Introducing the MA in Indigenous Community Development

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  • Details
    Program Objectives

    The Master of Arts with a specialization in Indigenous Community Development Studies program focuses on the concept of a mutual learning exchange between cultures within and beyond North America. The program is multidisciplinary and strives to develop each co-learner’s heart and mind through the disciplines of anthropology, missiology, theology, Bible, church history, ethics, and spiritual formation. The program is holistic in scope, seeking to create opportunities for co-learners to gain both knowledge and experience appropriate for the 21st century. The Acadia Divinity College faculty is dedicated to equipping men and women for meaningful engagement with cultural diversity, including global and local cultural contexts. Our unique program provides teaching from alternative epistemologies and pedagogies that assist co-learners to create informed paradigms beyond traditional Western models. Guided field experience is crucial to the co-learner’s success. This program is offered in partnership with Acadia Divinity College offering an almost entirely Indigenously taught program.


    Our unique program provides teaching from alternative epistemologies and pedagogies that assist co-learners to create informed paradigms beyond traditional Western models. Furthermore, it offers three optional choices: Course Completion Option, Project Option, or Thesis Option.

    Integral to the MA-INCD program is the guided field experience(s) with a development agency either domestically or internationally. This gives you the experience needed to fully understand the realities of the field while being mentored by people already effecting change in the world. You will have the opportunity to take what you have learned in the classroom and apply it directly to the issues you will face in your future career as a development facilitator.

    The North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), in conjunction with Acadia is dedicated to equipping men and women for meaningful engagement within their own communities, other local cultural contexts as well as globally. The MACD has been designed and tailored for Indigenous people, those serving in Indigenous communities, and others simply interested in a non-Western approach to community development education. Indigenous leaders – academics and community practitioners alike, have developed it. In fact, the majority of instructors for the MACD are Indigenous North Americans. Our unique program provides teaching from alternative epistemologies and pedagogies (anthrogogies), as well as practitioner skills that assist co-learners in the creation of informed paradigms for community development beyond traditional western models.


    Courses are available in flexible, accessible formats. Continue to live in your communities from online-hybrid options. Intensive summer courses provide face-to-face classroom experience. Wrap-around conference courses related to the NAIITS Annual Symposium stimulate learning with Indigenous theological learners. . Elective courses allow you to further tailor the program to your own learning and ministry environment.

    Mutual Learning Community

    Join with colleagues in your program that are currently working in Indigenous contexts. Grow in your leadership capacity as you build relationships and experience one-to-one and small-group mentorship. Any on-site courses are offered within the educational environment at Acadia, located in the beautiful semi-rural environment of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada

  • Course Framework
    Biblical Studies (12 credits)

    BIBL 5503 Hebrew Scripture Foundations

    A general introduction to the historical, sociological, and theological context in which the Hebrew Scriptures came into existence, this course will provide the student with an understanding of the major emphases of the texts. In addition, the student will be introduced to themes of community life and praxis in the Hebrew Scriptures that find parallels in historical Indigenous worldviews of creation and Creator. The course will use community understandings, models, and paradigms as a basis for comparison.

    BIBL 5513 New Testament Foundations

    A general introduction to the historical, sociological, and theological context in which the New Testament Scriptures came into existence, this course will familiarize students with the content and structure, distinctive theology, and introductory matters of the New Testament. In addition, the student will be introduced to the nature of the early Christian community, its transitions and changes from a strictly Hebraic construct as found within the Jewish community, and projections made for its future development.

    BIBL 6503 Hebrew Scripture Community Models

    Knowing how the Hebrew Scriptures speak about community, how they present and promote particular values of community, and what examples of community appear in the various genres of the Hebrew Scriptures is critical to any program focused through the lens of a biblically-informed worldview. This course will help students discover the ways in which community is expressed throughout Hebrew Scriptures, through a Christian Trinitarian lens.

    BIBL 6513 New Testament Community Models

    Continuing the exploration of the biblical values and praxis of community, this course will help students understand how community is presented in the New Testament Scriptures, with a particular focus on how community is both similarly and differently referenced in the pages of the New Testament compared with the Hebrew Scriptures. Finally, the course will seek to enable understanding of the nature of community in the early church and its implications, if any, on our thinking about the holistic development of community within the Kingdom of God.


    THEO 5503 Theology of Community I

    This course is a theological reflection focused on the concept of community. It will examine the Christian doctrines of creation, fall, and redemption, identifying God’s community-creating purpose in the world. Other issues to be examined include evil and the fall in their spiritual and cosmic dimensions, ecology and the cultural mandate. The course will include understandings of the nature and origins of community as portrayed within Indigenous cosmologies and spiritual perspectives.

