A Resurrection Story

Sept 16-Birdtail 1

Twenty-four people were baptized at Can Kaga Otina Tipi Wakan on Aug. 9, 2015

At Birdtail First Nation in Manitoba, the bones of a dead congregation have come together again, and flesh has appeared on it, and yes the breath of the Spirit is blowing through the people. They have a new name, and a renewed identity.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada has a long history with the Dakota people, who moved over a century ago under increasing pressure from American leaders, even to the point of genocide. At that time the Dakota people had already encountered the gospel through Presbyterian missionaries. From the early days of encounters with Canadian Presbyterians, the Dakota were considered a mission of our church and supported in developing their own congregation. While never large numerically, and never a church that could hope to become self-supporting due to the levels of extreme poverty within the community, they had a stable ministry and were respected by the community.

With the ending of ordained missionary appointments in 1986, the fallout from the first round of lawsuits from the abuses that happened at residential schools, and funding cutbacks, it became increasingly difficult to find people who would be missionary preachers and teachers on First Nations. So it was in the late 1990s that the Presbytery of Brandon made the decision to close the last of our churches on the reserves. God, however, delights in doing a new thing.

I began as synod staff person for Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario in 2008 and just before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began in 2010,
I met people from a number of First Nations communities who expressed a desire to have services reinstated.

In early 2013, Yvonne Bearbull, then band councillor at Can Kaga Otina First Nation, and later the executive director of the Kenora Fellowship Centre, and I put together the first service. It consisted of a preacher, some taped music, and Yvonne bringing together many of her friends and relations for an Easter feast.

Over the next few years, Rev. Dr. Henry Hildebrandt and his wife Sarah joined the team, as did Rev. Jeanie Lee and the congregation of Knox, Neepawa. With my transition from synod staff to minister at St. Andrew’s, Brandon, in January 2014, we now were in a place to provide scheduled leadership.

The biggest boost came from the large number of Koreans at Knox, Neepawa, who had a heart for sharing with First Nations people. They have provided Sunday school teachers, meals, music and gifts.

Twenty-four people were baptized on August 9, 2015, representing ages eight months to 56 years. It included a number of families who were baptized at the same time, marking a multi-generational community of faith. We know it has taken the prayers and efforts of many people to culminate in the celebration of the first baptisms in many years.

The name of the church is “Can Kaga Otina Tipi Wakan.” The Dakota name brings together the name of the community, Can Kaga Otina, or people who live in log houses, and adds ‘holy house,’ or Tipi Wakan. This reminds us that this is a holy dwelling for all of the members of the nation, not just those who show up on Sunday afternoon.

One day as we were meeting to pray, someone started singing “God is so good” when a new voice joined in singing the hymn in Dakota, and soon it was being sung in English, Dakota and Korean.

If we could wish anything for other congregations it would be that they find a way to dare to do something they have never done before, to share the love of Christ with others they have not known and to dare to sing with us “God is so good!”

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About Glenn Ball

Rev. Glenn Ball is minister at St. Andrew’s, Brandon, Man.