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The Pole Tells a Story

Created by dklaassen on 11/20/2013 7:16:03 PM

(From Mission Fest 2012 Publication by Dwayne Buhler)

If you pass through the exhibition hall in Missions Fest 2012 you will notice something different. A number of agencies are grouped around booths A3 and A4 where First Nations artists will be carving a cedar pole, telling the story of healing that is taking place among their people. They use their art to share redemptive stories of restoration and forgive- ness, coming out of one of Canada’s darkest moments in history: the abuse endured by hundreds of children in residential schools.

Evangelicals, for the most part, have been quiet on the subject. Maybe this is because it is easier to point to others who were the perpetrators, rather than look at the complacency and indifference in which many treated the in- justice and abuse that took place.

Some will ask about the presence of a totem pole in the exhibition hall. Some might share a concern that it is either an idol or an object that depicts evil spirits.

Mark Buchanan (plenary speaker at MFV-2009) and the New Life Community Church in Duncan, BC, have dealt with this issue, as they continue to build bridges to the First Nations community in their city. Mark writes:

“Is the Spirit Pole (or any totem pole) an idol? An idol, biblically, is any man-made object of worship. The second commandment forbids the making of idols, or graven (carved) images. The second commandment further defines an idol as that which we “bow down to and worship.”

No totem pole fits this description. Though early missionaries saw totem poles as idols, later missionaries and anthropologists proved that this perception was mistaken. Let me quote a recent edition of the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia on the matter.

“The meanings of the designs on totem poles are as varied as the cultures which make them. Totem poles may recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. Some poles are erected to celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are in- tended mostly as artistic presentations.” Mark goes on to say, “Totem poles were

never objects of worship. The association with idol worship was an idea from local Christian missionaries. The same assumption was made by very early European explorers, but later explorers … noted that totem poles were never treated reverently; they seemed only occasionally to generate allusions or illustrate stories and were usually left to rot in place when people abandoned a village.

In fact, the word ‘totem,’ which has occultic overtones, was coined by non-natives; the Native word for them is ‘story pole’ or ‘kinship pole’. They function in First Nations culture much the same way a coat of arms functions in Scottish culture: a symbolic picture of our clan’s history, in my case, depicted with a dragonish lion, a steel armour helmet, a laurel wreath, a hand, a crown, and so on.”

The story of God’s redemption is a work in progress in which each person finds them- selves in a different spot along the journey. Each person has a story of how they came to faith, forgiveness, and transformation.

Please come and talk to the artists as they share a graphic representation of their life journey. Listen to their stories and ask how individuals and churches can walk with them on paths of healing. Listen to First Nations brothers and sisters, some who are followers of Christ, as they share the stories behind the graphic representation of an event that most would like to forget about, or even sweep under the carpet. Pray with them that the Church and followers of Christ can become agents of redemption and healing. Take time to listen and learn.

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