    THEO 6503 Theology of Community II
    The course will help students to develop an integrated understanding of God, humanity and culture focusing on current debates and their bearing on Christian mission and community. Practical issues such as the relationship between the sacred and the secular, the role of art, the place of work and leisure, and the significance of political engagement will receive particular attention in juxtaposition with Indigenous perspectives in each area.

    THEO 6513 Ethics in Intercultural Context
    An intercultural and contextual introduction to central issues in Christian ethics, with attention to the way in which moral reflection interacts with philosophy and culture. The course explores biblical-theological foundations for ethics, the role of scripture, and Jesus’ example in ethical formulation. It further deals with major contemporary topics including gender, sexuality, marriage, euthanasia, war, bioethics, wealth, and poverty.

    THEO 6523 Creation and Transformation
    The center of Christian theology is Jesus Christ who unites Creator and creation. Therefore, this course will focus on the scriptural and ecclesiastical traditions concerning the person and work of Christ in transforming creation. This will provide the basis for a discussion about the implication of Christology for the transformation of creation community. Thus, the course will seek to engage the ideas represented by the councils and creeds of past theologians, and then move to examine the theological praxis that resulted in a colonial and post-colonial context.

    Community Engagement (27 credits)

    MD 504 Theory and Praxis in Development – History and Method
    Our study will begin with a brief examination of historic relief and development theories, sighting in on a more careful examination of post WWII models and their evolution through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s toward the Transformational Development models of the 1990s and beyond. The continued emphasis on Modernization and Westernization in contemporary practice will create a frame around a discussion of alternate ideas for community health and well-being. While not intended as a strict comparative of methods, the cost/benefit between asset and deficit based methods will emerge for the student as we examine the biblical and theological issues each raises when each is applied to human systems and communities.

    MD 507 Contextualized Leadership
    This course will engage the student in a variety of discussions on leadership – in the family, community, Indigenous church, and wider society. Special emphasis will be on exploring the praxis of decolonization and growing edge of re-traditionalization as a means of understanding contemporary Indigenous leadership models used in each of these social contexts.

    ID 600 Social Construction of Identity
    This course critically examines the social construction of ethnicity and identity within First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities as well as the implications for broader community social responses to those identities. Students will study the myths and realities surrounding the development of racial, ethnic and cultural categories in North America, and learn how social, political, and economic forces have shaped the experiences of different ethnic groups. Students will also be introduced to the concepts of socialization, social interaction, identity formation and self-fashioning, the social construction of class, gender and race, age, deviance, and other social phenomena. This comparison will include an invitation for students to explore their own unique ethnic heritage.

    ID 530 Family and Social Systems
    Indigenous family contexts have dramatically changed over the course of the centuries since contact. Family systems, including parenting, intergenerational roles and relationships as well as governance and provision for need have come under significant stress. Proposed remedies over the 20th and into the 21st centuries have attempted to accommodate what constituted traditional ways within often equally invasive new ways. This course examines the impact of cultural and social forces upon the family system including major systems theories, strategies, and techniques of engaging family and family relationship in the context of shifting dynamics and demographics. Issues of family and inter-generational conflict as well as the ethical considerations of intervention are also examined.

    MD 560 Indigenous Economics
    This course introduces various theories and forms of praxis within the Canadian context of Indigenous community economic development, setting it within both historical and contemporary contexts. The work of the course is designed to utilize economic issues in Indigenous Canada as its focal lens. Issues covered will include: The impact of governance options on Indigenous economics; Indigenous rights and title – economic perspectives; rationale and economic roots of income differentials between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; and economic failures and successes within Indigenous community contexts.

    ID 530 Cultures and Change
    No experience of Christianity has been more culturally damaging than that experienced by Indigenous peoples. Through process of decolonization and indigenization this course will examine how Indigenous people live a biblically informed Christian faith in the context of Indigenous cultures. Cultures and Change is designed to give perspectives and tools for interpreting and guiding a cultural system towards deep change. Insights from various disciplines, such as anthropology, social psychology, and organizational science, stimulate the exegesis of culture in fresh ways. Jesus as a change master in a complex cultural system is the model for guiding effective and lasting change.

    ID 535 Asset-based Development I
    This course is an introduction to asset-based planning and design as a human and organizational capacity-building approach that seeks to locate, underscore, and emphasize, in a selective way, the life-giving forces and successes within an organization, group, or community. As the title implies, Level I it is for those who are intrigued by a different way of dealing with life in communities and organizations, and would like to explore in an introductory fashion, the skills of community development facilitation at a basic depth for practitioners. Several tools used in asset-based planning and development will be carefully examined with a view to developing proficiency in both their theory and practice. Finally, each student will propose, design and implement a practical project using the tools of asset-based development.

