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A national ecumenical conference featuring several prominent Indigenous and Métis leaders will be held in Edmonton, known in Cree/Nehiyawin as ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒋᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, Amiskwaciwâskahikan, or Beaver Hill House, near the traditional First Nations’ meeting ground of ᐯᐦᐅᓇᐣ /Pêhonân, a gathering-waiting place in a bend of the North Saskatchewan River.

The 8th Canadian Forum on Inter-Church Dialogues (CFICD) will be presented by the Canadian Council of Churches, in partnership with the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, June 8-10, at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral.

The conference calls us into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the wisdom, gifts, and experiences that Indigenous followers of Jesus can offer the ecumenical movement. Too often, their voices have been absent from official Canadian ecumenical dialogues. 

“There has been a noticeable absence of Indigenous voices at the table with this Canadian body around ecumenical movements,” says the Ven. Travis Enright, Archdeacon for Reconciliation and Decolonization in the Edmonton diocese and a Wisdom Keeper for the conference. He credits the Rev. Canon Dr. Scott Sharman, an ecumenical animator and advocate, with the idea for the conference to explore how theological reflection works in Indigenous and Métis communities. 

“The organised ecumenical movement in Canada, which seeks to work towards greater understanding and healing of church divisions, has typically not done a very good job of ensuring that Indigenous members and expressions of church are involved in shaping the ecumenical agenda, or even being able to take part in the conversation,” says Sharman. “Neither has Canadian ecumenism fully opened itself up to be taught by and to learn from the cultures and wisdom of the Peoples and ways this land in terms of how questions of unity and diversity can be held together in a healthy and respectful balance.”

“Indigenous theological reflection is fluid and land-based,” Enright says. “How do we see the beauty in each other? How do we the beauty in each other’s lodges? It’s not trying to find the differences between churches, for example, but discovering who the Creator is and how we can live out the Gospel together?” 

Rather than begin the conference with a worship service in the church, Enright says participants will be invited to a ceremonial gathering at the heart of the land known in Cree/Nehiyawin as ᐯᐦᐅᓇᐣ/Pêhonân, a waiting/gathering place for Indigenous nations.

“This in-between place was a safe space to do commerce and share ceremonies. It wasn’t Cree territory. It wasn’t Blackfoot territory. It wasn’t Sioux territory. It was one of those places that were, by nature, ecumenical.” 

The ceremony will begin with an offering of poetry and songs by Indigenous Elder Verna Fischer. Traditionally, this was done to open the space between the Creator and people, says Enright.

“Women were the center of our theological reflection because they are naturally connected to Mother Earth through birthing,” says Enright. “They were the openers and holders of the universe.” Fisher will teach about Ribbon Skirts and share the significance of women’s teachings in Indigenous culture.

Papaschase First Nation Elder Fernie Marty, of the Sacred Heart Church of the First People, will reflect on what it means to be on this land.

As an expression of their willingness to reconcile and make reparations, five priests will close the ceremony with songs taught to them by an Elder.

Honouring the distinctive gifts of this place, the 8th CFICD will focus on the experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Christians in the ecumenical movement and offer a range of workshops on ecumenical topics.

Scott Sharman says his hope for the Pêhonân conference is that it will be a chance to break out of the mode of the status quo of ecumenism in Canada; “that it will be a time to slow down and actually listen to the voices of Indigenous church leaders on these questions that settler-colonial churches think they have already answered, and to perhaps discover new ways to mutually enrich one another on the common journey of drawing people into right relationships across all the lines of division that we have so often allowed to keep us apart. God willing it will represent the beginnings of a paradigm shift for the churches in Canada as self-determining Indigenous expressions of faith in the Jesus way have their rightful place at the ecumenical table, to great the benefit of all.”

You can learn more about ᐯᐦᐅᓇᐣ /Pêhonân and register on Eventbrite.


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