Encountering Indigenous Perspectives in Winnipeg

For one week in March 2023, In-Ministry-Year students from Dio and The Presbyterian College travelled with two instructors to Winnipeg, Manitoba to engage in several days of encounter with Indigenous cultures and ministries. The trip was educational and transformational for all involved. “It was an immeasurable blessing to spend time with college instructors, colleagues, Christian leaders, First Nations Elders, and people in this intercultural engagement,” said Master of Divinity student Adedeji Sunday Akintayo. “The six days were full of inspirational moments.”

The Intercultural Encounter is a requirement for students in the Master of Divinity program. In recent years, instead of travelling internationally, the college has focused on exposing students to Indigenous cultures within Canada. Through encounter, students gain a more profound understanding of how Christian leaders might engage their ministries with a spirit of reconciliation.

Over the course of six days, the group visited a variety of Indigenous ministries, communities, and educational sites including Epiphany Indigenous Anglican Church, Fort Whyte Alive conservation area, Pinaymootang First Nation, Place of Hope Indigenous Presbyterian Church, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Museum of Human Rights. They began their week at Oak Table Ministry at Augustine United Church, a ministry that addresses local housing insecurity. “Marie, the Indigenous Cultural Programmer there, invited us into a sharing circle,” recounts Heather McCance, Director of Pastoral Studies and Field Education. “She taught us the seven grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe people and introduced us to smudging and the four sacred medicines – cedar, tobacco, sage, and sweetgrass.”

At every location they learned from Indigenous Elders, community members, and religious leaders who shared personal stories, traditional and historical knowledge, and information about their ministries and religious practices. From these various encounters, students were exposed to a diversity of norms around the relationship between traditional Indigenous spirituality and Christian practices. “At Pinaymootang First Nation, an Anishinaabe community three hours north of the city, we met two Elders, Beatrice and Shirley, Harold, vice principal of the school, and some leaders in the local Anglican church,” says Heather. “They taught us that, in this place, traditional Indigenous spiritual practices are generally not accepted into Christian life.” However, in other communities such as Epiphany Indigenous Anglican Church and Place of Hope Indigenous Presbyterian Church, traditional practices and teachings are an important part of their worship life. “The priest at Epiphany Indigenous Anglican Church told us all about the ways they integrate traditional spiritual practices into Christian worship.” They also heard stories from different Indigenous Christians about their personal journeys toward reclaiming their heritage and reconciling and integrating their Indigenous identities with their faith.

Throughout the week, students bore witness to the violence of colonialism and were given opportunities to reflect on their responsibilities as Christian leaders in a settler-colonial context. On day two, they visited “Grandfather Rock” at the Forks, a monument to honour residential school survivors. There, they met with Cree Elder, Sylvia. “She told us her family’s story, including how her parents were forced by the authorities to give up their children and send them to the schools.” The following day, Chris Trott, former Dio student, now a mostly-retired adjunct Indigenous Studies professor at the University of Manitoba, gave a presentation on the local history of colonialism. “The time we spent in Manitoba made me ask myself what my future will look like as a leader in a mainline church,” says Jessica Gauthier, Master of Divinity student. “I now see more clearly that I am called to bring Christ to people, not to bring people to Christ.”

The group finished the week by leading worship at Westwood Presbyterian Church, before heading back home to Montreal, transformed and ready to enter into ministry with fresh eyes, and open hearts.