    ID 635 Asset-based Development II

    Level II advances the participant’s skills so that they have good capacity in both understanding and implementation in various kinds of community need. This is the capacity builder level and is deigned to increase student competence in community and organizational facilitation and facilitation of community planning using asset-based tools. While also providing the basis for continued personal growth in asset-based skills, level II also uses the practicum undertaken at the end of level 1 to create the framework for certification with the NAIITS community of certified practitioners.

    SH 620 Creation and Transformation

    The centre of Christian theology is Jesus Christ who unites Creator and creation. This course, therefore, will focus on thinking through the scriptural and ecclesiastical traditions concerning the person and work of Christ in transforming creation. This will provide the basis for a discussion about the implication of Christology for the transformation of the creation community. Thus, the course will seek to engage the ideas represented by the councils, creeds of past theologians, and then move to examine the theological praxis that resulted in a colonial and post-colonial context. All this in hopes of the learner developing a shared praxis based upon a renewed Indigenous creation-centered theology.

    Completion Options

    To accommodate unique circumstances of life, three completion options are available for a student enrolled in the MA in Community Development. Each one leads to successful completion of the degree program while providing for flexibility various student interests, areas of focus, and personal circumstance. The following options are available for completion:

    TB 500 Thesis (12 credit hours)

    The thesis is expected to contribute to the body of knowledge that exists re: Indigenous community models and holistic development. A successful presentation of the thesis to a thesis committee is expected.


    PB 500 Project (6 credit hours plus 6 credit hours of electives)

    The project model is built on the ABPD core and is expected to expand the boundaries of effective application of the ABPD theory and framework to a specific setting.


    CB 500 Course-based completion (12 elective credit hours)

    As the title implies, a course-based completion will require the student to select a further 12 credit hours of study from among the elective options available (as outlined below) to the student during the course of the degree.

    Electives (12 credits selected)

    ID 500 Perspectives from Cultural Anthropology

    Cultural Anthropology is the study of the immense variety in human culture. In this class we will begin our journey together by traveling through some historical anthropological theory. There are important trajectories that anthropology has taken that have been helpful and hurtful, particularly to indigenous people globally. However, as in all things cultural or otherwise, change will occur. Culture is not static, and neither is anthropology. It has grown and changed, it has interacted with other disciplines in an interdisciplinary manner, it has contributed to great heights of learning and great lows of oppression, and it has critiqued itself and learned from its mistakes. Although there is much more to learn via anthropology as a discipline, particularly when it comes to inviting other worldviews to contribute to the shaping of anthropological theory and practice, it has something important to offer us, both as indigenous and non-indigenous people.

    MD 508 Cross-cultural Formation

    The religious dimension of a culture provides its people with conceptions of reality and the means for maintaining the force and relevance of those conceptions. Features of a culture’s repertoire such as story, scripture, rites of passage, pilgrimages, worship traditions, social organizations, and other symbolic activities shape the worldview of its people. The cross-cultural study of religion examines the religious dimension of culture with a view to understanding its nature and function. The course assumes that religiousness is a universal aspect of human identity. It also assumes the tools and results of religious studies offer much to Christian formation. Based on these assumptions, the course explores the relevance of some of the non-verbal forms typical of human religion for the process of formation.

    ID 640 Studies in a Holistic Gospel

    The environment in which the Christian community exists has changed radically in the past number of decades – physically, socially, economically, politically, and culturally. The comfortable dualism between body and soul by which much of Christian mission operated in the past (saving souls only) has not only proven inadequate but damaging, as in the case of many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada. This course allows participants to explore the old and develop the new in the world of Christian mission. The courses focus through the lens of hands-on discovery and experience – both instructor and student – to provide a more robust understanding of the nature of the gospel.

    ID 501 Anthropology of Leadership

    This course will have students examine leadership, organizational and change theory and the skills required for leaders to lead organizations and communities in the context of changing demographics and increasing diversity. As societies become increasingly ‘globalized’ and diverse, there is significant provincial, national, and international awareness in organizations about the impact that this change has on leadership. This course will also introduce students to the historic and evolving concepts of and the relationship between diversity, culture and leadership. The emerging practice of diversity as central to leadership theory and practice, the holistic nature of diversity, social justice within a diverse society, and the role it has in contributing to effective and appropriate leadership in the midst of rapid change will be explored to gain an informed understanding.

