Rev. David John Smith

 THESIS: A new conceptual paradigm of preferred characteristics could assist church leaders in establishing healthy First Nations churches within The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

April 2, 1997







a. Redemptive Characteristics
b. Cultural Differences


a. Worldview
     (1) Integrated View of Reality
     (2) Living View of Creation
     (3) Circular View of Time
     (4) Communal View of Identity
     (5) Central View of Power
b. Values
     (1) Non-Interference
     (2) Psychological Restraint
     (3) Praise Constrained
     (4) Mental Preparation
     (5) Patient Waiting


a. Cultural Denial
b. Cultural Integration



a. Cultural Models
     (1) Rejection
     (2) Absorption
     (3) Syncretism
     (4) Sanctification
b. Contextualization Explained
c. Contextualization Subjects
d. Discerning Balance
e. Contextual Artisans


a. Discerning Uniquenesses
b. Capitalizing on Bridges
c. Local Expressions


a. Worship Traditions
b. Worship Music
c. Worship Symbols


a. Self-Theologizing
b. Theological Keystones

     (1) Creator
     (2) Creation
     (3) Recreator
     (4) Community


a. Native Preaching
b. Group Meetings
c. Elder Mentors
d. Program Development


a. Support Engendered
b. Reconciliation Practiced
c. Restoration Pursued


a. Integrated Spirituality
b. Earth Spirituality
c. Pneumatological Spirituality
d. Experiential Spirituality


a. Church Leadership
b. Consensus Leadership
c. Church Ordination


a. Holistic Healing
b. Holistic Leaders
c. Pastors Mentored


a. Present Christ
b. Practical Guidelines



a. Liberation Eschewed
b. Reconciliation Embraced
c. Repentance Espoused
d. Apologies Given
e. Relationship Building


a. Natives Needed
b. Cycle Broken
c. Partners Cultivated
d. Leadership Transferred
e. Dialogue Maintained
f. Help Clarified


a. Seek Cooperation
b. Offer Structure
c. Take Risks







The First Nations people in Canada have had a problematic religious, cultural and historical experience since European arrival upon their land. Nevertheless, natives have a rich spiritual heritage which provides an extraordinary bridge to communicate the unique good news of Jesus Christ to them. This opportunity, unfortunately, has been tarnished by being interwoven with more cultural baggage than Christian gospel. Without belabouring the errors of the past, it is never too late to become what might have been.


Native people are acquainted with historic injustices over the past five hundred years: broken treaties, stolen land, racial discrimination, cultural genocide, tribal extermination, language suppression, economic exploitation, political oppression, forced reservations, and social travesties. Within the Christian Church itself the list of abuses could include: oppressive missionizing, religious prejudice and hypocrisy, colonial imperialism, residential schools, family separation, and physical and sexual abuse. These injustices and abuses have resulted in several sudden losses in native culture -- individual freedom of choice, an internal esteem system, the Indian family, certainty in a native continuum, the threat of starvation, integrated existence, traditional mechanisms for coping, and the family-centered in-group.1

In addition, social sins of greed and avarice, patronizing arrogance and condescension, confiscation of property, legal manipulation, and political control as well as neglect have been committed against native people. Today these abuses and social sins have produced an aftermath in many (but not all) native people. They face dependency on a welfare system, poor health, poor housing, poverty, addictive lifestyles of alcoholism, drugs and gambling, high unemployment, a high percentage of natives imprisoned, high rates of suicide particularly among teens, and inadequate life skills. No wonder today they are suspicious of any Caucasian overtures.2 Having experienced injustice and rejection they face the challenge of unresolved anger, distrust, hatred and bitterness. The focus of this paper endeavors to be more positive in building a preferred future, rather than bemoaning the past, yet without denying it. The tenacity, dynamism and resiliency of natives to resist assimilation attests to their amazing cultural strength!


Most Christians do not have a sensitivity to native culture, nor do they understand how native church ministry must be inherently and structurally different. The purpose of this document is to provide an introduction to a new conceptual paradigm of preferred characteristics that could assist church leaders in establishing healthy First Nations churches within The Christian and Missionary Alliance. This paper is written by a "white man" primarily for non-native people, so white pastors and church leaders can understand what needs to be done for the establishing of healthy First Nations churches.3

Our Protestant denomination has been particularly seasoned in doing missions overseas for over one-hundred ten years. For every Alliance church in North America, there are four to five Alliance churches established in fifty-four countries worldwide. The challenge is to take that abundant missionary experience and make it relevant for cross-cultural church planting of First Nations churches within Canada. The tendency has been to put on a missions hat only when crossing the salt water and to establish native churches in Canada based on Anglo conceptual frameworks. Although the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada has formed their own district, to date there are only eight Cree Alliance churches in Saskatchewan out of approximately three-hundred eighty Canadian Alliance churches.

This paper is especially timely for The C & MA in Canada. A profound denominational reconciliation to settle past differences between First Nation leaders and national and district leaders has recently taken place. An October 1996 meeting in Saskatchewan involved seventeen hours together and included fourteen members of The C & MA Board of Directors and fourteen representatives from First Nations Alliance Churches.4

Perhaps because of previous failures and disappointments within native ministries, there is now an atmosphere of willingness to try new approaches. For example, within the facilities of Quinte Alliance Church in Belleville, Ontario, a First Nations Centre for Ministry was started in September 1996 for training leaders and influencers in native and cross-cultural ministries under the directorship of Rev. Adrian Jacobs (Cayuga).5

The C & MA Vice President of Canadian Ministries, Rev. Stuart Lightbody, who has guided the focus of this research and writing toward this practical topic of spirituality and culture, summarizes the current denominational climate:

We want to deal with the big issue of what is the best way we can relate together in the future. What is the best way for our diverse denomination to connect with First Nations churches and give them a sense of being part of the whole and yet be self determining?6

Similarly, internationally known evangelist, Billy Graham, once said in an American context:

The greatest moments of Native History may lie ahead of us if a great spiritual renewal and awakening should take place. The Native American has been a sleeping giant. He is awakening. The original Americans could become the evangelists who will help win America for Christ! Remember these forgotten people!7

The outline for this paper revolves around developing a sensitivity to First Nations people, conceptualizing preferred characteristics for healthy First Nations churches, and nurturing denominational affiliation.


The social and political issues relevant to First Nations people today begin with the historical relationship between white and First Nations culture as already summarized and continue through the current issues of self-government and land settlement. Understanding this history assists in recognizing the consistent clash of cultures. Developing a sensitivity to First Nations people also includes respecting native culture, understanding their worldview and values, and accepting their attempts to integrate being native and being Christian.


a. Redemptive Characteristics. Christianity not only judges culture, but affirms parts of culture that have redemptive characteristics. David Rausch and Blair Schlepp (Sioux) enumerate certain positive qualities that permeate native life:

respect for family, the preciousness of children, honoring the elderly, pride in craftsmanship, the value of working for a purpose with one's hands, listening to one's neighbor, being discrete (especially when another's honor and dignity are concerned), taking time to be introspective and contemplative about the mysteries of the universe, and valuing oral traditions that engender humbleness, sharing, and laughter.8

b. Cultural Differences. Respecting another culture transcends mere toleration. Contrasts can be easily made between native culture and white culture. White culture emphasizes success and ownership, while native culture emphasizes happiness and sharing.

Modern concepts of competition, structure, criticism, self-promotion, materialism, persuasion, and a compulsion for "bigness" are foreign to traditional Native American values. The modern emphasis on youthfulness is in distinct contrast to the Native Americans' respect for their elders. To the Native American, the fewer the rules the better, and laws should be flexible. Intuitive and mystical, the traditional Native American seems sadly out of place in our space-age, scientifically-oriented society. And yet many of the values expressed in this traditional culture are values that are an intrinsic part of the Judeo-Christian religious system.9

The purpose of these quotes is to provide a brief synopsis of two diverse cultures that exist side by side but are indeed worlds apart.10 To respect a person's culture is to respect their God-given distinctiveness.


Native people have a different worldview and different values than white people. Rausch and Schlepp illustrate this in the differing views of the westward expansion of European immigrants of the last century particularly in the Dakota Territory:

Whereas the Native Americans saw forests of game and berries, the white entrepreneurs saw lumber. Whereas Native Americans saw lush meadows and river valleys, the white intruders saw fields of crops. Whereas Native Americans saw the Black Hills as a sacred and serene beauty, the white prospectors saw only gold. Whereas the Native Americans saw a vast homeland to be honored and protected, the white settlers saw an empty land that had no people.11

a. Worldview. Richard Twiss (Lakota) provides a framework to understand some of the complex issues of a native worldview.

(1) Integrated View of Reality. Their worldview sees life with God and the supernatural as something that surrounds them at all times. They do not perceive a dichotomy between supernatural and natural worlds, between sacred and secular. Because of their geographical isolation from developing European philosophies, they avoided a split view of reality. Their view of reality is integrated rather than compartmentalized. Thus religion is viewed for them as a way of life, rather than as a privatized segment of life. For example, a Western worldview would question whether or not Balaam's donkey could actually talk. A native worldview would be more concerned with what the donkey had to say. A Westerner would conclude that someone who believed that animals and trees would talk is involved with animism, spiritism or pantheism. A native, however, would point to the fact that Jesus spoke directly to the winds and the waves, and they heard him and actually obeyed.12

(2) Living View of Creation. Moreover, native people see themselves as part of creation and relationally oriented toward nature, rather than being superior to it and over it. They endeavour to balance humanity and environment as a partnership between equality and respect. A Western view sees humanity as the master over nature, with nature's resources to be exploited, restructured and manipulated in order to serve humanity without respect to the will of nature. Nature is viewed by Westerners as having neither will, intelligence or desire, yet Romans 8:19 implies that nature has all three. A Westerner views the universe as inanimate objects to be used, as a place to accomplish progressive goals through the power of science and technology. Native culture, however, sees land as sacred to be respected, conserved and cared for, not as a commodity like time to be used and expended.13

(3) Circular View of Time. To the native time itself is qualitative, whereas to the Westerner time is quantitative. Westerners sell time, buy time, borrow time, waste time, kill time, make time up, and take time. But to the native person, the priority is the significant thing being done right then. They are more event-oriented than time-oriented. Moreover, they have a circular view of time versus a linear view. A linear view sees time as a flat line, moving from one end to the other, separated into past, present and future. But for natives everything is eternally connected, and time is viewed as an unbroken circle, the present and the future is forever connected to the past.14

(4) Communal View of Identity. Natives also have a corporate rather than an individual identity. Particularly American culture is characterized by the rugged individual who overcomes great obstacles to make it on their own. But native culture sublimates the single individual into the corporate community. They see themselves as one of the people. No one person rises too far above other people without giving back to the community. Historically, tribal survival depended upon its group solidarity. Focus continues to remain upon the family, tribe and clan with a strong sense of belonging to the greater community. This affects the perception of an individual converting to Christ. It may appear to threaten the integrity of the group and result in expulsion, because the decision is individualistic rather than based on the well-being of the whole tribe. A rejection of traditional tribalistic spiritistic practices can be viewed as a rejection of community, family and friends. Sensitivity to native social structures, therefore, is important when Christianity is introduced. It is helpful to recall that the strength of togetherness in community is a biblical concept.15

