Advocacy Ministries

This section is part of a larger story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta. To read it from the start, click here.

In this section, we address what we term as advocacy-type ministries. These are ministries that stand alone and function as organized ministry bodies, but usually address political or public awareness needs, instead of physically ministering to the needs of individuals.

To be included in this section, the subject has to exist as an organized ministry, as opposed to simply commentary that has been made by a person or group. As a result, this section mostly addresses conferences. It should be noted that the sub-set of conferences within advocacy-type ministries can be unique in that they may use public speaking to address physical needs. For example, one ministry addressed is a conference that equips people with tools to deal with issues such as abuse and suicide. Such a ministry accomplishes practical effects through the meeting of needs, but is still included in this section as it functions verbally, instead of out of a physical building.

Generally speaking, however, when considering advocacy-type ministries it is more usual to find ministries that are only intended to address issues of politics and/or public awareness. The aim of these ministries is to change public awareness and/or affect practice through verbal, ideological means.

NAIITS Symposiums

In addition to their degree program partnerships (see Bible Schools), NAIITS also hosts annual symposiums, 17 of which have been held so far. Their purpose is

to facilitate open dialogue about various aspects of biblical and theological contextualization in Indigenous thought, history, and experience. Symposium planners hope that participants will bring together academic and practical approaches to the issues being addressed in the symposium each year so that new ideas for Indigenous ministry and community practice might emerge and be supported.

These symposiums provide an academic forum for thinkers addressing contextualization to share and discuss their ideas. Because NAIITS is well established in the Indigenous ministry community, their symposiums involve some of the biggest names and schools in Indigenous ministry/academia. Due to these reasons, NAIITS symposiums may be the most influential of all the advocacy-type ministries discussed in this section. However, it should be noted that NAIITS has a Canada-wide scope, and is not necessarily Alberta-based.That being said, they are still an essential part of the Story of Indigenous Ministry in Alberta, due to their far-reaching influence.

Rising Above

The path to forming Rising Above was first begun in 1992, when an Indigenous spiritual leader from Siksika First Nation, Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman, realized the need to address a grave need he was seeing in his community:

Abuse in many forms is a significant problem among the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Its harmful and destructive effects are seen and felt in every aspect of Indigenous life; family, community, and culture. It is also felt in society at large. Victims of abuse are likely to turn to many destructive behaviors to deal with their pain. Consequently, substance abuse, family violence, gangs and suicide have reached epidemic proportions among our people. (Rising Above, 2014, para. 1)

That year, Chief Yellow Old Woman gathered together Indigenous Christian leaders from across Canada to see what they could do about the issue, which led to the first Rising Above conference, held in Calgary. Throughout the last 28 years, they have held many conferences and regional seminars, which draw hundreds of participants annually.

Rising Above is a unique advocacy-type ministry especially in the fact that they have a focus on healing and counselling, and thus have a strong practical bent as well. Conference sessions deal with issues of grief, suicide, sexual abuse, and the intergenerational impact of the residential schools. Their purpose is to provide “lay people and the church the tools to help restore hope to the abused and the abuser” (Rising Above, 2014, para. 2). In addition, the conference led to the founding of Rising Above Abuse Counselling Agency (Rising Above, 2014, para. 2).

Native Youth Conference

The Native Youth Conference (NYC) arose out of a desire to create a gathering similar to Rising Above, but focused on youth. This conference has also been running for 28 years, and though they started small, they currently host hundreds of participants each year. The conference is currently hosted at Camp Nakamun near Busby, Alberta, and it consists of a weekend youth retreat that offers speakers and workshops. NYC is closely associated with Anchored Warriors, as Anchored Warriors was begun by a leader with NYC who realized the need for ministry between the annual conferences, following the suicide of a friend. It should be noted that NYC primarily serves the practical need of providing youth ministry to Indigenous youth. It also functions as a networking hub for Indigenous youth ministry in Western Canada.

Salvation Army Celebration of Culture Gathering

As previously mentioned, the Salvation Army (SA) runs an annual cultural gathering event meant to provide teaching about Indigenous history, traditions, and experience, as well as about contextual ministry within the Christian faith. The event was begun in 2015, in response to the TRC hearings, and growing out of recommendations from Indigenous Salvationists who wanted to be able to celebrate their identity as Christians, and so gathered to cast a vision together. It is styled as both a learning event for non-Indigenous individuals, and a reconnection event for Indigenous individuals. Participants engage in cultural activities such as tipi building, and hear presentations on biblical and theological frameworks.

