Multi award winning singer songwriter, Cheryl Bear will bring her singing and storytelling talent to Ladysmith’s Concerts in the Park on Sunday July 21.
Bear is a prominent speaker and teacher who has travelled to over 600 Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States. Bear works for the North American Indigenous Institute for Theological Studies, (NAIITS), and is an associate professor at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. She holds a doctorate from The King’s University in Los Angeles, California, and a Master of Divinity degree from Regent College.
“I never just sing… I spend some time introducing the song, then I talk a bit about Indigenous life, culture, world views, and values,” Bear said.
Much of Bear’s work is focused on First Nations ministry based in Indigenous world views. Some of her songs draw from christianity, such as, “Creator Father”, and “The Lord’s Prayer”, while others draw from her Indigenous identity such as, “Hey Cuzzin’!”, and “Residential School Song”. Bear recognizes that there are many historical injustices committed by churches to Indigenous people, however she focuses on the healing aspect of religion and music.
“I think that the main thing I like to talk about is how the gospel was brought to Indigenous people, and how way back when, when explorers came from Europe, they were given a mandate, and the mandate was the doctrine of discovery,” Bear said.
The doctrine of discovery mandated European explorers to consider land, terra nullius, Latin for “nobody’s land”, if they did not encounter a recognized monarch ruling over territory. Many Indigenous systems of governance and societal structures did not conform the European notion of governance, so many lands occupied by Indigenous people were considered empty. To make that doctrine come to fruition, colonizing nations had to consider what to do with Indigenous people.
“In the early days of that they had debates in the church and the debates were, ‘do Indigenous people have a soul or not?’ One Pope finally said yes, they have a soul, and they decided to send missionaries, then began the second stage of how to exterminate the people.”
Through religious institutions and residential schools, missionaries acted as a tool of genocide to clear Indigenous people of their lands. The trauma of that experience has echoed through generations, and in many communities, has led to a deep distrust of the church. With that in mind, Bear works to show the healing power of the gospel, a task that has not always been easy.
“I was leaving my building one time — I think I was 28 or something — I was going off to school, and I had my big backpack full of books. There was an elder… he said ‘good for you, you’re going to school, that’s awesome.’ He was really proud of me, then he asked what school I was going to, and I said Pacific Life Bible College. Then his face got all cloudy. He looked up at me and said, ‘how could you go there after what they’ve done to our people?’ It was such a good question,” Bear said.
After contemplating the question, Bear found an answer. She said the story of Jesus predates contact between Indigenous peoples and Europeans. Europeans used the story of Jesus as a tool of assimilation, but Bear says the true story is one of healing, love, and faith. It is in those aspects of Christianity that Bear sees many similarities to Indigenous spirituality and world views. She’s made it her lifes work to show those similarites and help people wherever they are in their journey of healing.
Bear is looking forward to coming to Ladysmith for her first performance in the town. She hopes that people will come ready for show filled with stories, songs, and culture.
“They’ll not only hear some good music, but they’ll also get stories,” Bear said. “It’s lots of good information told in a very easy-going atmosphere with musical accompaniment. I hope you’ll come out and listen, it’ll be good fun.”