(5) Central View of Power. Finally, the most important element in a native worldview is power. The possession of power resulted in a bountiful harvest, a successful hunt, or a healthy birth. Conversely, those who fail in activities or suffer misfortune do so because they lack power. Power is the very life force of the universe. When facing sickness the Western mind will try to discover what was the "it" that caused the malady, whereas the native confronts a "Thou" who caused the sickness. They understand power as described in Colossians 1:17, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Perhaps one of the greatest problems faced by early missionaries was that Jesus Christ did not replace the traditional power core of native beliefs. Jesus was simply added on as another good source of power alongside others. More faith was placed in rituals and rites to bring peace, happiness and success. Jesus needed and needs to be perceived as the Source of power, as the new center, able to save completely now and not just in the future.16

b. Values. Richard Rupp, Assistant Crown Attorney for the District of Kenora, Ontario, ascertained five inherent values of natives. Without understanding these values, it is easy to misinterpret their actions and misperceive the real problems they face.17

(1) Non-Interference. Natives have a dominant ethic of non-interference. They tend not to "interfere in any way with the rights, privileges and activities of another person."18 They are loath to confront people or give advice if the person is not specifically asking for advice. To interfere is to be rude. They don't want to burden anyone in any way. This ethic even affects parenting, because native parents typically don't want to even force their children to do something. This internal posture also influences them to work within a dynamic equilibrium and harmony of life rather than to gain mastery over it.19

(2) Psychological Restraint. Another cultural rule is that emotions are not to be shown. Restraint of one's angry feelings is to be practiced. One's own thoughts and ideas are to be kept to oneself. Individual guilt and sorrow are to be forgotten quickly in order for the group to meet its survival challenges. A native will avoid emotional indulgence and thinking about their confusions and turmoil as well as avoid burdening someone else with their problems. What may appear as passive or acquiescent behaviour, or as a lack of responsive or cooperative expressions, may actually be cultural reticence. This ethic allows them to accept hardships and misfortunes without rancor or complaint. What can be perceived as a failure to "stand up and be counted" or to take action by force, no doubt flows from this psychological restraint of stoic acceptance.20

(3) Praise Constrained. This aspect follows into the traditionally proper way to show appreciation -- by asking a person to continue their contribution rather than to offer expressions of gratitude. In a survival culture, not sharing and not working hard were simply inconceivable. Doing something incorrectly or less than productively could result in disastrous results, so they have fostered an internal expectation of both effort and excellence.21

(4) Mental Preparation. Natives also practice a conservation-withdrawal tactic, a way of mental preparation by thinking things through before actually trying them. Rather than trying to instantly dominate their new surroundings or act up to try to draw attention to themselves, they retreat into positions of careful observation. There may be little talk, few decisions, and limited commitments made until all the variables of a situation have been carefully examined and weighed. They want to perform their task or role well, and thus mentally prepare themselves for the challenge.22

(5) Patient Waiting. Finally, natives believe in the notion of patiently waiting until the time is right. When all the variables combine together to bring about the best results, then the best moment has arrived to act. It is important to resist action until that best moment has arrived, to prepare oneself mentally and spiritually before acting, and then when the time is right to perform various tasks with concerted energy and focus.23

These aspects of a native worldview and their values contrast typical Western understanding and underscore the challenges of communication, and in a Christian context, the challenge of communicating the good news of Christ.


a. Cultural Denial. There is a strong perception among natives that to become Christian is to deny native culture, to enter the Christian faith is to betray native religious understanding. "Jesus" is perceived as the white man's way. Unfortunately, native Christian missions has often distorted the true gospel of Christ with colonial imperialism and its manifest destiny. While early Christian missionaries were endeavouring to do their best to do what was right, with good intentions, they ended up creating institutional structures and fostering social structures, such as, residential schools and reservations, that ultimately alienated natives from the gospel.24 Twiss summarizes:

The historical record of missions among the tribes of North America has been a saga filled with enormous potential -- and great sadness. Grief in the fact that so many of the early missionaries were unable to recognize and embrace the intrinsic God-given value of the people to whom they were sent. Instead they saw only uncivilized barbaric savages who needed not only to be saved from their sin, but forced to reject all their old "unnatural" ways of life to embrace the "superior" ways of the white man. The effect of this cultural bigotry is that today, among the hundreds of tribal groups around the world, Native North Americans are among those who have never seen the rise of an indigenous church movement nor a wide-spread revival. This has been and continues to be a great loss to the Body of Christ.25

Instead of respecting Native American traditions, valuing natives as fully human, understanding their culture, learning their language, and preserving their customs, missionaries have told natives to forget their Indianness and become just like them, to embrace and adopt white culture as the only Christian culture, to be assimilated into a Christian civilization. "The only hope for the tribes was to divest themselves of their antiquated beliefs and practices and to imitate as closely as possible the culture of White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. The 'savage' must be 'raised' to the level of civilized society."26 The one abiding theme in early Canadian missions "was the need to civilize the heathen savages before they could be converted to Christianity."27 In the words of one official the aim seemed to be, "Kill the Indian and save the man."28

Some missionaries did try to teach Christianity by understanding the language, relating to local religions and social customs, and building on common denominators, but they seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule.29

There were always some white Christians who fought against stripping tribes of their culture, saw value in the Native American way of life, sought to understand their Native American brothers and sisters, and fought against deceptive and evil actions by other whites.... But more often than not, Christians were immersed in the civil religion of their century, a civil religion that clouded the best that the Christian message has to offer.30

Moreover, natives have been told to embrace not just Jesus, but a new culture, a new set of values, and a new way of living that is in contradistinction to a native way of living. But even while Christianity has been rejected and the faith of the missionaries disparaged, natives do have a universal and traditional respect for Jesus as a spiritual person and leader. After all, Jesus was not white, but a Mediterranean Jew with darker skin and an olive complexion. A contemporary view of Christ needs to emerge from within native tradition.31 Writing as staff members of the Dr Jessie Saulteaux Resource Centre, an Aboriginal learning centre in Manitoba, McKay (Cree) and Silman emphasize the critical nature of an indigenous Christology.

How do we understand Jesus? The students spoke of "unlearning" distorted images of Jesus, images of an enthroned Jesus looking suspiciously like a European king, of Jesus silenced forever on the cross, of a pale, passive Jesus with blue eyes and blond hair. For many, that "unlearning" -- or "deconstruction" in formal theological terms -- was necessary in order to affirm images of Jesus with more meaning and creative power culturally: Jesus as healer, story-teller, teacher, guiding light, day-star, prophet -- central images shared by the biblical witness and the students' own cultural traditions.32

b. Cultural Integration. Twiss suggests that a growing number of evangelical native believers are beginning to use the term "The Jesus Way" to describe their faith in Christ. "It speaks of a way of life, a trail we walk on and live according to."33 Lakota people refer to Chanku, "the Road or Way." To non-believing native people, "The Jesus Way" is more in line with their approach to life, particularly since the word Christianity has come to mean the abusive religion of the white man.34 The Navajo have a concept of hozho which means "being in harmony and/or walking in life with beauty." Sin causes people to walk in darkness and disharmony with God. The good news is that Jesus can restore people to spiritual wholeness and harmony with God and life. The Jesus Way is the way to God and to successful living as a total person. Being fully native and fully Christian can be one.35

What is native? What is Christian? Where do they meet? Where do they overlap? Where do they conflict? The theological issues between native and Christian ways will remain in tension. Salient questions will continue to provoke dialogue and hopefully enrichment. No effort should be spared to facilitate an authentic native Christianity and to accept attempts for the integration of being both native and Christian.


While developing an overall sensitivity to First Nations people in general, there are a series of ten preferred characteristics that are specifically appropriate for establishing healthy First Nations churches. These preferred characteristics are: a commitment to critical contextualization, constructing local theologies, developing contextualized worship, nurturing a native theology, fostering native-appropriate church ministries, developing a healing community within relationships, releasing Christian native spirituality, initiating relevant church leadership structures, thinking holistically, and evangelizing sensitively.


a. Cultural Models. Many natives have concluded that to become Christian is to abandon their culture. Yet the idea of culture began with God and one's cultural identity is intrinsically neutral in defining who people are within their own people group. Jacobs wrote an article on contextualization that has been widely distributed among native Christians. In matters of fundamental doctrine concerning Christ and his work of redemption in his death, burial and resurrection, Jacobs is a conservative, but in methodology he is a liberal.36 He presents four different responses to culture.

(1) Rejection = the culture is eliminated or discarded as pagan and ungodly and is regarded as having little redeeming value. The result is often forced assimilation by a bigger and stronger foreign culture into another in the name of biblical evangelization.37

(2) Absorption = cultural beliefs and practices are incorporated or swallowed up by the church. Non-Christian religious rituals and beliefs are tolerated or allowed to coexist beside or within the church.

(3) Syncretism = the uniting of opposing views or the attempted union of different principles or practices. This is an attempt to marry two different and even opposing philosophies or religions. Without proper qualifications, the syncretist assumes that because the two are similar, they are the same or synonymous.38

(4) Sanctification = a proper biblical response of setting apart for God's intended purposes. This methodology acknowledges that every culture has good, godly elements as well as bad, evil elements. These cultural elements are appraised by the Word of God and are either kept, modified or rejected.39

An example of the sanctification of culture is provided by Jacobs. Among the Iroquois people, a ten day feast is held after the death of a loved one. Traditional teaching is that the spirit of the person hangs around for ten days after death, a feast must be held to feed the spirit so it can go on its journey to where it should go, and a ceremony with prayers and the burning of tobacco that carries prayer to the Creator is held. He transformatively suggests a "Ten Day Memorial Feast" to meet with the grieving family and friends ten days after the death of a loved one. Included with prayer, the remembrance of the departed loved one, and the fellowship of supportive people, incorrect Iroquois teaching can be corrected.40

b. Contextualization Explained. Contextualization or "indigenization is the expression of the essence of the gospel in cultural forms and thought-patterns by native people in a specific historic context."41 Contextualizing the good news of Jesus is presenting the Christian message to native people in a way that they will understand based on their worldview and values and release their creative energies toward God.

