The research question for this project is, “What is the story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta?” Its purpose is to create a thorough and foundational knowledge repository that enables users to understand and connect with SIMA. This includes both everyday users who just want to know more or want to get involved in Indigenous ministry, as well as researchers or ministers who can use this knowledge base to construct further research. Its purpose is not to understand the nature of Indigenous ministry (phenomenology), to judge or critique SIMA (applied research), or to suggest a future path for SIMA (formative evaluation). This project aims to simply document SIMA and create a foundational knowledge base which can then be constructed upon.
The research methodology is qualitative research, using narrative analysis, and involves the collection of stories, documents, and other records of personal experience to help construct an understanding of SIMA both past and present. The research involves a historical study using personal interviews and documentation collection within a narrative analysis approach. Data collection methods include 1) semi-structured network building interviews using snowball sampling, 2) literature survey of websites, books, articles, and archives, and 3) document collection of digital resources and objects.
The scope of the project is Indigenous para-church ministries in Alberta, within the evangelical Protestant tradition, loosely limited to the last 100 years while prioritizing historical information connected to currently operating ministries. The format is a website and a report. The website will host 1) database collections of ministry contacts such as experts, ministries, and websites to help connect people looking for Indigenous ministries in Alberta, 2) a digital heritage collection of digital objects and primary resources relating to SIMA to provide the raw data of the topic, and 3) a collection of written articles summarizing SIMA and related topics to help the user better understand this world. The collection of articles will also be written in essay form to create the report.
Project partnerships/funding include Vanguard College Library, FACTS (Family and Community Twining Society), Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations, and Canada Summer Jobs. This project is jointly owned by Vanguard College and FACTS. Funding for the project came from the government of Canada, mostly through Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations. The audience for this project is Christians who want to get involved in Indigenous ministry, ministers who want to network, researchers who are looking for sources, and the general public who want to know more about Indigenous ministry in Alberta.
Project Scope and Limitations
In beginning this project, one of the first hurdles the team encountered was the setting of scope. In any research project, an important question to answer is what the breadth and limitations of the subject matter included in the research and in the final product would be. Several dimensions presented themselves: Limitation by time period, limitation by type/definition of ministry, and limitation by denominational inclusion.
Of these dimensions, denomination was the most difficult to define. It was fairly simple to decide to focus within the last 100 years or so, prioritizing currently operating ministries, and to focus on parachurch ministries instead of church ministries. However, it became apparent that delimiting according to denominational lines would be difficult, because it is difficult to draw clear lines between groups of denominations. In the end, the team chose to limit the project to the evangelical tradition, as this seemed to be more of an area in need of attention since the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had already put a spotlight on the mainline denominations involved in the residential schools.
This limitation showed itself mostly in the pattern of snowball sampling in the interviewing, which tended to stay within evangelical circles, and thus guided which information the team discovered and consequently included in the project. However, this denominational limit is only loosely maintained, and was mainly used in choosing which denominations to research for the article on denominations. Elsewhere, there was much crossover; no ministry was barred from entry into the directories because of denominational affiliation. Limitations were set only for the sake of time constraints, rather than a real need to exclude certain parts of the Christian world. The project’s first and foremost goal is simply to provide a comprehensive look at the story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta that allows users to get connected and involved in it. Ideally, the project would include all Christian denominations (as well as encompass the entirety of Canada).
The author of this report and primary worker on the project is Cayla Thorlakson, a Canadian woman of Nordic/European descent, who was 22 years of age at the time of writing. Cayla has lived her whole life in Canada, growing up in BC and Alberta. Her family is Christian and her mother was a pastor, and Cayla has been a Christian from a very young age. At the time of writing, Cayla had just graduated from Vanguard College with a bachelor’s degree majoring in Pastoral Care and Counselling, which taught her theology, spiritual care, and psychology, and would direct her into employment as a pastor, into Christian care ministry, or into higher psychology/counselling education. Cayla’s interests include research, theology, spiritual care, counselling, and psychology. She loves qualitative research and learning how to build bridges with people and has greatly enjoyed undertaking this project.
