A group of Salvationists gathered for a roundtable discussion at The Salvation Army’s Pine Lake Camp, Alta., in May to recognize current or potential Indigenous leaders from the territory. The group of primarily Indigenous persons presented some of the challenges Indigenous communities face today and an action plan for meeting their needs.
The meeting, organized by Major Shari Russell, territorial Aboriginal ministries consultant, was the territory’s first Aboriginal ministry discussion where representatives were Indigenous themselves. “As Aboriginal people, we believe in consensus leadership. Our focus was, and will continue to be, on the collective voice of Indigenous people,” says Major Russell.
The weekend was also attended by Colonel Mark Tillsley, chief secretary, and other non-Indigenous leaders. “We opened with a sharing circle so that we’re all seen as equal,” says Major Russell. “In sharing our stories, we dispel ignorance, and that is a catalyst for change.”
Among the many concerns raised at the roundtable, one recurring point of discussion was a lack of education regarding Canadian-Indigenous history. “Many people don’t know our history, and aren’t aware of how its effects live on in society and the church,” says Major Russell. “We need to recognize the issue of a lost identity due to colonization, because there’s a real richness to our heritage and culture that I think is missing.”
The group hopes for increased educational measures among Salvation Army leaders, both in training and in the field. “The Indigenous experience is different across Canada so we have to approach and address each region differently,” says Major Russell.
In addition to plans for educating the church, the roundtable discussed establishing youth culture camps and raised concerns regarding public outreach programs. “Right now, The Salvation Army has a strong social service focus for Indigenous people,” says Major Russell. “We want to help people heal holistically by navigating these services in a healthy, empowering way.”