Contextualization deals with cultural heritage by studying and examining old beliefs, rituals, stories, songs, customs, art and music within their cultural settings and in the light of the Word of God before accepting or rejecting them. Local church leaders must lead the congregation in uncritically gathering and analyzing the traditional customs in question in order to understand them not merely to evaluate them. Then, a careful study can be done about the question under consideration within God's Word. Evaluation of the old in the light of biblical teachings will guide the group in making mature decisions regarding their use. Finally, new contextualized Christian practices can be created. Some old ways may be kept because there is no scriptural conflict discerned, while other old ways may be rejected as unscriptural. Sometimes old ways may be modified and given clear Christian meaning. Sometimes a new Christian way may replace an old way that is rejected. Sometimes a totally new way may be created that is indigenous to that culture.42

c. Contextualization Subjects. Hodgson and Kothare suggest the following subjects for contextualization that could be shot through with native colour, scent, sound and breath:

native myths, legends, customs, rituals, symbols, chants, dances, music, drums, the peace pipe, storytelling, sign language, blankets, robes, vestments, carvings, masks, banners, paintings, totem symbolism, folk games, furnishings, altar cloths, architecture, oratory, languages, funeral customs, sweetgrass, sweat lodges, vision quests, invocations to the Great Spirit, silence, contemplation, humour, wisdom of the elders, community spirit, nature mysticism, healing, prophecy, and so forth.... Surely Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and for ever more; and it is the same everlasting gospel, but the shape, form, and manner in which it is preached, received, and lived out is bound to vary from people to people.43

These aspects of culture need to be prayerfully thought through by church leaders. As in Acts 15 the challenge is to adjust to contemporary needs and situations while retaining the core that is essential to biblical truth.

d. Discerning Balance. Contextualization, furthermore, is a process of cultural and spiritual transformation guided by the Holy Spirit. There are inherent dangers of a superficial adaptation of native elements. "Genuine inculturation must embody the essence of the church in a culture, not just the outward forms of drums, sweetgrass, and ceremonial costumes."44 Syncretism is not an authentic integration of native spirituality with the Christian faith. Syncretism is the absorption of the tenets of one faith into the system of another.45

Most Christians would probably find themselves theologically on a continuum between contextualization and syncretism, between what is to be encouraged and what is not to be allowed. There are legitimate dangers of native spirituality bordering on pantheism or animism which are inherently non-Christian and potentially anti-Christian.46 For native Christianity to be Christian, it must center upon Jesus Christ as the unique revelation of the Creator God and the Saviour of the world. While "their reverence for nature and their relation of kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water enable them to teach us how to live justly, respectfully and in harmony with our world and each other,"47 there still is a justifiable caution to avoid a loss of emphasis on Christ and him crucified. True contextualization seeks a scriptural and cultural balance.

e. Contextual Artisans. Perhaps the crux of the issue here is who does the contextualization. It is not the mere translation of Scriptures, hymnals and worship liturgies into native languages that is key. The key is to permit native Christians to contextualize the gospel into their own culture and to trust the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth and keep them from error. Hodgson and Kothare underscore this: "It is not for white people to tell natives how they can bring their culture into church."48 To think that white theologians are to serve as theological chaperones and guardians of the truth is to continue to foster a paternalistic attitude and patronizing spirit. The foremost preferred characteristic in establishing healthy First Nations churches is a commitment to critical contextualization.


a. Discerning Uniquenesses. Although there are commonalties among North American natives, there are around four hundred Indian nations in the United States and around fifty in Canada, each with their own separate culture, thought, government, language, and spiritual way of life. Being sensitive to these tribal uniqueness can provide the foundation for constructing local theologies. There is not one over-riding native theology or spirituality. What is appropriate to one tribe may be alien to another. "It is as wrong for one group of Indian people to force their 'spirituality' on others, as they claim it was for the 'whiteman' to force his religion, Christianity, upon them."49

There are also differences between natives living on reservations up north, those interfacing closer to urban centres, and those within urban centres. Those living in urban centres, for example, are losing their individual tribal uniquenesses and are embracing a pan-Indian identity. Establishing church ministries in these localities need to take these aspects into account. In regards to language, churches may use a local tribal dialect, English, or an integration of both languages depending on the acculturation with its locality.

b. Capitalizing on Bridges. The challenge is to nurture a true Christian spirituality while allowing natives to remain Indians culturally. God has endowed natives with many redemptive blessings, many bridges within native heritage in which to present the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

Carl Starkloff suggested that natives already have fundamental "beliefs in (1) the High God as Creator, Maker, or Spirit, (2) intermediary divinities, (3) creation, (4) eschatology or 'last things,' and (5) an elaborate cosmology affecting the whole range of religious activities."50 Another contemporary missionary suggested the following strengths within native spirituality:

the many parallels with the Old Testament tradition, such as a monotheistic vision of God, a profound sensitivity to the spirit world, a creation-centered spirituality, an ethic of sharing, respect for prophets and elders, a belief in the direct revelation of God through dreams and visions, sacred signs and symbols, holy places, the healing gifts of medicine people, a moral view of man, a Deuteronomic sense of sin and retribution, sacrifice, fasting, the belief in eternal life, and the idea of covenant with God and with other people sealed through gifts.51

These can be effective bridges of communicating biblical truth between Indian and Christian ways. The tendency has been to compartmentalize native and Christian spiritualities, rather than to accept people as they are, respect their culture, promote what is good in their tradition, harmonize what can be harmonized, and build on what can be developed within that particular tribal context.

c. Local Expressions. "Church" for the Hopi, for example, should focus on public worship, celebration and instruction "in the streets" and more in-depth discipleship "in homes." This is because traditional Hopi religious expression focuses on both public katchina and private kiva ceremonies.52 Hodgson and Kothare also provide an example of a charismatic-Salvation Army-type worship service in an Anglican setting.

Gospel songs and charismatic choruses are belted out to the accompaniment of drums, electric guitars, an organ or piano, cymbals, tambourines, accordions, and every sort of brass instrument. The noisier the better.... During the service different people are chosen to start the hymns or choruses, to read the lesson, to preach, and to pray.... The sermon is followed by an altar call and then singing takes over with testimonies in between.53

What is particularly important to note here is that the Christianity of these Nisga people is directly fed by their indigenous tradition and spirituality. Furthermore, public confession, the communal laying on of hands in forgiveness, prayers for healing, and public restoration are all part of their native tradition, is continued in contextualized ways, and is characterized in their services. For them, salvation is not just private forgiveness for moral lapses or a personal hope for a future heavenly home, but "a rebuilding of the whole community, a healing of broken interpersonal relationships, a reconciliation, a resolution of tribal feuds, a restoration of losses, the strengthening of the tribe as one big family."54 The event of reconciliation may include a penitential feast sponsored by the family, a public confession and ceremonial cleansing, as well as speeches of encouragement by the elders. In other words, they have constructed a local Christian theology of corporate worship and communal fellowship based on their primary native orientation. Discerning these uniquenesses and capitalizing on redemptive bridges can lead to effective local expressions of doing church.


There are methods of contextualizing native traditional ways within preaching and teaching, praying and singing, evangelizing and healing, celebrating and ritualizing without becoming syncretistic. Traditional stories, prayers and ceremonies may be contextualized within native Christian worship. Church buildings themselves may be different, possibly meeting in homes as house churches or community halls where natives can sit in a circle rather than in rows.

a. Worship Traditions. Many natives are attracted to more liturgical, colourful and ceremonial styles of worship and dress as within Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies. This connects to their artistic communication talents of expressing their inner thoughts and feelings through designing, painting, using colors and patterns, using shapes and forms, using handicrafts, and composing music.55 Others are more attracted to Pentecostal emphases on the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, visions and prophecy. This makes sense to their traditional native understandings of the Great Spirit, the life-giving power of spirit, good and bad medicine, and gifts that can be used for good or bad. Pentecostal movement of both body and spirit with musical rhythm and repetition corresponds to pow-wow dancing to the drum. Giving personal stories and testimonies is based on their traditional sharing circles and storytelling. Pentecostal worship services provide an opportunity for everyone to sing and speak, rather than restricting everyone to sing in a passive way or allowing only one person to speak.56 Lessons for developing contextualized worship can be learned and blended from these diverse traditions.

b. Worship Music. No account of Indian religious practices is complete without some reference to music, singing, chanting, dancing and drumming. These touch the very heart of their way of life and expression. They sang in their tents before an expedition. They sang when going into battle. They sang when capturing horses or buffalos. They had songs for fishing and hunting, for marriages and funerals. The mood of the song varied according to the occasion. How non-native most music and liturgy must appear to them in today's Church! How wonderful it would be if natives were encouraged to compose their own indigenous church music that would meet their own emotional and aesthetic needs, instead of merely transplanting Euro-American tunes and lyrics into their culture.57

Jacobs adds that since music is an expression of the heart language of a people, it is primarily indigenous. Often native music that utilizes the drum, rattle and chant have been rejected because of its association with native non-Christian religious ceremonies. But this is like rejecting an entire language because it is deemed unusable for Christian expression. Jacobs doesn't advocate bringing in old songs from one's pre-Christian experience. Rather he sees the singing of the Word of God, heart devotion, teaching and exhortation in the native traditional style of music.58

An ancient saying among native still prevails: "We always remember who we are as long as we keep dancing."59  Yet many native dances, drumming, festivals and ceremonies were suppressed and forbidden as the devil's work in the last century.60 Today, fortunately, they are being transformatively recovered by some.61

c. Worship Symbols. In addition, the world of rituals, symbols and images have a profound depth within native understanding. Sacramental traditions seen in Anglican and Catholic traditions connect to a native sense of ritual drama. The Anglican tradition has capitalized on this more than other Protestants with aspects such as:

beautifully beaded collection bags, intricately embroidered banners, carvings in local wood and stone, symbolically designed altar cloths and liturgical vestments, paintings and murals graphically depicting native scenes and imagery, and stained-glass windows with both historical and symbolic iconography.62

This list certainly evokes creative thinking in symbols. Yet care must be given when connecting symbols to meaning, because some religious symbols can go too far or communicate the wrong notion. Some old symbols may be able to retain their original meaning within a Christian context, whereas other symbols may serve a new purpose, acquire a new meaning, gradually be redefined, and sometimes discontinued. Certainly symbols cannot always be transplanted into another historical context. Finally, it is improper to take a symbol that has specific and purposeful meaning to natives and attempt to incorporate it within Western worship.63 "Misappropriating and misrepresenting whatever fragments of spirituality are left among indigenous people is unethical and spiritually misguided."64 Native worship traditions, music and symbols can be contextualized within Christianity.


a. Self-Theologizing. In addition to becoming self-governing, self-supporting and self-reproducing, the native Christian church needs to be self-theologizing. Some have suggested that doing theology or thinking theology as an intellectual discipline is a decidedly non-native activity. Conventional Euro-American theology is doctrinal, rational and dogmatic, while native Christian theology is experiential, performative and confessional.65 The starting point for theology must be different, because natives have a great capacity for doing theology when they are permitted to do theology their way.66 Natives "do theology" differently. Now that many have rejected a "replacement theology" of the past that sought to change them into Europeans, some are now considering a "fulfillment theology" of Christ. This means affirming their own cultures and traditions and acknowledging that Christian natives are still natives while being made whole or fulfilled as people in Christ.67

b. Theological Keystones. Even though there is no homogeneous native theological viewpoint, there are some tribal and national commonalties of theological beliefs. Some of those are: a focus in God as the Creator, the interrelationship and community of people and society, and a stewardship of creation in harmony with the earth.68 An integrated emphasis on the Creator, creation, Recreator and community appears to be an authentic reflection of the core and root of native culture and can potentially become a primary starting point for nurturing a native Christian theology.69

(1) Creator. Paul Shultz (Ojibwe) and George Tinker (Osage/Cherokee) seem to affirm this kind of emphasis. They argue that the theological starting point for native people is God's gracious act of creation and from there can proceed to God's gracious act of redemption in Christ Jesus. Building on the core value of balance and harmony, health and wholeness, emphasis can be applied not just on the individual, but for the community, for all people, and for all creation.70

(2) Creation. Moreover, to the native eye, the created, physical world is immersed in the spiritual world. Whereas Europeans went out to colonize, conquer and exploit the world, natives viewed the world as peopled with stones, trees, birds and animals. These had a personal, sacred, ethical, spiritual and human quality to their essence.