Cayla claims no Indigenous ancestry or involvement in Indigenous culture prior to this project. As her familiarity with Indigenous culture and current issues is limited, she has made every effort to prioritize sensitivity, humility, and an openness to learning and correction. She approaches this research project from the perspective of the Euro-Canadian church, which she is familiar with and comfortable to speak on the behalf of. Due to her lack of knowledge and authority in speaking into Indigenous issues, Carrielynn Lund, a Metis Elder and expert in the field of Indigenous ministry, was brought on board in a mentorship role. The project team consisted of Cayla, Carrielynn Lund, and Cayla’s supervisor Karina Dunn, the Library Director at Vanguard College. In addition, Dr. Rob Lindemann, Chief Academic Officer at Vanguard College, and Dr. Cath Thorlakson, Director of the Pastoral Care and Counselling program at Vanguard College, served as research and methodology advisors.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
This project begins from the perspective of digital heritage collection and networking, and so websites and materials available on the internet played a large role in research. Generally speaking, if an Indigenous ministry exists, it wants to be discovered by people, and so it has a website. Thus, research generally began with web queries, which resulted in websites for individuals and ministries. The individual or ministry was then contacted via email to request a phone interview. Generally, when a ministry was contacted we ended up speaking with their director, so this is who the majority of the interviews were with. Interviews were semi-structured; the interviewer had a list of questions prepared, but they often did not get asked, as interviewees shared freely according to their interests.
Throughout the project, 18 interviews were conducted. Individuals were not selected based on ethnicity, but once the interviews were completed, mostly White, Indigenous, and Korean ethnicities were represented. The interviewee and interviewer did not know each other before the interview. No compensation was offered, but interviewees were generally more than happy to have the interview, as they enjoyed talking about their ministry. We did, however, experience some difficulty in getting people to respond to email. Not every ministry or individual that was researched responded to attempts at communication.
Once a research participant was identified and interviewed, the interviewer engaged in networking to acquire more contacts (snowball sampling). This was accomplished through asking the questions, “Do you know of any other ministries in Alberta?” and “Do you know anyone else who would be a good source of information on Indigenous ministry in Alberta, who would be good for me to talk to?” In addition, websites often led to the discovery of more leads through hyperlinking. Through these processes, more websites, ministries, individuals, and resources were then discovered, researched, and assessed for inclusion into the databases. Accepted resources were added to the databases, interviews were conducted, and information gained through interviews and web review was used to write the articles. Thus, interviews represent the primary data source for the construction of the databases and for the writing of the website articles. Document collection of websites, digital resources, and books was also conducted. Some work was also done with archives, but the internet provided the best approach to networking and digital collection.
Throughout the data collection phase, an important lesson was learned about the importance of the interviewer’s identity in establishing rapport. To begin the conversation, interviews were begun with an explanation of the project, so that the interviewee knew what they were participating in. However, as interviews were conducted, the interviewer noticed that many participants had further questions as to who the interviewer was and who they were affiliated with. Particularly, the participant wanted to know what ‘group’ the interviewer came from - the government, social justice groups, the church, etc. Furthermore, it became obvious that the participant’s comfort level and degree of sharing was highly dependent on the interviewer’s ability to clarify who they were and win the participant’s trust. Knowing the interviewer was Christian and not hostile to missions work affected how they would answer. Furthermore, the more the interviewer exhibited a knowledge and acceptance of ministry over time, the more invested the interviewee got in the conversation; interviewer-interviewee rapport was much more established. Were this project to be replicated, it would be highly encouraged that the interviewer begin interviews by volunteering clear information about their identity, affiliation, faith background, denomination, and friendliness to conversations about ministry. Had this been done, the interviews may have yielded different or more data, in some cases.
Every effort was made in the research and data collection process of this project to gain full, informed consent from research participants before participation, and for the project to fully adhere to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) ethical standards. Informed consent was secured at the beginning of the phone interview when the interviewer explained the full project to the interviewee and asked them to share about their experiences in order to contribute to the project. At the outset of data collection, the research team misunderstood APA data collection guidelines, and it was thought that explicit permission was needed to attribute all information gained through interviews to the interviewee. This would be true for the information listed in public directories. However, for the “story” portion of the research findings, APA research guidelines actually prefer and require confidentiality of research participants. As a result, research findings in this project are presented without being identified with the research participant. Information gained from published sources are cited as per APA guidelines.
In line with the original misunderstanding, at the end of each interview, the interviewee was reminded of the researcher’s intent to publish information gained through the interview and asked for the interviewees permission to cite them as such. Most participants gave permission given that we provide a copy of what was written for them to approve. However, this verbal permission was not recorded, as the final intent was to acquire written permission through email, where permission to cite, permission to include in directories, preferred contact information to list, and permission to contact them in subsequent years for the purpose of database maintenance would be collected. Unfortunately, not every person who participated in interviews responded to these “permissions emails,” even if they had responded verbally with permission. Fortunately, according to APA guidelines, it is not required to identify information gained through research-participant interviews to the interviewee. Rather, the interviewee's confidentiality should be protected, and information gained through interviews does not need to be cited, provided that informed consent was given by the interviewee before participating in the research. Thus, as a rule, information from all data collection was used in the research project findings (the “story”), under confidentiality, without specific attribution.
