just yet, but leaders like Chief Bobby Joseph keep joyfully encouraging us to know each other better, experience each other’s cultures, and listen to each other’s stories.
Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Hastings at Commercial, Vancovuer