Stones were alive. Trees talked. Birds had feelings. Animals had a conscience. The earth rejoiced and hurt. Here was a world-view deeply mystical, consistently ethical, maturely philosophical, and magically sacramental.71

To the native nature has always been sacred. They were the first ecologists. They had a reverence for nature and related to all creatures of the earth. They endeavored to live respectfully in harmony with the created order.

(3) Recreator. Following themes of Creator and creation, the specific emphasis on God as Recreator is expressed by Jacobs.

The God as Recreator idea recognizes there is a need to change something to enjoy the benefits of God's original intention. Something has happened to estrange man and adoption is a mean to reincorporation. This makes the cross, which is God's means of reconciling man to Himself, the central deciding issue of whether you will enjoy God's purposes in the family idea, or not.72

He further explains from the Iroquoian worldview how adoption is a clear concept to convey the idea of recreation. To legitimize one's heritage in the traditional Iroquoian society, one must be born of an Iroquoian mother or be adopted. To be adopted into an Iroquoian society meant full acceptance. Even prisoners of war were adopted and given full and free acceptance. When given the opportunity for freedom, they often did not return to their foreign nations. "Others sought to come under the shadow of the Tree of Peace planted by the Peacemaker and were incorporated through adoption."73

As Creator, God made everyone just the way they are. The word onkwehonwe in Iroquois means original being and knowing one's place in Iroquoian society. Since sin has estranged humanity and necessitates repentance, adoption becomes the means for reincorporation to God. Thus God is both Creator and Recreator.74

(4) Community. A fourth primary theological belief is community. Shultz and Tinker further discuss how the doctrine of justification by faith has come to be understood as individualistic in Western intellectual thought. "But a true Native interpretation will speak of justification as an act of God that brings whole communities or congregations into a healthy relationship with their Creator."75 There is a greater appreciation for integration of the whole community in relationship to the Creator and even with all of creation. Likewise, sin is understood as community imbalance and disharmony.

Protestant Reformation theology often inaccurately begins with an individualistic sin-centered message, rather than a communal Christ-centered message. Native Christians have a cultural advantage to be able to acknowledge and readily appreciate a Christ-centered message over a sin-centered message. This is not to say that natives have no doctrine of original sin or understanding of the existence of evil in humanity. Native history contains many stories of evil and wrongdoing. First Nations people are not totally innocent victims. They have done their share of injustices. The concept of the noble savage is a romantic view. Nevertheless, properly understood, natives do have a doctrine of original sanctity. They believe that imbalance and disharmony exists in individuals and in communities, and the goal is to help restore the balance and harmony that is inherently within them.76 This

is a necessary manifestation of a core conviction: the conviction that each person is derived from the Creator, is defined by the Creator's goodness, and can aspire to a spiritual sanctity that approximates, at least in kind, that possessed by the Creator. When a person misbehaves and causes harm, it does not prove that he is a malevolent creature, only that he is in need of assistance to bring himself back to himself again. Furthermore, within this belief system, each person and each community is under the Creator's duty to offer that assistance when it is needed.77

Thus a focus on individual guilt and atonement for individual sins is not a relevant connecting point to their culture. Individual identity is measured by participation in the community. The needs of the community come before the needs of the individual. Natives often live, work, pray and become Christian together, or they often will not become Christian at all. John 3:16 does emphasize that "God so loved the world." Thus, for natives, "the doctrine of justification by faith must mean that God has once again proclaimed the whole world to be healthy, sane, capable, and whole, and me a part of it."78 Sin is viewed as tribal disintegration as well as personal destruction, and thus community wholeness is the goal of native people. The frequent interweaving of the theological keystones of Creator, creation, Recreator and community can become primary sources for nurturing a native theology.


Areas to fostering native-appropriate church ministries are in native-style preaching, through small and large group meetings, by using elders as mentors, and through sensitive program development.

a. Native Preaching. For preaching skills to be relevant to natives, an emphasis needs to be on graphic, circular and storytelling formats. Preaching must be relevant to give the emerging church some vision of how to be spiritual people and how to fulfill their needs. Native preachers can discover Bible passages that apply to their unique cultural needs as they reread the Bible with native eyes. Preachers can use native thought patterns and imagery as well as native history and folklore to build on their own national identity and consciousness. Teaching children can take place through example, learning by discovery, storytelling, and taking part in worship.

b. Group Meetings. Native people have a propensity to congregate by families, clans and tribes. Thus, small group settings may be more effective for weekly group meetings. House churches may be preferred over institutional church buildings. The Hopi tribe, for example, should not pursue the use of church buildings, because their sacred places, kivas, are located among the homes of traditional villages.79

The twofold purpose of small groups may be for encouragement and outreach, for discipleship and evangelism, for nurture and mission. Encouragement can take place by using spiritual gifts for "one another" ministry -- through singing, sharing, praying, and Bible application. Outreach can take place by setting out an empty chair, praying for the person who will next fill that chair, welcoming the newcomer, and, if they don't know Jesus, believing that the love of God through the small group will enable them to come to a personal relationship with Christ.

Large group gatherings, on the other hand, may follow the seasonal traditions, such as, through initiating annual tent meetings in the summer. With skillful imagination seasonal holidays and ceremonies can exemplify a combination of Christian and social gatherings.

c. Elder Mentors. Guidance through mentoring or discipleship is particularly appropriate for older believers. In native culture "the aged were recognized as repositories of sacred knowledge and wisdom, from whom valuable learning could be obtained."80 Since this is part of their orientation to begin with, how natural it is to capitalize on this method as a truly biblical approach. Spiritual life can be transferred from generation to generation, from life to life, from the elder to the younger.

d. Program Development. In regards to program and curriculum development in Christian education and disciple making, it is important to identify styles and methods applicable to native people. First, the native way of thinking and reasoning is cyclic. This underlines the importance of going around and around using concrete stories and examples before getting to the heart of an issue. Second, certain methods of communicating are particularly appropriate. In verbal expression, concrete and descriptive language that depicts a visual and earthy style is helpful. In nonverbal language, the use of inner feelings and intuitions are effective. In silence, a deep sense of contemplation is communicated. A potential framework for discipleship and ministry formation could include a discovery of one's personal truth as a native and as a Christian, a focus on creation truths in both the tribe and in the Scriptures, and the personal experience of Jesus. The purpose is to enable people to live in harmony with God as Creator, with oneself, with one another, and with all creation in light of the good news of Jesus Christ.81


In establishing First Nations churches, priority must be given to developing community relationships in order to become a healing community. Fostering group identity and open communication are integral to native ministries. Bulwarks of native society include "taking one's place in society, respecting tradition, and maintaining a cooperative spirit."82 Home fellowship groups where social integration is foundational can be a critical link for a church to become a healing community of believers.

a. Support Engendered. Many natives need guidance in processing grief, anger and pain. Many have suffered from dysfunctional relationships and are victims of sexual and/or physical abuses or neglect. The Serendipity Group has given the First Nations Alliance Churches the right to contextualize their curriculum for small groups which can easily be adapted for these purposes.83 Emphasis can be given to close fellowship alongside care groups, support groups and recovery groups. Issues of abuse, addictions, spiritual warfare and deliverance can be given primary attention. Weekend seminars can be sponsored by the church on practical how-to topics, for example, managing family finances, parenting and bonding skills, or ministry to natives in crisis. Negative cycles can be broken and psychological healing nurtured within a wholesome relational context of smaller group settings without promoting dependency or assimilation. Whereas there may be opportunities for prayer for instantaneous healings, healing is oftentimes a process.

b. Reconciliation Practiced. Moreover, appropriate ways for reconciliation and conflict resolution need to be practiced. Native people need to know how to interrelate effectively, to become a healing community within these relationships. The tendency is to suppress latent hostilities, rather than to speak the truth in love. Openness to honest dialogue is to be preferred over harsh debate.

c. Restoration Pursued. Natives are also opposed to structures that focus primarily on punishment and are more responsive to corrective measures that focus on teaching and counselling, on compensation and restitution. They may need to learn how to avoid contact with spiritual contamination and how to overcome it. But whereas an individual in a non-native society must be punished for being a bad person, natives view wrongdoing as a misbehaviour that requires teaching or as an illness that requires healing.84 In regards to the typical Canadian court process:

The Elders seem to think it counter-productive to tell an offender constantly how much damage he has done, how he has hurt others, how it is his failure to control his harmful impulses that is to blame. Instead, they seem to make a deliberate attempt to improve each offender's self-esteem by reminding him of his potential for goodness, of his capacity to move forward, with help, towards self-fulfillment. Their constant emphasis is upon respect, including respect for one's self.85

Isolating people from the community through imprisonment, who are already socially estranged because of their delinquent activities, fosters more defiant alienation and further hinders the healing process. Healing and harmonious relationships can be engendered within the context of a close-knit community even under difficult circumstances. The point here is that the local church needs to be seen as a healing community, where harmony of life is accepted with gratitude, maintained and restored, and where reconciliation and healing is a continuous process.


What does Christian native spirituality look like? The following are suggestions that native spirituality is or should be integrated, land-oriented, Holy Spirit energized, and experiential.

a. Integrated Spirituality. Native spirituality is a way of life. "One universal characteristic in traditional Native American religion was that it was never put in a separate realm of one's life, but rather was pervasively present."86 All aspects of daily life, the sacred and the secular, were all intertwined. Their spiritual belief system led them into a balance of communing with the Creator while at the same time pursuing their own life purpose. Spiritual guides were necessary to direct them to understand wisdom and to live life. Everything had a purpose -- grieving and mourning, fasting and prayer, giving and laughter. Everything contributed to the fullness of life.87 Natives have escaped the tragic dichotomy of Western civilization. Without a separation between medicine, religion and culture, a place is ready made for holistic spirituality, health, healing and harmony to be practiced. As one church leader stated, "A Halleluia religion is not enough. The church must be involved with political and justice issues as well."88 Within natives there is no tension or contradiction between spirituality and justice issues, between the sacred and ecology. An integrated spirituality is their strength.

b. Earth Spirituality. Native spirituality is also deeply rooted in the land and environmental conditions.89 This sense of spatiality and land rootedness shows up in their ceremonial structures, symbols, architecture, and the symbolic parameters of a tribe's universe.90 Fundamental to a native view of reality is the sense of kinship with plants and animals and a sensitivity to live harmoniously, respectfully and even reverently with fellow creatures and nature. Natives have been more interested in attuning themselves with their environment and in appreciating the beauty and wisdom of the land in silence, rather than through accumulating possessions or engaging in constant talk. This contemplative spirit led them to master their environment. They were better off practically as they acquired provisions, better off holistically as they become more at one with their surroundings, and better able spiritually to commune with the Holy Forces responsible for the world.91

For native Christian spirituality, it would be important to articulate a spirituality of interrelationship. Human persons are interdependent caretakers of the earth. In a global community that is destroying the earth, true believers should care about the earth and its resources. The goals are balance, harmony, order and reciprocity with creation, to guard the integrity of world, realizing that all of creation has value simply because God made it. Each and every creature is created to display God's glory. Plants and animals, vegetables and minerals do not have a utilitarian existence to serve humanity, but rather to live for God's good pleasure.

