SASKATOON — In consultation with an advisory circle including elders, the executive director of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, and other indigenous leaders, St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan has established an endowed chair in Indigenous Spirituality and Reconciliation. The chair, the first in Canadian history in a Catholic institution, was formally inaugurated May 17 in the new Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre, University of Saskatchewan.
The chair’s guiding principles affirm: “Wisdom listens, and understands, values and respects diversity of experiences and ways of knowing, and appreciates that profound learning is of necessity multicultural, multidisciplinary, multidimensional and relational. Divine revelation is not confined to any culture or faith tradition; to be spiritual is to be reconciled with nature and with others, and amenable to honouring diverse beliefs.”
According to STM president Dr. Terrence Downey, “the chair is to ardently explore with humility, respect and courage the history, cultures and traditions that have shaped the intricate nature of indigenous spiritualities in Canada; to interact with and listen thoughtfully to elders and community leaders who have preserved, protected and communicated this fertile spiritual heritage down through the generations; to consider and analyze the complexities of the interaction between Indigenous spirituality and Christian traditions historically and currently, and to advance reconciliation.”
Co-chair Harry Lafond, executive director of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, noted that “the elders teach mana tciwin (respect) especially about how we express our belief in God. The chair is our opportunity to give life to this Cree teaching.”
The chair, endowed by an initial major gift through a legacy of the Congregation of St. Basil, who founded St. Thomas More College, will in its formative stage before a full-time chair holder is appointed sponsor various projects such as guest lectures, conferences, ceremonies and Indigenous appointments focused on spirituality and reconciliation through the study of history, culture, traditions, language and understandings of formal or informal religious and/or spiritual practices.
By facilitating dialogue within the academic community and the broader society, and through teaching and research, the chair is to be a source of intellectual leadership both inside and outside the academy. In the Cree language, oskâpêwis refers to an elder’s helper or servant, one who brokers relationships; the chair is to be oskâpêwis between Indigenous traditions and the academic community.