Korean Missionary Groups Indigenous Ministry Forum

There is a history of Indigenous ministry being offered by the Korean Church to the Indigenous peoples of Canada for at least 30 years (CAMF, 2019, p. 5). Out of this arose a ministry body in Canada called “Korean Missionary Groups,” which both sends out missionaries, as well as hosts a biennial Canadian Aboriginal Missions Forum. The first gathering relating to this conference was put together by Rev. Heung-Ryeol Han with the Edmonton Antioch Church in 2014, and was simply meant to help connect the Korean missionaries scattered in remote locations throughout Canada (CAMF, 2019, p. 5). The first official Aboriginal Missions Forum was held the following year, to be held every second year after that (CAMF, 2019, p. 5). The purpose of this conference is to bring together the Korean Missionaries planted across Canada in remote locations whose ministry can be quite lonely and isolating; in this way, it is a practical-type ministry. However, as demonstrated by the conference proceedings from the 2019 forum, the conference also serves as a networking hub and provides teaching on Indigenous ministry, with guest speakers from large other missionary organizations such as NEFC, NAIM, and NCEM. Although conferences have been held in Alberta, the conference is not Alberta-specific.

New Story

In 2015, a conference that was begun in order to address the need for a “new story” to be written between the church and Indigenous peoples:

The story of Canada's First Nations and the Church has been marked by hurt, suspicion, and avoidance. It's time for a NEW STORY. We're inviting Christian leaders to dream fresh ways and attempt courageous actions that will create friendships and bring healing. We're inviting all of us to be part of the NEW STORY. In light of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we believe the Church in general has a responsibility to further the healing and reconciliation process. New Story Conference will endeavor to address the call to action for the Church specifically #59 -61. (New Story Conference, n.d.-a, para. 1)

The conference was based in Calgary, Alberta, and involved some key names in Indigenous ministry in Western Canada, including Shari Russell (Salvation Army), Mark Buchanan (Ambrose University College), Mario Swampey (NCEM), Tom Cnossen (NCEM) (New Story Conference, n.d.-b), Amy Flater (Anchored Warriors), Alison Lefebrve (Evangelical Missionary Church), Ray Aldred, Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman, Cheryl Bear, and the organizations InterAct, NCEM, Encompass Partnerships, Anchored Warriors, Ambrose University, and the Western District of C&MA⁴⁵ (New Story Conference, n.d.-c). This conference certainly looked promising insofar as its ability to make movements in and across the church. However, the conference appears to only have run twice, in 2015 and 2016.⁴⁶ The reasons for this are unknown, although it is also unknown if the conference was ever intended to take place more than once or twice.

Healing at the Wounding Place

Healing at the Wounding Place (HaWP) is a unique ministry that walks the line between practical-type and advocacy-type. This ministry, run by Jodi Spargur with Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, is primarily a networking ministry. It begins with the understanding that, instead of being a place of healing, the church has been and still is a place of wounding for Indigenous individuals. Before the relationship can move forwards, this wound must be dealt with.

HaWP’s goal is to catalyze healthy and just relationships between the church and First Nations communities. They accomplish this by establishing partnerships between church communities and First nations communities, and then providing mediation for any issues that may come up in this relationship. These partnerships then lead to the formation of church and Indigenous teams, who cooperate together on Indigenous-led initiatives to accomplish practical ministry in the local community. Their focus is on working locally to foster connections between faith communities and Indigenous communities. HaWP also provides training and consultations to help communities understand the need and the potential for such work.

Indian Ecumenical Conference

Finally, this section on conferences in Alberta regarding Indigenous Christianity would not be complete without a mention of the Indian Ecumenical Conference. The conference is well-connected within the world of Indigenous ministry, particularly with the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations, who provided funding for the first conference (Centre for Indigenous Scholars [CIS], 2017a, para. 3), and with the area in academia occupied by critical scholars such as James Treat and Vine Deloria. It also led to the formation of the Centre for Indigenous Scholars (CIS, 2017a, para. 8) which collaborated with the Vancouver School of Theology (VST), a school sponsored by the mainline Protestant denominations, to open VST’s Indigenous Studies Centre (CIS, 2017b, para. 2).

First held on the Crow Reservation, Montana, in 1970, the subsequent three conferences were held in Alberta: on the Stoney Reserve at Morely in 1971 and 1992 (Treat, 2003, p. 1), and on the Ermineskin Reserve at Maskwacis in 2013 (Government of Canada, 2013, para. 4). The conference was meant to address “the religious confusion, fragmentation, and conflict immobilizing tribal life throughout Canada and the U.S.” (Treat, 2003, 8). Unlike other ministries in this section which flow out of the church to engage in politics, often in the name of growth and correction, this conference seems to more so flow out of politics to engage the church, often in the name of critiquing and subversion. The conference and its related authors, scholars, and ministries appear to dialogue with religion first and foremost as a facet of the cultural and political identity of the Indigenous community, rather than in the name of unity and fellowship with the larger church.

45 - See discussion on the relationship between the Western District C&MA and this network in Denominational Indigenous Ministry, The Christian and Missionary Alliance section.

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