As interconnected companions Christians are to serve as partners and companions with God, with the earth, and with all living things for the sake of God's glory. This will lead to a striving for peace and the acknowledgement of mutual dependence. Humanity is actually the weakest of creation, entirely dependent on all other created life forms for mere existence. Gratitude, nurture and equality are to be accorded to all creation in sharing and belonging to the earth. Moreover, a spirituality of interrelationship avoids the simplistic views of ownership or stewardship of the earth as good managers and accountable trustees of creation that have appeared more as dominating owners on one hand and the dangers of a universal oneness of the pantheist and a subtle worship of creation above the Creator on the other hand. All of creation is sacred to natives.92

c. Pneumatological Spirituality. Emphasis on gifts of the Holy Spirit connects to the native orientation to special powers of healing and prophecy, storytelling and leadership. Moreover, gifts of the Spirit are appropriate to a strong community emphasis. Even those with physical disabilities are valued because they have other sensitivities that make them valuable to community.93 Notions of holiness and power also seem to be linked together.94 Natives are particularly sensitive to the supernatural.

d. Experiential Spirituality. Spirituality for natives also involves the tactile senses of sight, hearing and smell. Perhaps this would be part of the attraction for heightened consciousness in songs and drums, sweat lodge ceremonies, even the peyote cult. Church leaders can continually ask the question -- what kind of Christian spiritualities involves these senses?

Moreover, for natives the spiritual experiences of ecstasies, dreams and visions is also an integral part of their psyche and are primary modes of revelation. Dreams and visions were often part of a vision quest ceremony when a boy entering maturity sought the help of a guiding spirit. Throughout life visions and dreams were important on the eve of great decisions and great battles.95 These methods of hearing God speak is not to be denied. It is time to unleash truly native Christian spirituality which seems to revolve around emphases on a holistic integration, the earth and the environment, the work of the Holy Spirit, and tangible spiritual experiences.


White ecclesiastical and bureaucratic structures are not effective among natives. Natives have different models of leadership and different ways of making decisions. Relevant church leadership structures and administrative policies themselves need to reflect native traditions and experiences.

a. Church Leadership. Church government is more successful when led through shared leadership. Shared leadership is different than the lone ranger approach that is common to many Anglo communities. Shared leadership means that everyone has an important contribution to make. Both male and female leadership can serve in primary leadership roles. Even those who are inexperienced can offer leadership in humble ways while respecting the developed leadership gifts in others.96 Perhaps this insight could promote more experimentation on "team" approaches to pastoral leadership.

b. Consensus Leadership. Decisions among natives are made in consultation together on a consensus basis and is sometimes called "stalking the buffalo." This is decidedly different than the British parliamentary procedure commonplace in white churches. Consensus discussion requires time, respects the individual, and emphasizes agreement. Adversative democracy may be characterized by boisterous haranguing and emphasizes voting efficiency, respecting the majority, and assumes polarity.

Business meetings for natives may appear to Westerners to be less structured around tight programming, detailed agendas, carefully prepared speeches or papers, and clearly stated objectives. Native style meetings may be characterized more by people speaking from the heart -- expressing joy, sharing pain and sorrow, imparting wisdom, philosophizing, talking about native culture and religious customs, and voicing concern about present problems.97

Making decisions by consensus may take place with everyone sitting in a circle, respecting each other, majoring on core issues, and giving everyone a voice which builds community. Everyone may make lengthy speeches which recite facts but contain no opinions or recommendations. Everyone contributes to make the decision "their" decision. No one feels left out or less than adequate. Votes based on majority percentages are divisive and do not build community for them. No motions need to be passed for everyone to know what decisions have been collectively made within native congregations.

They participate in what has also been called a "democratic mysticism." This means that mystical insight is not given to a chosen few, but is the birthright of every individual who is willing to live in harmony with creation. Thus, all natives are equally great; all are equally unique and important. No one is greater than the next. Each native person, therefore, can participate in discussion and decision-making.98

Relationships and community building is more important than decision making. The underlying belief seems to be that right decisions will emerge as the relationships are forged. A process of distillation through joint thinking leads to a general agreement on which facts are the most significant and which leads to the one reasonable conclusion. "The conclusion itself need not even be articulated; everyone goes away knowing what it is."99 Natives can and need to govern themselves.100

c. Church Ordination. Though not a new structure, the Alliance has made provision for ordaining native pastors in recent years which could be taken advantage of more often. The policy concerning ordination procedures for native pastors includes: evidence of a specific call of God into ministry; graduation from a recognized theological college, or completion of a theological extension course, or an equivalent of Bible knowledge; four years of successful ministry, two of which under the direction of a senior native minister or missionary; and being interviewed by a special ordination committee appointed by the First Nations Alliance Church Committee.101 There appears to be no restriction for either men or women pastors which could be culturally relevant and contextually applicable. Perhaps the only modification that could be considered is that the mentor could also be someone who is cross-culturally sensitive as, no doubt, a missionary would be. Native church leadership structures are inherently different.


An emphasis on the whole person includes spiritual, mental, social and physical dimensions. Physical activities, such as sport activities and gym nights, are just as important to natives as Bible studies. Social opportunities are just as important as mental development. Likewise, personal and communal wholeness is also found through a significant religious identity. "The relationship of health with ourselves, our community and with all creation is a spiritual relationship. The need of the universe is the individual need to be in harmony with the Creator."102 All of existence is viewed as spiritual. Because of past emotional trauma and dysfunction, specialized attention is often required to overcome unresolved personal issues. A holistic emphasis can be applied in personal healing and leadership development.

a. Holistic Healing. Rupp suggests three mechanisms for intellectual and spiritual healing and coping among natives. First, holistic healing needs to involve the whole family. All must know what each person suffers so that all can contribute toward comfort and help, rather than unwittingly contributing by making matters worse. Sharing grief and sorrow verbally with other loved ones and disclosing the traumas of the past rather than burying them is an effort to finally leave them behind. Another part involves putting a stamp of approval on the disclosure and discussion of private feelings and past traumatic events. Natives are not always used to this and may have to learn how to express their emotions, articulate their concerns, and ask for and give assistance. Finally, the use of traditional ceremonies enable them to find cleansing and to prompt them to rededicate themselves toward helping other family members in need.103

b. Holistic Leaders. Church ministry and training for leadership particularly needs to center around the issues of wholeness. Harmony of life is a process not just a goal. Native leaders need to recognize that in order to be effective in ministry, they must see themselves in the process of being made whole. This personal growth requires honest accountability in a peer setting. While some healing may take place instantaneously, the emphasis must be on the process. Process healing and reconciliation takes place continually within the individual, between relationships, and among groups. Care can be given to nurture Christian character qualities so that doing flows out of being. The more church leaders grow past emotional trauma and dysfunction, the better equipped they will be to lead their congregations into wholeness.

c. Pastors Mentored. Younger native pastors particularly need to be linked to native mentors or at least to seasoned mentors that have cross-cultural sensitivities.104 If native pastors are serving in a local church, concentrated mentoring or peer support groups may be established to meet together on a systematic weekly or monthly basis. Another possibility is for native pastors and church leaders to continue to serve their churches and attend, for example, four or five two-week learning modules per year. These learning modules can combine both academic training and personal mentoring among other native pastors and church leaders under the supervision of other native leaders and those culturally sensitive to them. This methodology prevents uprooting leaders from their community and provides long-term continuity and benefit to the community.105 Beginning with church leaders and continuing throughout the church community, thinking holistically is critical to church health and growth.


a. Present Christ. Writing as a native to natives, Marie Therese Archambault (Hunkpapa Lakota), explains the meaning of sensitive evangelization. In light of the memory of oppression, natives can choose a dignified way to respond to their history by not only relearning and integrating their tribal histories and cultures and not seeking vengeance upon those who destroyed them, but by listening to the gospel again with loving self-respect and dignity, and by taking a fresh look at the message and traditions of the church.

Evangelization may begin by first decolonizing the gospel, by subtracting male chauvinism and cultural superiority, and then by leading people to encounter or experience anew the risen Jesus. A call to conversion is the call to transformation into a way of life that is compatible with the gospel and the best of one's own culture. The purpose of the gospel is not to destroy one's cultural heritage but to transform it and give vitality to culture. Its presentation to a people is to based on a view of their world from the inside with respect to their cultural values and the pace at which that people can assimilate the message. Jesus Christ can then be seen as one of them through his incarnation.106

b. Practical Guidelines. Furthermore, Archambault suggests ways that will make it easier for natives to hear the good news of Jesus -- a sense of relationship, humour, generosity and sharing. Obstacles to evangelization to be avoided include native codependency, paternalism and codependent kindness.107 Finally, her praxis for evangelization involves the following components:

Prayer based on native ceremonies and Christian ritual.
Revival of the memory of who natives were as a people before the coming of Western culture.
Grieving for what was lost, so that they can move on.
Celebrating the new awareness that comes with healing.
Naming the way of the future through reflection.108

Through this process the incarnate Christ will be seen with a native face and the Holy Spirit will call them to be both native people and native Christians.

Discussion of these ten preferred characteristics could assist church leaders in establishing healthy First Nations churches.


