by Andrew Reimer
WINNIPEG–Can a person be both fully Indigenous and fully Christian? What does that look like? Are there legitimate boundaries to contextualization? If so, who sets those boundaries? How can Christian ministries present Jesus in a good or better way?
The Ma’wa’chi’hi’to’tan: Journeying in a Good Way conference in Winnipeg this February was an opportunity to journey together with Indigenous leaders who have faced these and other questions. The event was geared for First Nations Christians and for non-Indigenous ministry practitioners among First Nations people.
Ma’wa’chi’hi’to’tan is Plains Cree for “let us gather together.” About 230 people, representing over 60 different organizations and including Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, spent two days together learning, sharing, crying and laughing. Several EMCers attended the conference and others volunteered in the kitchen.
Leaders from Indigenous Pathways were invited to present at this conference. It is an Indigenous-led community of ministries (NAIITS, iEmergence, My People, and Wiconi) supporting Indigenous people and raising awareness among non-Indigenous people (indigenouspathways.com). The presenters were Terry Leblanc (Mi’kmaq/Acadian), Ray Aldred (Cree), Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en), Wendy Beauchemin Peterson (Red River Métis), and Howard Jolly (James Bay Cree).
Plenary and workshop topics included Indigenous Values and Teachings, Contextualization: How Christianity Translates into Cultures, and Mentoring and Role Modelling Leadership while Respecting Indigenous Peoples. The weekend included a Blanket Exercise (an experiential learning activity about the history of colonization in Canada), times of storytelling, music, culturally contextual worship, and a feast.
The event was sponsored by Inner City Youth Alive and hosted at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church in Winnipeg’s North End. I had the honour of leading the planning and organizing of this gathering together with our executive director Kent Dueck, another teammate, and a partnership of leaders from First Nations Commnity Church, North End Family Centre, Winnipeg Centre Vineyard, and Indigenous Pathways.
As a planning committee we saw the need for Christian ministries to become more intentional about how we minister among Indigenous people and as we walk with friends who are wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus as an Indigenous person. Given Christian mission’s harmful legacy with Indigenous people, how can we engage in evangelism, pastoral care, worship, faith community, discipleship and nurturing leadership among Indigenous people in ways that are reconciling and liberating? How can Indigenous people find healing freedom to follow Jesus in culturally meaningful ways?
In the months leading up to the event the response was overwhelming. Clearly, these questions and issues have struck a chord among evangelical Christians serving among First Nations people as well as First Nations Christians themselves.
The presenters tackled difficult issues with both heart and skill, drawing from their extensive ministry and theological experience. They incorporated their personal stories as well as key missiological principles and deep theological engagement. The teaching was stretching for many attendees and uncomfortable for some. Attendees came away from the conference encouraged and equipped with new insights as well as with some unanswered questions that require further reflection and dialogue.
Many attendees felt that this was a conversation long overdue. There was a strong desire to continue the conversation and spread these insights to others in the Church. An Indigenous woman who attended the conference said, “For the first time, I see a stream in the church where First Nations people can walk.”
Andrew Reimer (Steinbach EMC) is a community minister with Inner City Youth Alive.