OUR VISIT TO THE SADDLE LAKE RESERVATION
Eleven of us from Bethel drove to the Saddle Lake Reservation this past Wednesday. We spent the day touring its various facilities and meeting the people there. We were guided by missionary Philip Lee, whose work among the youth of Saddle Lake we support. Our hope was to learn more about the First Nations people at Saddle Lake and, in some small way, to be agents of reconciliation.
Two things about the trip stand out to me in particular. The first is the unique spiritual openness of the people we encountered. On several occasions we asked if we could pray for the person who had just spoken to us about some facet of life at Saddle Lake—the Economic Development Officer, the Administrator at the Council building, our residential school tour guide. In every case these people were not only welcoming of this but genuinely appreciative. On one occasion, after learning that we had been praying for the youth of Saddle Lake while in the Youth Center, an employee suggested we also go to the building where the (all too frequent) funerals are conducted and pray there, as well.
The other aspect of the trip that stands out to me is much sadder. It was our tour of the residential school. It explains why First Nations peoples can be so resistant to the Gospel. Terrible things were perpetrated at that school in the name of Christ, under the priests and nuns who supervised it.
Alsena White, our guide and a survivor of the system, explained how she lost her name when she entered the residential school at aged 5 and was referred to solely by her identifying number, “eleven,” from that day forward. Since she was judged a slow learner, those in charge made her a housemaid. She never learned how to read and write. Alsena was routinely sworn at, humiliated, and physically abused. She remembers being severely punished because she smiled and waved at her brother when she saw him in the school cafeteria. (Girls were not to have contact with the boys.)
Even as those of us who went to Saddle Lake continue to process our thoughts, our Church has plans to further our connection with this reservation. We have invited Alsena White to come to speak at the Truth and Reconciliation evening which we have planned May 7. (I think you will be touched, as we were, by her honesty and warmth). We are hoping that a group from Saddle Lake will also come here and have a meal with us as part of that day. We want our upcoming Truth and Reconciliation event to be about real people and real relationships rather than about abstract concepts.
On our tour of Saddle Lake, wherever we went, Philip Lee introduced us as “the people from the Church in Edmonton who pray for Saddle Lake.” This is a accurate description. There are many at Bethel committed to praying for Saddle Lake. I encourage you to keep this First Nation’s people, and our ongoing relationship with them, in your prayers. –Pastor Tom
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