On a broader scale, nurturing denominational affiliation will open windows to a more expansive ministry. Reconciliation is preferred over liberation. Denominational equality can be cultivated. Fledgling churches can be tactfully incorporated.


a. Liberation Eschewed. Robert Allen Warrior (Osage) has persuasively argued that liberation theology is not as effective within native understanding. When they read the Old Testament story of the Exodus, a primary text for liberation theologians, they read about God as the conqueror and identify themselves as "the Canaanites, the people who already lived in the promised land." 109 They read the Exodus narrative with Canaanite eyes, as the indigenous people who are to be dispossessed and destroyed. Furthermore, former governmental policy for expelling natives from their lands -- "the Indians must go" -- was sometimes justified theologically and promoted aggressively by those who "considered the Indians to be the Canaanites expelled by Joshua." 110 Christian missions history has also led natives to believe that if they would not be converted, then they are worthy of annihilation. The voice they would like to express is this: "Let my people go and leave my people alone."111 To others, such as Vine Deloria, Jr. (Yankton Sioux), liberation theology is not radical enough in eliminating oppression for natives, because it still is based on a Western view of reality and does not appear to construct a reality based on a fundamental tribal worldview.112

It also appears that liberation is not conducive to native culture, even though they fit the pattern of oppression of the marginalized. The internalized traditional rules of non-interference, anger that is not to be shown, and conservation as a withdrawal tactic, prevent the natives from aggressively pursuing liberation on a practical and cultural level.113

b. Reconciliation Embraced. Ray Aldred (Cree), among others, promotes a different model, a paradigm of reconciliation. This model promotes an experience of community through knowing the same God of the Bible as white Christians, living among them as a foreign people, while still preserving their own separate cultural identity. Reconciliation promotes a harmonious and friendly relationship while acknowledging and accepting differences and fostering unity among diversity.114

c. Repentance Espoused. A theology of identificational repentance is based on Scripture texts such as the broken treaty between Israel and the Gibeonites in Joshua 9:1-27 and 2 Samuel 21:1-14. Judgment had fallen upon Israel because a four hundred year old treaty had been broken, even though the original covenant had been based on deceit and fraud. God holds people to their covenant promises and cares about broken treaties.115

Significant barriers to the advancement of the gospel is caused by the perception among First Nations people that Christianity, as represented by all churches, has been guilty of abuses and injustices against their people. Churches are shunned and the gospel is rejected, because First Nations people see the church as perpetuating a denial of these sins. Spiritual walls of resistance have been erected that prevent effective church expansion among their people group. The premise is that sins committed by former generations, left unconfessed, have at the very least, a significant effect on future generations.116

White Christians can take the initiative in identifying with their nation's sinful history as their present day responsibility through both personal and corporate repentance. It is not enough to say, "Neither I nor the denomination I serve has, in my lifetime, done anything wrong to hurt or demean natives as individuals or their society."117 Over six hundred treaties with Native Americans have been broken. The sins of the fathers have been passed on to the present generation. Yesterday's injustices can cause today's offenses. Authentic reconciliation is the healing and restoring of divided and broken relationships.

d. Apologies Given. Public reconciliations have been reported at various occasions.118 Following a 1986 apology from The United Church of Canada, they further established a one million dollar Healing Fund in 1994 to make up for injustices perpetrated against First Nations people over the years.119 United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and the Roman Catholic Church's Oblate Order have offered public apologies to native people for depriving natives of their culture and language, for imposing a foreign discipline, and for providing a setting that made natives vulnerable to physical, psychological and sexual abuse. In May 1992 The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also sought forgiveness from aboriginal people for past indifferences:

We regret the injustices done to the aboriginal peoples of Canada. We seek forgiveness for those attitudes and actions which inhibit their families and communities. We support the establishment of a task force involving native evangelicals that would examine the many issues around aboriginal self determination both in the church and in the nation.120

e. Relationship Building. Reconciliation often fits native culture because of their frequent emphasis on harmony among different people and the restoration of relationships. Individual white Christians can foster reconciliation among natives by seeing them as people of value, by giving natives their heart and not just their head or their money, by getting to know native people in authentic and unfettered relationships, and by accepting natives and their differences for who they are without trying to change them into Western molds. Furthermore, in this context it may be appropriate to encourage natives themselves to seek reconciliation and relationship building, cooperation and unity among tribes that they have been historically at odds with. Uniting against whites is not an adequate response to Christian unity. Neither whites nor natives can be selective in who they are to be reconciled with. In this sense, reconciliation is truly liberating.


a. Natives Needed. Taking significant steps beyond reconciliation, our denomination needs to come to the place where we can honestly communicate to the native Christian community, "We need you." Denominational equality is to be cultivated. They are not dependent on our theology, leadership, traditions or economic resources. Providing subsidy may even be viewed as a foreign idea. We need them to help us learn the primacy of community over individualism, of interpersonal relationships over the task of getting the job done, of a holistic worldview over a compartmentalized one, of harmony with the earth over an abusive domination of the earth, of an ecological balance in nature over the accumulation of possessions and the power of status. They do not need more "paternalistic tokenism in the guise of partnership, inclusion or empowerment."121 Empowerment, properly understood, is to encourage native people to find their own voice and claim their own power. This kind of self-sufficiency and self-determination is very much a part of their journey.

b. Cycle Broken. The danger of paternalism is that it frequently creates an internalized structure of codependency. A structure results of either dominator versus the one dominated, or the power-possessor versus the client-recipient in need. The client-recipient is in need of material or spiritual goods or power in order to survive, and therefore must remain in the relationship to receive them. This internalized structure then often becomes externalized as behavior through passivity. The problem is exacerbated when this hierarchical relationship is extended with great kindness. Dependence of the native people grows more profoundly on the church representative, and they can become addicted to the monies or rewards they receive. This unhealthy codependent cycle needs to be broken. Equal responsibility in the relationship is appropriate for equal sisters and brothers in Christ.122

Moreover, if First Nations churches are to become self-supporting, it would appear that they spare no efforts to become fully indigenous by removing themselves from any subsidy they may be receiving and begin to elicit the faith of their congregations to provide necessary support. This may be difficult and only gradually realized through a process, particularly in urban settings, but the goal is to move toward the autonomy of the local church and avoid dependency upon the white man's billfold. It is time to shift from a mission to native people, to move beyond a church for native people, and to become a church from native people.

c. Partners Cultivated. Cultivating a listening and learning posture is more essential than continuing a condescending informing and exhorting pattern. We need to ultimately see each other as coequal partners in God's family. We need one another. From this posture the risk of mutual trust can develop rather than control. Ultimately, reconciliation communicates, "We have something to give and you have something to share."123 Mutuality is a different mind-set than the old charity model of one-way giving.

d. Leadership Transferred. Indigenous churches will more likely emerge when the culture of the people is valued and native Christian leaders are valued over churches and allowed to lead within their own culture. Power and authority needs to be fully transferred to native leaders without them being paternalistically treated as inferiors or given subordinate places in administrative decisions and control.124 In this context, one native Alliance leader pleads for a Christian response.

To my Caucasian brothers: Do not become protective of your positions. Consider it a testimony to the effectiveness of your ministry when a leader of First Nations heritage emerges and takes your place. As a cross cultural worker this is what defines your ministry. Be a resource to the First Nations leaders in your midst, and undergird their development as leaders. Do not make decisions, rather facilitate decision making in your setting. Do not govern. Instead, assist the First Nations as they govern. Take your cues from the people. Be active and aggressive only in your learning of First Nations culture and history. Encourage cultural expressions in worship, administration, and ministry. Fear no thing as long as it can stand alongside the word of God, and know that your Caucasian cultural perspective is a hindrance to the work of the cross in this setting.125

There needs to be a balance between sharing resources with ministries without creating dependency and holding partner ministries accountable without controlling them. Moreover, we cannot expect natives to do church ministry the way whites do. The bottom line is to let their own Christian community handle their own affairs without any ulterior motives. Above all, in fully transferring leadership to natives, it is important to allow them to fail.126

e. Dialogue Maintained. Moreover, genuine dialogue with native people calls for respect not condescension. Dialogue means

letting go of power over the native people and relating to them from a position of powerlessness. Dialogue is a contract between two equally powerful and powerless camps; it is walking in the Indian's moccasins, sharing his pain and shame. It is getting to know Indians as people, not as items on a missionary agenda.127

Just as it is ridiculous to carry out any Jewish-Christian dialogue without taking into account what happened at Aushcwitz, Dachau and Treblinka, so also Christians and church leaders need to take into account the systematic holocaust of native people on their ancestral homelands by white races of professing Christians.128

f. Help Clarified. Jacobs broadly calls on all Christian organizations with resources, personnel, skills and networking to establish relationships with First Nations mission efforts with the following tangible means of showing support by prayer and cooperation: (1) Help native Christians, especially leaders, with native language learning. (2) Help to establish Christian native counselling/healing centres. (3) Help native ministers with culturally relevant ministry training on the Institute, College, University, Seminary and mentor level. Establish scholarships, bursaries and grants. (4) Help native ministers' fellowships to hire staff to develop leadership oversight. (5) Help interdenominational, interdisciplinary, international native Christian leadership forums. (6) Invite native Christian participation in relevant activities of your church or ministry. Take the time to listen. Then do something in response to native input. (7) Research native expertise relevant to your church or ministry. Invite, consult and dialogue with skilled native resource people. Compensate them in a non-discriminatory way.129 Through these various ways, denominational equality can be cultivated.


The C & MA provides an option for non-Alliance churches to affiliate with The Christian and Missionary Alliance. This relationship is not as rigid as becoming a member church, and it may be more applicable to First Nations churches.130 Terry LeBlanc (Micmac) suggests a strategy for tactfully incorporating fledgling native churches.

a. Seek Cooperation. First, it is important to minimize denominational competition and conflict within urban and rural settings. Cooperative efforts of partnership among churches or denominations need to be just that -- cooperative. Historically, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian mission churches had declared their own areas until the end of the 1840s. After this era competition began.131

b. Offer Structure. Second, there are already a lot of independent churches on reservations, some more charismatic and some more baptistic, without any stable organizational structure or theological framework. A carefully prayed-through and thought-out strategy to bring these churches into health may result in denominational inclusion. These churches may be looking for the kinds of structures that a denomination can provide. They may need assistance in leadership development, overcoming conflict, community based projects, or justice and advocacy issues. Rather than the approach that says, "Here's how to do it right," an approach that communicates, "What can we do for you and how can you help us?" can build mutual relationships, respect and learning.

c. Take Risks. Third, in urban settings there may be greater desire for native churches to sustain their own established ministries. To welcome them into a denominational structure is to welcome some risk. A healthy partnership is based on the ability to have mutual confidence in one another. A working relationship is based on specific, objective, mutual expectations, such as, a specific task, a timetable, or channels of communication.

Whether or not these churches are ever included into or benefit from a denominational organizational structure or theological framework, they will have been supported and empowered for more effective church ministry among their own people.132

Alongside these overtures to incorporate fledgling churches tactfully, an accountability structure for mentoring the pastors may be particularly applicable if they are to lead their congregations into wholeness and fullness in Christ. This approach precludes the activity of the outside missionary. In the words of Carl Starkloff, "Accordingly, then, the 'sending Church,' at work among aboriginal people, has the duty to spare no effort to facilitate native ministry as a truly indigenous reality."133


A fundamental question to ask in regard to First Nations people is, "Why are they still here?" After five hundred years why is their identity still maintained? Why has the good news of Jesus Christ still not effectively penetrated their culture? Why are there not flourishing First Nations churches? Why? These people represent a voice of conscience to Canadian culture and to the Christian church. This paper has been an attempt to address these fundamental questions that First Nations people may be reconciled to God and us to them and them to us that we may be one in Christ.


1. These sudden losses are detailed in Richard Rupp, Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality (=DWG) (Markham, Ontario: Octopus Publishing Group, 1992), 107-164.

2. While it is true that the dominant culture writes the history, it is also true that the account of the oppressed of what happened can be just as biased as that of the dominant. Although there is more openness among whites today to admit wrongdoing, native people also need to own up to the many heinous acts of violence they committed against other enemy tribes or innocent white settlers and homesteaders. Not all natives were peace loving and ecologically responsible. Some were savage cannibals who exploited the land. Likewise, not all colonists were materialistically motivated. Some were genuinely concerned about the physical and spiritual welfare of the natives. See David Neff, "The Politics of Remembering," Christianity Today (October 7, 1991): 28-29. In the final analysis, none were innocent; all were guilty. Non-natives need to ask for forgiveness for the sins of their ancestors against Indian people. Natives need to ask for forgiveness from non-natives for their anger, bitterness and unforgiveness toward them.

