The Salvation Army held its third annual Celebration of Culture gathering in August at Pine Lake Camp, Alta. Hosted in partnership with Indigenous Pathways, this three-day event brought together Indigenous followers of Jesus, Salvationists and others who wanted to share together in learning more about Indigenous cultures, values and traditions, in order to enrich and deepen their understanding and experience of faith.

Charles Woods (Siksika Nation) shares a dance at the pow wowA traditional pow wow is the highlight of the Celebration of Culture weekend. One of the dancers is Charles Woods (Siksika Nation)
This year, the theme of the weekend was Walking Together in Truth, a statement of the willingness of The Salvation Army to be a part of the journey in reconciliation, and the importance of recognizing and celebrating Indigenous cultures.

Throughout the weekend, attendees took part in traditional Indigenous teachings with workshops and worship sessions, sweat lodges, tipi building and a traditional pow wow—the special event of the weekend. This year’s pow wow, which was open to the general public, featured two drum circles. The host drum was Sorrell Rider and the other drum group, under the leadership of Jonathan Maracle, who was also the musical guest for the weekend, included young people who sang and drummed for the first time. Many dancers representing First Nations from across the region came to join in the celebration as well.

“I appreciate what’s happening here today,” said Vincent Yellow Old Woman, Tribal Councillor at Siksika Nation, and master of ceremonies at the pow wow. “I thank The Salvation Army. I want to take my hat off to them for stepping up to the plate and saying we recognize, not necessarily saying we were wrong or we’re sorry, but recognizing what this is: It’s an opportunity to come together, and when we talk together we appreciate what we’re hearing and what we understand from each other.”

Colonel Edward Hill; Cpt Crystal Porter, DYS, Prairie Div; Mjr Shari Russell; and Colonel Shelley Hill, TSWM, gather by a tipiColonel Edward Hill; Cpt Crystal Porter, DYS, Prairie Div; Mjr Shari Russell; and Colonel Shelley Hill, TSWM, gather by a tipi
“This is hugely important,” added Terry Leblanc, executive director of Indigenous Pathways. “If we are going to talk about reconciliation, we have to talk about understanding one another differently than we have ever done before. Participation in this activity, and The Salvation Army and Indigenous Pathways working together, makes such a big impact. We’re really proud to be here and are looking forward to year four.”

The Celebration of Culture is part of the Army’s commitment to build a stronger relationship with Indigenous peoples and is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. This event was envisioned to bring together Indigenous leadership and to help facilitate understanding as we embark on the journey to reconciliation.

“I think there was a great spirit at the Celebration of Culture,” says Colonel Edward Hill, chief secretary. “There was a lot of enthusiasm and a real desire to learn, to educate and be educated.”

“As Indigenous Salvationists gathered to vision together, the one thing that came through was a desire for celebration,” says Major Shari Russell, territorial Indigenous ministries consultant. “Celebrating who we are as Indigenous peoples, celebrating who we are as Salvationists within The Salvation Army, and being able to bring those two together.”

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