Calls to Action 59 and 60 in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada implore Church leaders to collaborate with Indigenous spiritual leaders on curriculum to open the eyes of congregations, theology students and seminarians about the Church role in the legacy of residential schools and the necessity of a Church apology.
In Saskatoon, these efforts have seen one group complete such a course, with a second group beginning its path this past fall.
The Diocese of Saskatoon, St. Thomas More College and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools developed the Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education program to honour the Calls to Action. The syllabus was first conceptualized in 2018 by a seven-member team, with eight courses envisioned. Four of the eight courses have been developed and taught as a continuing education program over the past few years. The intention is to finish developing the other four courses in 2023, and then begin teaching the material early in 2024.
Cristin Dorgan Lee, principal of St. Michael Community School in Saskatoon, is a key instructor of the program.
“I think our overarching goals are to create a sense of dialogue, a safe place to challenge our previously held thoughts and to learn more so we can minister to our communities in a more open and self-aware kind of way,” said the Métis educator. “Everyone is coming to this work with a different goal or purpose, and our goal is to create an awareness of the issues between the Church and Indigenous peoples and to (discuss) how we can work together in reconciliation so we can move forward in a positive way together.”
Adrienne Castellon, a faith-based leader who taught until 2021 at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., said “the variety of people taking the course so far is fascinating.”
“We’ve had many Catholic school teachers, several lawyers, several priests, a few nuns, we’ve had health-care providers, people from parishes involved in programs such as R.C.I.A. and just some genuinely interested people who want to have better conversations with family and friends,” she said.
Four courses have been offered, each involving 18 hours of work, including out-of-class time for additional reading and course work. These offer an introduction to First Nations studies, examine the Indigenous-settler relationship and its effects, with an introduction to reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous peoples.
Each course is taught by an Indigenous and non-Indigenous instructor, and each features a host of guest lecturers. Among the guests are Mackenzie-Fort Smith Archbishop Murray Chatlain and IndigenousDeacon Harry Lafond.
“We have a diversity of voices, credible voices that are trying to live reconciliation,” said Castellon, who designs and teaches leadership development programs on behalf of the Fraser Health Authority.
For Dorgan Lee, the greatest satisfaction of the program is that it is a wellspring of hopefulness.
“I am filled with a sense of hope. As we go along, it is not just the learners but also the instructors who learn. We deepen our faith in these really enriching dialogues. There is also a sense of hope knowing that participants are here for reconciliation” Castellon echoed those sentiments.
“I am motivated to make a difference in contributing to reconciliation,” she said. “I think a lot is being done across the country in a more secular capacity, but within the Church in a safe space, how can we impact and contribute to the lives of people in ministry so that it makes a difference on the ground? I know we are doing that so it is very life-giving to me.