3. Charles Alexander Eastman, the Santee Sioux physician, wrote in The Soul of the Indian in 1911: "The religion of the Indian is the last thing about him that the man of another race will ever understand." Quoted in James Treat, ed., Native and Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States and Canada (=NAC) (New York: Routledge, 1996), 3. This may be true of any acculturated person in fully understanding another culture, yet this should not prevent someone from endeavouring to understand and to foster church models that best suits another culture. If any native person reads this document, I ask for patience. Before this paper was initiated, I had read very little and knew next to nothing about native people and culture, native missions and ministries. I admit my ignorance. Researching and writing this paper has been the beginning of a growth journey for me. I want to listen and learn, to nurture trust and friendship. This paper is thus written primarily for those who also share a limited understanding but would like to begin learning. My hope is that this will serve, therefore, as an introduction.

4. See Debra Fieguth, "A Step Toward Reconciliation," Christian Week (December 3, 1996): 2.

5. The First Nations Centre for Ministry is a newly created college-level cross-cultural ministry training centre that has an emphasis on personal wholeness. Growing out of the ministry experience and training efforts of Director Adrian Jacobs, it seeks to develop contextualized ministry efforts toward First Nations people. The emphasis on personal wholeness is the result of the need for recovery from the traumatic emotional experiences of many First Nations people.

6. Alliance First Nations Ministries: Post-Assembly Update (1997): 1.

7. Quoted in Richard Twiss, The Turtle and the Snail: Completing the Circle! An Emerging Native American Christian Voice in the Church Today (=TAS) (Plummer, Idaho: Richard Twiss, 1997), 3.

8. David A. Rausch and Blair Schlepp, Native American Voices (=NAV) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), 52.

9. NAV 150.

10. A further helpful summary contrasting selected traditional native values and typical Western values is included in Appendix 1.

11. NAV 94-95.

12. TAS 28-29.

13. TAS 29-31.

14. TAS 31-32.

15. TAS 32-33.

16. TAS 33-34.

17. Jacobs provides an example of differing cultural values. For Canadians wearing good clothes to church is based on the biblical practice that Jewish priests wore special clothes in their service for God. We, too, are a priesthood of believers. Furthermore, God deserves our best. If we were to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada, we would dress up. If we were to go out on a date, we would wear our best for our date. Moreover, we rationalize that the Lord deserves nothing less. Everyone else will be wearing good clothes too, so we would look out of place if we didn't. Therefore, we wear good or special clothes when we go to church. In contrast, First Nations people wear what they have. Their rationale is that what you wear does not change what you are inside. Clothes can also be used to give an outward appearance of something good but one can be tricking people. Clothes can be a symbol of status, but we are all children of the same Father, so why make a distinction? Natives don't want others to feel left out because others don't have good clothes. Therefore, they wear what they have and don't make a big deal about their clothes. Adrian Jacobs, Native Missions History (=NMH) (Belleville, Ontario: First Nations Centre for Ministry, 1996), 31.

18. DWG 12.

19. DWG 12-28, 92. Parenting for natives focuses more on parents demonstrating and modeling with children observing and emulating.

20. DWG 28-34, 56-57. "We decry their caution and passivity as apathy, while they see our aggressiveness as arrogant and willfully wrong." DWG 65.

21. DWG 34-35.

22. DWG 35-37.

23. DWG 38-40.

24. For a valuable summary of critical theology, see Gregory Baum, "IX. Critical Theology," in Religion and Alienation (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), 193-226.

25. TAS 2.

26. NAV 100-101.

27. Janet Hodgson and Jayant S. Kothare, Vision Quest: Native Spirituality & the Church in Canada (=VQ) (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1990), 15. These authors also refer briefly to Canada's political policy in four historical approaches which continue to this day: civilization by inculcating western European values and attitudes, assimilation through various amendments by defining who was a "legal" Indian and what could be done on Indian reserves, termination through eliminating the special status of natives and with it their treaty rights including land and identity rights, and integration of native people into the dominant culture as a minority ethnic group through school education. The end result was the complete loss of Indian identity and culture and their disappearance as a distinct people group. These policies have been largely successful. VQ 31. This is cultural genocide. Canadian natives, however, still see themselves as independent people, which is the foundation of current negotiations between the Canadian government and specific Aboriginal communities. Terry LeBlanc, "Opposite Shores: Aboriginal and Canadian Perspectives of Our Shared History," Context (October 1995): 6-7.

28. TAS 6.

29. Samuel Austin Worcester and Elihu Butler, some Jesuit missionaries, and the religious nonconformist Roger Williams are good examples of more culturally appropriate approaches. See NAV 113-115, 117, 123-125. For a touching story of the effectiveness of Moravian missionaries to the Shekomeko tribe in New York, see Karl-Wilhelm Westmeier, "Early Moravian Missions to Native North Americans," in Alliance Academic Review: May 1995, ed., Elio Cuccaro (=AAR) (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, Inc., 1995), 27-50. The native people themselves said of these Moravian missionaries, "How is it that you are not like the other [white] people?" AAR 38-39.

30. NAV 132.

31. NAC 60-62.

32. Stan McKay and Janet Silman, The First Nations: A Canadian Experience of the Gospel-Culture Experience (=FN) (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995), 48.

33. TAS 5.

34. TAS 5.

35. TAS 7.

36. NMH 46.

37. An example of the rejection model is seen in David Bounds, "Apples of His Eye," Arise Magazine (July/August 1996): 20-24. Bounds claims that a native Christian cannot practice native spirituality or religion, because native culture and religion are inseparable and much is demonic or occultic. When old beliefs, rituals, stories, songs, customs, art and music are denied, however, the gospel will either be perceived as foreign and thus rejected, or when forced, the old beliefs will go underground in the form of syncretism. James Kallappa, "Balance Between Christianity and Culture," (=BBCC) (Unpublished paper: Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, undated), 10-11. Kallappa draws extensively from Paul G. Hiebert, "7. Critical Contextualization," in Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 171-192.

38. Syncretism accepts old beliefs, rituals, stories, songs, customs, art and music uncritically as basically good and makes few changes if any. Uncritical acceptance of old ways, however, overlooks the fact that there are corporate and cultural sins as well as personal transgressions, and opens the door to syncretism of all kinds. Actions and beliefs need to be continually tested with the Scriptures if spiritual growth is to be fostered. BBCC 11-12.

39. NAC 186-190. Also see "Chapter Three. Culture & the Kingdom," TAC 18-26. Gualtieri provides a different categorization with nine theoretical models of religious interaction: (1) Repudiation Model - another faith religion is repudiated and the "Christian" religion is inserted and adopted; (2) Equivalence Model - other religions are considered equal to Christianity; (3) Fulfillment Model - other religions have partial, fragmentary aspects of divine truth of which Christianity is the fulfillment; (4) Mosaic or International Treaty Model - every faith community has some unique spiritual truth to offer to the world faith community; (5) Laissez-Faire Model - various religious expressions are appropriate to their life values and cultural patterns with no single, uniform way of salvation for all; (6) Functionalism Model - a religious system provides an authentic faith within its own particular tradition; (7) Syncretism Model - a fusion of two religious systems, producing a new tradition, integrating elements of both, but to be identified with neither; (8) Survival Model - the original religion survives beneath an overlay of Christianity; and (9) Indigenization Model - the adaptation of a core message to cultural forms other than those originally associated with it, the expression of the essential message of the gospel in cultural forms. Antonio R. Gualtieri, Christianity and Native Traditions: Indigenization and Syncretism Among the Inuit and Dene of the Western Arctic (Notre Dame, Indiana: Cross Road Publications, Inc., 1984), 3-10, 27-28, 71-72, 93-94.

Leaning on Leonardo Boff, Carl Starkloff discusses six different types of syncretism: (1) Addition - the haphazard compounding of forms without any central identity; (2) Accommodation - simply adopting Christian symbols into one's own worldview and traditions without theological cohesiveness; (3) Non-Reflective and Uncritical Mixture - similar to the first two and providing little long-term benefit; (4) Agreement - combining various rites and expressions to create a single religion useful to all which remains superficial and incoherent; (5) Translation - the dominant religion takes over forms from a local tradition to express their faith in their own imagery and symbolism which can be confusing and oppressive; and (6) Adaptation - the dominant religion moves slowly and gradually assimilates the local expressions while reinterpreting and recasting them. Carl Starkloff, "Keepers of Tradition: The Symbolic Power of Indigenous Ministry," Kerygma 52 (=KOT) (November 1989): 13-14.

While both of these categorizations provide expanded understanding, Jacobs' analysis is a succinct presentation particularly appropriate to First Nations people while maintaining a high view of sanctification of culture.

40. NAC 189-190.

41. VQ 51.

42. BBCC 10, 12.

43. VQ 63.

44. VQ 157-158.

45. White theologians may be quick to level the accusation of syncretism toward honest attempts at contextualization. Hodgson and Kothare state: "However, these selfsame theologians are blind to the blatant syncretism of western Christianity which is in fact a package of Graeco-Roman Anglo-Saxon Caucasian traditions superimposed on the Gospel of Christ. Thus when a white churchman talks about Christianity, he is in effect talking about the baggage of western ideas which he legitimizes by invoking the name of Christ." VQ 162. In other words, think twice before judging. In a native context, white colonial European Christianity may appear syncretistic. For example, one Mohawk Christian minister poignantly writes: "Not everything in traditional native society fits in with Christianity, but native culture is no more inherently pagan than non-native culture with its Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and Halloween." Ross Maracle, "Evangelizing Canada's Native People," Arise Magazine (=AM) (July/August 1996): 16. Indeed, all cultures are ethnocentric.

46. Some endeavor to differentiate between pantheism (God is in all things) and panentheism (God is in and above all things).

47. VQ 139.

48. VQ 52.

49. J. Christopher Williams, "Christianity Not a 'Whiteman's' Religion," Indian Life (January/February 1993).

50. Carl Starkloff, The People of the Center: American Indian Religion and Christianity (=PC) (New York: The Seabury Press, 1974), 25. See PC 25-50 & 124 for explanations and illustrations of each of these. Indian people, for example, are predominantly monotheistic and have conceived of God as "Earth Maker, Our Maker, Our Father, Creator, Giver, Man-Above, Great Holy, Master (or Lord) of Life." PC 28.

51. VQ 87.

52. NMH 38.

53. VQ 114.

54. VQ 116.

55. Art is an often untapped but primary communication style for native people. See John Bradley and Jay Carty with Russ Korth, Discovering Your Natural Talents: How to Love What You Do and Do What You Love (Formerly titled Unlocking Your Sixth Suitcase) (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1991), 53-54.

56. FN 9-10.

57. VQ 71-79.

58. Adrian Jacobs, "Drums, Rattles, and Chants -- Ready or Not," Christian Week (December 3, 1996): 10. Also NMH 69-74.

59. NAV 116.

60. Starkloff parallels the source of power and communication of Indian dancing with the total absorption of jazz musicians in their rhythm and melody. PC 71.

