Stories in this episode: Finding the bridge between her Indigenous identity as a Cree woman and her love of the gospel feels out of reach for Jalynne until motherhood brings a surprising change in perspective; As a recent divorcée, Suzanne feels invisible to her ward until she takes matters into her own hands.
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Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
If I asked you to name a time when you felt like a fish out of water, I bet it wouldn't take too many mental gymnastics for you to pull up that memory. All it would take for me is to cast my mind back to the rigors of middle school and the years that B.U.M. Equipment and Spree-branded clothing were all the rage here in the US. Oh, I needed that label on the front of my sweatshirt to match the label on everyone else's sweatshirt. It's all I asked for for Christmas that year. All I wanted in life, really. I wanted to slide into the massive B.U.M. Equipment sweatshirts and be one with the entire seventh grade. And isn't it funny that I cannot recall if I ever got the sweatshirt? But I remember that feeling. That feeling of longing that surrounded it, that pull to belong to something bigger than ourselves definitely has some strong biological roots. After all, there is safety in fitting in and conforming to the tribal standard.
And from a spiritual perspective, the need for us to be one to be unified was so important to Christ that he prayed to the Father on our behalf in His intercessory prayer. And while I'm pretty sure that He wasn't talking about me and you having matching sweatshirts, it's hard sometimes to know how to execute on that invitation, especially when our differences seem so pronounced.
Well, today we have two stories about what fitting into the body of Christ looks like in actual practice. Our first story comes from Jalynne who struggled to find the balance of both her cultural and spiritual identity. Here's Jalynne
I was raised on Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation. That's the reservation that I'm from. And that's in Saskatchewan, Canada.
On the reservation, we have different customs, like even at a funeral, there's really different customs. And there's different cultural things that we have, like we go to feasts and to powwows and there's protocols you have to follow and that stuff is just normal. I'm sure to somebody who's never visited a reservation, that would be out of the norm for them but for us, it was just normal. That was just life. And it was a really beautiful environment for me to grow up in for our whole family because we didn't have any reason to feel out of place or different, we're with people who understood.
But I do remember, when I was in grade four, we decided to move off of the reservation for one year. It was like my first real exposure to like life off of the reservation. And I remember, um, I had been nervous to go to school. But I made like this little group of friends. And we were playing and I remember being conscious that I was one of the few First Nations people there. Oh, in Canada, we call ourselves First Nations. Here it's Native Americans in the US, but Canada, it's First Nations. But I remember being conscious of the fact that I was one of the only First Nations people in that class and one other boy.
And so I made this little group of friends. And I didn't really play with little boys that much, but I played with him at one point. And those little girls said to me, "Don't play with him. He's a native.
And I realized they didn't know that I was indigenous. So it was really kind of jarring for me. And that was like, a really young age to learn that, to learn that, "Oh, somebody's reaction to me might not be a positive one." And I don't really recollect a whole lot about the rest of that school year. But I do know that that little boy struggled with friends and finding friends.
Many experiences happened similar to that throughout my life. But the worst struggle for me was when it would happen at church. We were the only indigenous family at church, and it happened more often than I would have liked it to. Obviously, I wish that it never happened, it should be a safe space for everybody where everybody just feels totally embraced.
But I do remember this one time we were in a class and we were learning about the Book of Mormon and, and I love the Book of Mormon. . . I love the Book of Mormon. And we were talking about Lamanites and the teacher started talking about how native people were savages. And then he kept kind of going on and I feel like he maybe he didn't say it that much. But in my head, I felt like he just kept repeating it—like native people are savages.
And I remember I was with my brothers. And as a self kind of preservation mechanism, a lot of the times when you're confronted with something that's uncomfortable, and you don't know how to respond, you laugh. And my brothers, we kind of looked at each other and we laughed, kind of out of disbelief, and like, we couldn't, we couldn't believe what we were hearing. We didn't say anything. Like, obviously, we don't know what to say. But nobody else said anything, either. And I think that was one of the harder things. And so after that class, um, my brother, we were kind of talking about it. And my brother, like he just said, really firm, kind of it felt like an affirmation to himself, but also to us, and he said, "Nowhere in the Book of Mormon does it say the word 'savage.'" And I don't think that this person who said that was bad, and that, like, people are bad, people are just misinformed. Maybe he was comfortable saying, or maybe he hadn't been corrected on before.
I don't think we told our parents, and to be honest, they, they know like, stuff like this happened to them all the time. This wasn't a new story in our home.
So those are kind of heavy things to carry. But then I always think about my parents who I felt like weren't carrying them growing up because my dad was just so just gregarious, and just big and loud. And he always met people as his indigenous self, that's the only way he ever met a person.
And so I always just remember growing up in church, he would be teaching Sunday school, and he'd somehow tie it to our culture somehow, like, all of a sudden, we'd be having a lesson on teepees in the middle of Sunday school. Or, I remember, for the Christmas party one year, my dad, he just decided that we were—and we're not a family of singers—but he's like, "We're gonna go up and we're gonna sing some Cree hymns." And so we went up as a family and sang some Cree hymns. And none of us speak Cree except for my dad. And we were kind of singing these hymns that we didn't really know what we were saying. So, my parents were not about blending in or fading in, at all. I learned how miraculous it was, um, as I got older, and the full weight of my parents' story kind of sunk in.
I talked to my mom and I told her that I was going to be sharing her story. And I asked her if it was okay and she said, "Yes because my story is your story. This is our family's story." The more that we share our story is how we heal ourselves. But also it heals my mom knowing that, that I'm, I'm taking part in her story. And I'm actively being part of that healing process.
My mom, when she was a little girl, Canada had the Indian Residential School program. It began in the United States as the boarding school system and Canada quickly adopted it. And so the whole purpose of it was to strip indigenous heritage from indigenous people. And so it wasn't a choice that they had, it was forced on…