This policy was contravened at certain times where, with explicit permission, participants were identified with their contributions. Examples of such policy include entries in the public directories, and times where research participants were identified, with their permission, in order to give credibility to the information they shared. Such dimensions of identity, ethnicity, background, authority, and credibility are important issues in the realm of both history and Indigenous issues. Individuals and ministries that were interviewed were only included in the public directories if they did respond to the permission emails with written consent. If they did not give consent, they may have still been included, without contact details or any other information that was not already publicly available.
Data collection took place between June and November 2020. In total, 17 interviews were conducted with various experts and individuals working in the field of Indigenous ministry. Relating to this, 38 experts in the field of Indigenous ministry were researched, 26 of which were entered into SIMA’s public database. 49 ministries were also researched, 20 of which were selected for entry into SIMA’s public database. 14 churches were researched, 5 of which were entered into SIMA’s public database. Additionally, 47 websites and 41 digital resources were surveyed and included in SIMA’s database. Finally, 45 books and other forms of literature were reviewed and entered into SIMA’s annotated bibliography, with many more reviewed and not selected for entry. Items were selected for entry into SIMA’s public database on the basis of how useful they would be for people viewing the database. For instance, there were multiple missionary organizations that are involved with Indigenous ministry in a Canadian context but had no presence in Alberta. Such ministries were researched, but not included in the final database. Some ministries or experts were not chosen for inclusion because they did not respond to attempts at communication, for reasons unknown.
Interviews generally revolved around what ministry was offered by the organization and the historical circumstances that lead to the founding and shaping of the ministry, or what the individual knew about Indigenous ministry in Alberta. The list of questions usually included:
I saw on your website (or I heard about) _______. Can you tell me more about your ministry/what you do?
Questions specific to the functioning and history of the ministry.
Do you know of any other ministries in Alberta?
Do you know anyone else who would be a good source of information on Indigenous ministry in Alberta, who would be good for me to talk to?
How do you see the landscape of Indigenous ministry right now?
When I explained the project to you, was there anything you heard that made you think of a need you know about that our project could help fill?
Interviewees often also enjoyed speaking at length about their opinions on the discussion surrounding contextualization. At one point, a question about contextualization was included in the interview questions; however, this was later dropped due to difficulty in progressing the interview after this topic was broached, and due to the fact that, often, no help was needed from the interviewer to bring up the topic. The general selection of questions remained mostly the same throughout the project, especially as they pertained to collecting historical information. However, more philosophical questions were dropped towards the end of the project, as saturation of understanding regarding the philosophical aspects of Indigenous ministry had been reached, and the collection of actual historical data became more important.
During the interview, the interviewer took notes by hand while the interviewee spoke. The interview took between 30 and 75 minutes, with the average conversation lasting an hour. Depending on the talkativeness of the interviewee, anywhere between 1 and 10 questions were asked. The interviewer conducted the interview in a private room by phone, and the interviewee was free to speak from whatever location they chose. Afterward, the interviewer had access to a reflexive journal where they could freely reflect on interviews. As soon as possible following the interview, the conversation was typed up and uploaded into the project’s Google Drive, and the information contained within was disseminated to where it belonged. For instance, information on new ministries to contact was added to a folder containing networking leads, contact information was added to the databases, and historical information was stored to be used later as a source for the article writing process.
Different techniques were used to find and collect data in the web review process. The search engine Google was the main source of information searching, mainly relying on keyword queries, followed by following hyperlinks. Other search strategies were also used; for instance, searching with a formula such as site:www.emconference.ca "Indigenous” and similar terms provided a list of every instance of the word on the website. This enabled a full summary of everything that denomination had published on the internet regarding their relationship with Indigenous peoples. Google searching and hyperlinking was also used to find and collect digital resources and networking contacts.
Because of the localized and specific nature of the project, literature review was not a main data collection technique used to put together the actual research findings (the “story”). Literature review was mostly useful in building the website’s bibliography, and for understanding the contemporary issues and philosophical aspects that affect the story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta. Books were accessed through the NEOS Library Consortium, a consortium of 18 academic, government and health libraries in the Northern Alberta area who participate in an interlibrary loaning relationship with their combined total of over 11 million books. Various search strategies were used to find books including searching the NEOS catalogue by prolific authors on the topic and utilizing online bibliographies on the topic.
