It is time for new models of mission with Indigenous peoples, says Canadian Cree pastor

The way the church has done mission with Indigenous peoples in the past has to change says Mary Fontaine, a Presbyterian pastor and member of the Cree nation in Canada.
“I welcome the commitment of the World Communion of Reformed Churches to enter into dialogue with the world’s Indigenous Christians on how to create new models for mission,” Fontaine says.
The first Indigenous person elected to a senior post in a global organization of Reformed churches, Fontaine serves as Vice-President of the North American region of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). She was speaking in an interview while in Geneva, Switzerland for meetings of the organization’s executive committee.
Discussions in Geneva this week focus on adopting a strategic plan for the organization for the coming seven years. Programmes in mission, theology and justice linked to Indigenous issues are on the agenda.
At its founding meeting in the United States in June 2010, WCRC – a global network of churches including Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in 108 countries – announced plans to work towards reconciliation and healing with Indigenous peoples.
“To do this work, churches need to step out of the box in unique ways,” says Fontaine.
In recent years, churches in North America have been involved in legal cases brought by Indigenous people who attended church-run residential schools where they suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Some former students have qualified as “cultural genocide” efforts by teachers to impose rules that forbid them the right to speak their language and cut them off from their cultural traditions and religious practices.
Churches in other regions of the world are grappling with similar negative legacies of abuse of Indigenous peoples by early Christian mission practices.
Fontaine says new models of mission are emerging. In ministries with Indigenous peoples that seek to incorporate traditional music, dance, ceremony and art, leaders are gathering intergenerational and intercultural groups for positive experiences in churches.
As founder and director of Hummingbird Ministries on the Pacific west coast of Canada, Fontaine has initiated events held in churches that incorporate ceremonies such as the ritualistic entry of tribal leaders carrying the cross, accompanied by Pow Wow (traditional) dancers.
“Some people say this is the first time they have been in a church since they left residential school,” Fontaine reports. “They are amazed to see such ceremonies as part of a church gathering.”
Hummingbird Ministries is supported by grants from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, a WCRC member church.
The WCRC executive committee meeting runs from 5-12 May.

World Communion of Reformed Churches
News Release
09 May 2011

Reprinted with permission

WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). Its 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate and gender justice, mission, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions.

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