61. Twiss testifies that he had been a follower of the Jesus Way for twenty-two years before he recently danced in a traditional Northern Plains style of dance publicly before the Lord at a Christian indigenous gathering in New Zealand. NMH 77.

62. VQ 80.

63. See VQ 79-84 for a helpful discussion on ritual and symbolism.

64. Jon Magnuson, "Selling Native American Soul," Christian Century (November 22, 1989): 1084-1087.

65. NAC 10-13, 30.

66. FN 24-25.

67. Canada Watch: Newsletter of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (December 1996): 2.

68. NAC 41, 45-48, 52-55.

69. These four themes seem to consistently appear and recur in native writings.

70. NAC 58-59.

71. VQ 193. The Hebrews also viewed all of life in a more integrated manner and Paul referred to the groaning of creation.

72. Adrian Jacobs, "The Expanding Family of God" (=EFG) (Unpublished paper: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1995), 13.

73. EFG 14-15.

74. Other metaphors for God include God as Parent, as both Father and Mother; and Jesus as Guide, Provider, Protector, Conqueror of Evil, Healer, Nourisher, Story-Teller, Teacher, Guiding Light, Day-Star, and Prophet. NAC 90-91, 217-218; and FN 48.

75. NAC 65.

76. See NAC 65; DWG 165-184; and PC 82-84.

77. DWG 174.

78. NAC 67.

79. NMH 38.

80. PC 79-80.

81. NAC 170-178.

82. NAV 116.

83. First Nations Alliance Church of Regina: Partner Church Project, (1991?): 4-5.

84. DWG 62-63.

85. DWG 172.

86. NAV 147.

87. NAV 147.

88. VQ 132.

89. Interestingly, this point could also be underlined in the historical understanding of the Canadian mystique as "survival" in their approach to overcome harsh winters and large tracts of land, and of the American "frontier" mentality in their passion to overtake and possess the land. One's spirituality is derived in part from their view of land. Consider also the spirituality of the Israelites emerging in part from their understanding of land being given to them by God.

90. NAC 122.

91. Denise Lardner Carmody, "Native American Spirituality," in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, ed., Michael Downey (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 697-700.

92. See NAC 45-48, 52-55, 58-59, 119-129. Natives also reject the "value-neutral creation theology of Matthew Fox" or "some new-age spirituality of feel-good individualism." NAC 127.

93. See FN 6.

94. See PC 102-103.

95. NAV 52.

96. FN 10-11, 23-24.

97. See references to this style in VQ 101-102.

98. VQ 105.

99. DWG 22.

100. DWG 22-24; FN 36-38.

101. "Ordination - Native Pastors," Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada: 1996 Edition (=MCMA) (Willowdale, Ontario: The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 1996), 102.

102. NAC 54. Also see NAC 58-59.

103. DWG 142-154.

104. Maracle calls for indigenous native leaders to emerge as well as those who are culturally sensitive. "We need leaders that are culturally sensitive and that will focus on achieving Native solutions to Native problems." AM 19.

105. The First Nations Centre for Ministry in Belleville is exploring various options of ministry formation. One of the unique features of this fledgling ministry is a primary commitment toward integrated wholeness.

106. NAC 132-142.

107. NAC 142-150.

108. NAC 150-151.

109. NAC 95. Others have suggested alternate liberation texts, such as, the story of the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to deliver her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28) or the account of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27 and Joshua 17). The powerless and oppressed have their rights to the promises of God. But these stories do not seem to generate the power of faith in action.

110. Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, preached this notion in a sermon delivered in Hartford in 1783, before Governor Trumbull and the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, elaborating his theory of the origin of the American Indians. John McLean, The Indians: Their Manners and Customs (Toronto: Methodist Mission Rooms, 1889), 268-269. People have often argued that the Bible supports their particular viewpoint. How dangerous to mishandle the Word of God and use it to justify the very evil the Bible condemns.

111. NAC 99.

112. Vine Deloria, Jr., "A Native American Perspective on Liberation," in Mission Trends No. 4: Liberation Theologies in North America and Europe, ed., Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Stransky (Toronto: Paulist Press and Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 1979), 261-270. Also see Deloria, Jr., in NAC 105-114.

113. See DWG 12-34.

114. Ray Aldred, "Reconciliation is Not an Option" Sermon (Belleville, Ontario: Quinte Alliance Church, February 16, 1997). Also see TAS 44-52.

115. "Chapter Seven. Broken Treaties/Covenants," TAS 57-66; and Adrian Jacobs, "Toward a Theology of Asking" (=TTA) (Unpublished article, no date). Other Scriptural rationale for identificational repentance is found is 2 Chronicles 34:21; Jeremiah 14:20; and Lamentations 5:7.

116. Those unconfessed sins could include: (1) participation and full compliance on the part of the church in a government sanctioned enforced destruction of First Nations culture and language, especially through residential schools; (2) physical, sexual and psychological abuses perpetrated against First Nations people while under the apparent protection and guidance of the church; (3) silence on the part of the church, both past and present, in the face of societal injustices, such as, the absence of the right to vote for First Nations persons until the mid 1960s, the failure of the Canadian court system in providing a justice system that has resulted in the First Nations of Canada being the most imprisoned people group per capita in the world, failure to honour legal treaties and land settlements, land parcel sequestering through events as the Veterans Land Entitlement Act, racism, poverty, condescension, and paternalism; (4) failure to provide any viable option other than a Caucasian/Western church model into which the First Nations people are expected to fit; and (5) the declaration on the part of the church that various morally and spiritually "neutral" cultural practices, values and systems are demonic and pagan in nature, i.e., cultural music, dance, assemblies, handicrafts and worldview. (This material is taken from an undated, unsigned document that apparently provided impetus for a reconciliation between Alliance churches and First Nations Alliance Churches in Saskatchewan.)

117. This was the response of Brian C. Stiller in "The First Step to Healing," Sundial: Interpreting Our Times (Third Quarter, 1995): 1-2. He believed his sin was the sin of omission. "It is not that I've done wrong; it is that I have not been about doing good. I've left them [natives] out of my prayers, love, friendships and time." This is a good start toward reconciliation. Identificational repentance takes this a step further.

118. Public reconciliations have been reported among the Assembly of Aboriginal Coastal Tribes in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1991, the First Nations Assembly of Grand Chiefs in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1992, and the Blackfoot Confederacy Grand Council in Calgary, Alberta, in 1993.

119. For summaries see FN 30-34, 36; and VQ 144-152.

120. Canada Watch: Newsletter of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (January/February 1996): 2.

121. TAS 12.

122. NAC 147-150.

123. FN 29.

124. NAV 133, 136. First Nations people may have their own challenges to confront. There is no room for natives to garner racial intolerance or to disdain the contributions of white brothers and sisters who are trying to help them reach their goals. See First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada: 1993 Conference Delegate Book (=FNACC) (Echo Lake, Saskatchewan, 1993), 22-23.

125. FNACC 23. The unnamed author of this perceptive admonition also wrote another discerning challenge to natives. "To my First Nations brothers: Earnestly desire leadership, even though it may bring opposition from individuals of both cultures. Be researchers of your culture and history, knowing that only informed leaders can bring a culturally authentic expression of Christianity to their people. Resist European cultural intrusion into your settings, but avoid militancy. Conquer ignorance on the part of Caucasians with education. Teach them to see the validity in your ways. Attend all meetings. It is a remarkably easy method of controlling your own destiny. Be gracious toward Caucasian brothers who desire to assist you in reaching your goals. Be firm toward those who attempt to impose their goals upon you. Increasingly learn to love what God has made you to be, and work to introduce any and all cultural expressions into your church that are able to stand alongside the word of God. Know that your First Nations cultural perspective is your greatest asset to the work of the cross in this setting." FNACC 24.

126. NAV 160.

127. VQ 165-166.

128. VQ 166. As an introduction, I would hope that this paper could serve as a starting place to dialogue about specific issues.

129. TTA 5.

130. See "Affiliated Churches," MCMA 51.

131. FN 12.

132. These suggestions were presented at a First Nations meeting held at The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada National Office, in Willowdale, Ontario, on February 18, 1997. Terry LeBlanc leads World Vision Canada's Aboriginal Program.

133. KOT 3.


Aldred, Ray. "Reconciliation is Not an Option" Sermon. Belleville, Ontario: Quinte Alliance Church, February 16, 1997. Alliance First Nations Ministries: Post-Assembly Update (1997): 1.

Baum, Gregory. "IX. Critical Theology." In Religion and Alienation. New York: Paulist Press, 1975, 193-226.

Bounds, David. "Apples of His Eye." Arise Magazine (July/August 1996): 20-24.

Bradley, John and Jay Carty with Russ Korth. Discovering Your Natural Talents: How to LoveWhat You Do and Do What You Love (Formerly titled Unlocking Your Sixth Suitcase).   Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 1991.

Canada Watch: Newsletter of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (December 1996): 2.

Canada Watch: Newsletter of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (January/February 1996): 2.

Carmody, Denise Lardner. "Native American Spirituality." In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Ed. Michael Downey. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993,               697-700.

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Communal Emphasis Individual Emphasis
- Group value
- Group identity
- Harmony
- Relational
- Team
- Egalitarian
- Individual value
- Individual identity
- Personal happiness
- Achievement focus
- Star
- Stratification
Consensus Adversative Democracy
- Discussion requires time
- Respecting the individual
- Emphasis on agreement
- Voting efficiency
- Respecting majority
- Assumes polarity
Oral Culture Book Culture
- Faithful to tradition
- Commonalty emphasized
- Visual (ritual and drama)
- Concrete
- Faithful to letter
- Discrepancies noted
- Linear (logic)
- Abstract
Cooperation Competition
Individual Autonomy/Non-Interference Interference
Generosity Saving
Sharing Individual Ownership
Non-Materialism Materialism
Work to Meet Need Work for Work's Sake (Puritan Work Ethic)
Time: Always With Us Time: Use Every Minute
Orientation to the Present Orientation to the Future
Placidity Activity
Patience Impatience
Respect for Age Respect for Youth
Listening and Observation Skills Verbal Skills
Personal Caution Personal Openness
 Modesty Immodesty
Self-Exploratory Child-Rearing Punitive Child-Rearing
Indirect Criticism Direct Criticism
Extended Family Nuclear Family
Pragmatic Theoretical
Cooperate with Nature Control over Nature
Religion: Way of Life Religion: Segment of Life
Illness: Mental Imbalance Illness: Physical Imbalance
Cultural Pluralism Assimilation
Bilingualism Monolingualism (English only)
No Eye-to-Eye Contact Eye-to-Eye Contact Important
Spiritual Emphasis Intellectual Emphasis
Harmony Order
Holistic Category Segmentation


1 This list was compiled from a handout developed by Joann Sebastian Morris and from Adrian Jacobs, Native Missions History (Belleville, Ontario: First Nations Centre for Ministry, 1996), 32, 45. The listing should be viewed as a continuum rather than as a polarity of absolutes.

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