Data collection was halted once interviews had been conducted or unsuccessfully pursued with every discovered organization that would fall within the project’s scope. Web and literature survey halted once saturation of the hyperlinking framework seemed to have been reached (new recommendations and links referred to things that had already been discovered; no new leads could be found).
As the project’s research method is narrative analysis, which does not require much in the way of presenting a thesis or conclusion, little was done in terms of data analysis. Instead, the data collected regarding individual histories was simply woven into a larger narrative of the Alberta-wide story. Specifically, information from individual interviews was written up in essay format and grouped with descriptions of similar ministries to get a sense of the ministry in its immediate context. The guiding principle was the type of ministry, so that the wider history of each type could be understood as its own chapter in the story of Indigenous ministry. These categories were self-evident, and included denominational ministry, missionary organizations, stand-alone practical-type ministries, stand-alone advocacy-type ministries, and Bible training schools. Other categories of the story include general historical overview and overview of current issues, and some discussion of the philosophies and controversies of ministry at play in the story. The purpose was to help readers understand the raw data, which was already hosted in the website directory, in a wider, more coherent context. This simple organizational scheme was chosen because 1) it was self-evident, 2) it provided the least amount of interpretive lens which would produce bias in the results, and 3) it effectively accomplished the goal of providing a larger context and narrative. A secondary organizational scheme was also used wherein most ministries could be characterized as either advocacy-type or practical-type ministries. These categories also arose out of data trends, and were self-evident. These categories are used in order to help the reader understand what kinds of ministries are being offered in Alberta.
As the project progressed, a certain trend in the collection and analysis process became apparent. One of the guiding principles of this project has been the understanding that, since the author is of Euro-Canadian society and has had little to no contact with Indigenous communities, she did not want to speak on the behalf of Indigenous Christians. To do so would be to participate in the legacy of the Euro-Canadian society and church in silencing Indigenous voices. Rather, the focus of this project would be to examine the history of the Euro-Canadian church, to truthfully tell the whole story of their accomplishments and mistakes, and to provide a foundation of knowledge on which that church body can grow and change in reflection on the past. This attitude provided some safety, as the author could feel comfortable speaking on the behalf of the church. However, this attitude also presented its own challenges: If the voices of Indigenous Christians were purposefully not included, would this not be a form of silencing in its own right?
At the end of the day, however, this question ended up being a non-issue. The guiding principle emerged naturally over time as interviews were conducted with people within and in contact with the Indigenous community, but it never necessitated a concrete change in the way research was conducted. Yet, as data was collected over time, a trend in the data was recognized: A surprising number of interviews were conducted with individuals who described themselves as “60’s scoop” kids, who were ethnically Indigenous but were raised in Euro-Canadian households and had “reconnected with their culture” later in life. The remainder of interviews were mostly conducted with Euro-Canadian individuals.
This trend was surprising as, though the researchers were aware of the previously discussed principles regarding the inclusion of Indigenous voices, their selection process was not intentionally designed in a way that would produce this effect. Every individual or ministry that was discovered either through the internet or through snowball sampling and networking was contacted, and assessment of ethnicity never entered the selection process.
The conclusion of the research team is that a bias in data collection manifested itself two ways: 1) The discovery process was based on the usage of published records, and Euro-Canadian individuals/ministries were more likely to have webpages and/or historical records published and discoverable, and 2) interviews were requested through email, and Euro-Canadian individuals/ministries were more likely to respond to attempts at email communication. The conclusion of the author is that this is indicative of a bias that exists in the world, which is the division between the Indigenous and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems.
In one interview, the author was bluntly advised by the interviewee, a minister who self-identified as a “settler Christian” and was highly involved with social justice and Indigenous issues, that the project would never be accepted by the Indigenous community because the project was not under the authority of an Elder. When the author asked how she could bring it under the authority of an Elder or otherwise correct the project, she was told that there was no way to do this, because it would have had to have started under the authority of the Elder, and thus the whole project would have been formed differently from the ground up.
As the research progressed and the team got closer to the writing phase, they realized that they needed Indigenous input, so they brought an Indigenous Elder onto the team. The author then consulted with the Elder regarding the interview with the settler Christian, seeking guidance on how to improve the project. Although the Elder agreed she should have been brought in earlier, the Elder was very encouraging and confident that the exclusion was not intentional but had arisen out of a lack of knowledge, and that the circumstance presented a good teaching and learning moment, instead of being a condemnation of the project.
