Sally-Ann has been the Acting Home League Secretary in her community in Western Canada for five or six years. She was not born into The Salvation Army but married into the community and The Salvation Army church there. Her and her husband raised their children there and have been attending that Salvation Army since 1981. In our interview, Sally-Ann said, “I've always attended Home League since I first moved community. And I moved here as a young mom with a two-year-old and needed something to do, and there was at that time two women's groups that met on a regular basis and I just started going. My time out, to go and meet with the ladies and see what they were up to and I've been a part of a home league for-- since I've been here. I mean, for me it was a time to, to get to know the women, see what they were doing on this one night a week.”
Sally-Ann clarified for me her role in the community: “I was married before the Indian Act changed. I gained my status because I was married way back in 1977, so I got my Indian status back then and I have had it ever since. So, I am a member of the nation and I am a member of this community through marriage, and I understand that… I have a lot of friends that have lost their status because they married outside. I have a lot of mixed feelings about how it happened and what happened to other people.”
I asked Sally-Ann how she brought together faith and culture in her role, especially as she was originally an outsider who married in. She explained, “I never grew up with a lot of church in my life. My mom and dad came from England and I was born here, but Mom never went to church until I was about eight. Then my mom became an Anglican around that time, and there was a small church in the community we lived in that had services once or twice a month, and I remember going to Sunday school and things like that but was never involved heavily in the church. And then when I moved here, church was always part of this community. We have Anglican churches in our other three villages. But Salvation Army is the one that is here. So it was just a normal thing to do if you wanted to be part of the community you attended.”
Sally-Ann also explained to me what she perceives as the most important lessons she learned in her ministry role. “To have patience. I find that with me I get a little bit worried when we go to do something as a as a Home League group, that we are not going to have enough food or we are not going to have enough women to serve what we're doing, so I always have to learn patience first and foremost, that it all works out. It is important to have no judgment with the women that come and go. That willingness to listen and learn from everybody. I never grew up with grandparents, so to suddenly have all these elders around me, it was just…. it was so exciting, and it was something I always wanted to do, learn from the elders, like a grandparent. So, I have a lot of grandmas and grandpas that I got to know really well. And I always listened. And even if they were trying to tell me something that I figured I would never, ever need, or know, or I just didn't have any interest in, I always listened. And I used to tell my friends, you know, just listen and put it in your back pocket. One of these days you'll say, “I remember when Granny Grace used to tell us that” or “I remember when Granny Nora mentioned that” and then all of a sudden, it fits into whatever you're doing. Also respect, I think it's a really big thing that I've learned living here. Respecting each other for where we come from, this is important. Some of the things that keep our women coming is no judgement but honoring who they are individually. Not everybody comes into our group with the same attitudes, the same feelings, or craftiness. We have women that come in, they don't want to do any kind of craft. They just sit and they listen. And they talk and we laugh. They just want to be there. And we honor that and slowly, slowly most of the time somebody may be doing something new in a craft and somebody that's never done it will all of a sudden say, well, that doesn't look that hard, maybe I'll try that.” Sally-Ann emphasized that the activity itself is not what is important. It is the opportunity for connection and togetherness in a safe space that keeps these women coming back.
I told Sally-Ann that I work in the women’s ministries department, and I feel there’s a struggle to engage younger women at times. I asked her if she could speak to that struggle and she said, “We have the twins who started when they were about 15 coming with their mom and they always came so we got them to help out with things because they were younger. They were always helpful and part of that, I think, is their own upbringing. The young girls were always helpful whenever we had something going on at the Community hall, where we get asked to set tables at a feast or wedding. Sometimes we would be asked to provide the food for an event, or sometimes we are asked just to bring the desserts like pastries and sandwiches for different events. We always tried to encourage the younger girls or women to participate and they just liked helping. One of the things with this community is that even if women don't come to Home League sessions, they will participate as a community.
Sally-Ann went on to say, “I think one of the things about engaging women in the incoming is that we don't push the Christianity part. It just happens. I've heard of women that are in their late 60s or early 70s say that the only reason they don't go to Home League is because they were told to pray in front of everyone at a one-point in their life. This happened to them and then they just refused to go again because they didn't want to be put on the spot. We don't do that. We may ask if anybody would like to pray and if somebody volunteers, that is fine. We don't push it on people, and I find over the last few years, we've had more women that have spoken up in Home League asking for prayer, asking for discussions on certain topics. Just participating more in the Christian aspect of Home League. It keeps people in their comfort zone like it doesn't make them feel… terrified. I mean, our faith should really be evident in action more than words and like encouraging, like investment from everyone.”
At the end of our conversation, I asked Sally-Ann how we can honor Indigenous communities. “If you have indigenous women in your group, it’s just honoring each of the women that are there. Asking them if they would like to share. We've had women that have come in and talked about specific things about the culture or women's issues, and they went with it. They'll bring their Indigenous perspective with them. You need to have patience, willingness to listen and learn, respecting, honoring who they are. Encourage them and say, “I'm so glad you came. I hope you come another time.” Just build on the positives.”
Sally-Ann reiterated that it’s important to invite and consider Indigenous women for more than just their opinion on culture. They have so much to offer and teach on women’s perspectives and social issues. They will bring their Indigenous perspective. We can honor them just by sitting, listening, and respecting their wisdom.
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