Indeed, what the “settler Christian” interviewee had said provided some insight as to the bias in data collection the author had sensed. This project has been conceptualized, designed, and conducted within the Euro-Canadian knowledge system. The author set out to create a research project, chose a research methodology from the Western research styles, and sought out Western sources of knowledge such as books, archives, and websites, which would provide data to be analyzed. She connected with individuals and ministries primarily via email, and requested to schedule phone interviews. All of these methods and choices are firmly rooted within the Western/Euro-Canadian system of knowledge. Data collected in this project came from the Euro-Canadian academic knowledge system, and so when the project is completed, it will tell the story of Indigenous ministry in the Euro-Canadian church. Had this project been conceptualized by a team of Indigenous researchers and grounded in Indigenous culture, it would have looked different. The author is not Indigenous, so she cannot predict how it would have looked differently.
This is not to imply that the project is wrong for existing as it does. Rather, the project team dealt with this finding by building it into the project's design with intentionality and humility. Simply put, a limitation has been placed on this project by various social elements, as previously discussed, such that this project is primarily researching and pertaining to the Euro-Canadian church. Accordingly, the author feels that it is important to acknowledge this bias inherent in the project, and to explain why it is present. It seems obvious, upon reflection, that there is a distinct and compelling difference between the two worlds and knowledge systems of Indigenous and Euro-Canadian society, and that this difference extends into the church. Without any intentional attempt on the part of the research team, this project was almost fully conducted within the Euro-Canadian “side” of Indigenous ministry, and this reality was acknowledged and accounted for by the team in the spirit of social responsibility. Because of their scarcity, interviews in this project with Indigenous people were highly valued for the diversity in perspective they afforded. However, the final product must be what it is: The story of the Euro-Canadian evangelical church’s historical ministry and relationship with Indigenous people.
Areas for Further Research
While working on this project, a number of areas of further research presented themselves. The most obvious area of need for further research is the need to cover the rest of Canada and the denominations not included in the project, namely, the mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations. The project’s scope had to be limited simply for the sake of time, and localizing the study to the team’s area of expertise both religiously and geographically was the best way to do that. However, this project could be duplicated or expanded for the rest of Canada, and doing so would benefit Indigenous ministry in those regions. Furthermore, many of the elements of this story are connected far outside of Alberta, so creating a larger, Canada-wide story would lend itself to the intuitive landscape of Indigenous ministry.
In addition, it was decided to limit the study denominationally, due to the fact that the evangelical denominations were understudied in comparison to the work that has been done and catalyzed by the Truth and Reconciliation. However, this does not mean that a similar historical or story-based study for the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations if not needed or that it would not be beneficial. Many research participants encouraged the team to include these denominations in the project, as they are doing good work and would benefit our storytelling, and because the topic is one that affects the whole church in a unified sense. Although the Euro-Canadian church may differentiate between these denominations, the Indigenous church generally does not.
A second area is the need for a study of local congregations in order to get a more granular and up-close view of the story, paralleling the contextual, big-picture view that is presented in this study. Such a study would focus more on the input of ordinary Christians rather than denominational, organizational, and community leaders, and would have a view more to the organic texture of church life than to the political/responsibility-focused bent of this study. At one point, this project intended to include in the website database a directory of Indigenous churches. Although this would fit well into the purpose of this project and specifically to the purpose of the webpage (to connect together Indigenous ministry in Alberta), compiling such a directory was shown to be outside of the scope of this project. It was observed that, although the team found a few churches they could list, many more were heard of but could not fully be researched using the methods used by this paper. It was also understood that there are many more congregations of Indigenous believers out there that exist completely locally, but may not call themselves a church, and would not be discoverable at all through this project’s research methods. Further research to include this more local and organic aspect of the story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta would be invaluable.
Another important area of further research that emerges quite naturally from the scope and limitations of this project is the need for the story from the Indigenous “side.” In the previous section, it was clearly acknowledged that this project has consisted almost entirely within the Western knowledge system, and it engages most efficiently and effectively with the Euro-Canadian church. This naturally suggests the need for a similar project that engages the Indigenous knowledge systems and tells the story of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Euro-Canadian church from the Indigenous side. The sharing of elements such as the Indigenous Christians that shaped the Indigenous church are not generally included in most history books, and would comprise an essential component of our shared story that is currently lacking.