    NA 501 Intercultural Communication

    This course explores the dynamics of cross-cultural communication with community issues as the instructional context. It presents communication theory in the light of both sociology and anthropology to indicate ways that cross-cultural communication can present theories of change and transformation with less cultural interference in message transmission. Using community transformation paradigms and concerns as the investigative framework, the course will assist students in becoming familiar with and capable of managing cross-cultural communication theory and methodologies in an effective way.

    ID 520 Colonization and Decolonization

    This class will look at the critiques made by indigenous and postcolonial scholars of the methodological approaches used in the humanities and social sciences for their complicity in colonialism. We will then look at attempts to “decolonize” methodology and construct indigenous and postcolonial methodological approaches to society and community. The class will focus on methodological approaches in anthropology, sociology, literature, religious studies, and history. Students will have the opportunity to develop their own philosophical and methodological approaches to decolonization informed by the readings in the class.
    ID 525 Christianity and Culture
    This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the interpenetration of Christianity and the cultures in which it finds expression. As such it will combine aspects of biblical studies, theological discourse, cultural studies, and explore historical and contemporary models. The ultimate goal of the course is to have the student realize that Christianity in all its varieties will always exist within particular cultural grids, either intentionally or unintentionally, both embracing and reacting to various cultural influences, shaping and being shaped by the world it finds itself in. The student will be challenged to combine cultural exegesis and theological reflection both within and outside of the church and so contribute to the ongoing contextualization of the Christian faith.

    ID 510 Indigenous Survey

    This course provides the student with an opportunity to pursue and interest that they might have in a particular discipline related to indigenous peoples. It is a directed study with the final syllabus for reading and assignments negotiated between the student and the faculty member overseeing the course. The course is expected to expand the students depth and breadth of knowledge in the particular area selected, but is also expected to provide an opportunity for the student to integrate said knowledge within the overall program. Student’s select one:

    • Indigenous History
    • Indigenous Philosophy
    • Indigenous Religious Contexts        

    Optional Studies (3 credits directed Study)

    MD 600 Indigenous Readings in Mission

    This course will introduce the contemporary Native North American (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) contexts of ministry and mission via several teaching paradigms including: worldview; concepts of spirituality; issues in culture and faith; re-traditionalization, and ministry as community development. Moving beyond the notion of multiculturalism, the course will engage these paradigms from an intercultural vantage point, offering a perspective framed by the historic issues characterizing colonial mission in Canada. This will include an introduction to the histories, cultures, religious beliefs and practices of Native North American peoples and the impact of colonization including evangelistic endeavours amongst them by various Christian denominations and missions.

    MD 610 Emerging Theologies in Global Context

    This course is an introduction to emergent and emerging theology. It is a focused effort to assess the nature of global theological influences and trends, with specific attention to ways in which local culture(s), philosophies, and context(s) impact theological development. The course will utilize a biblical-theological method as the exegetical fulcrum through which an analysis of these trends will be made and an understanding of their contribution to the growing body of theological work will be undertaken.

    NA 601 Narrative Theology

    Contemporary approaches to narrative theology within western theological method – at least narrative biblical theology – are often still bound up in a study of the grammar and historicity of the text as opposed to a consideration of the nature of a collected narrative and its formational effect within a given community. Since storytelling/narrative is endemic to indigenous community formation and understanding, this course will examine indigenous storytelling method, content, genre, and collation with a view to understanding its importance in theology, formation of spiritual identity, and the continuity of community life. Of particular importance will be the application of Indigenous understandings of story to biblical theological development.

    SP 510 Spirituality: Behaviour and Being

    This course is an introduction to what has commonly been referred to as First Nations or Native spirituality. It will also serve as an introduction to the concepts of human spirituality in the context of the created order of God. The topic will be discussed from within the milieu of those who follow the way of Jesus. The focus of the course is to introduce the student to the ways in which First Nations peoples participate as followers of Jesus in a manner that is authentic to their own spiritual understandings. This course will also discuss the appropriation of what has been perceived to be Native spirituality by non-Native people as well as a brief focus on what can be learned from Native understandings of the spiritual.

    SP 600 Spiritual Theology and Diversity

    This course addresses some very foundational questions – often unasked – concerning spirituality. Is the fluid, organic spirituality, expressed by Native North American people, different to the more packaged ‘religion-as-spirituality’ that seems to typify the experience and thinking for people of a western cultural mindset? Or, is each of them simply a different expression of the common spiritual essence formed within humanity in the first days of creation? These are important questions speaking to core issues – at least of Native North American life. They reflect difference in perspective which requires us to think differently about Christian faith and life as it might be embraced within their identity as given by God. Using readings and personal stories, the course focuses on exploring the mystery of the spiritual and its application to human growth and development.

    MD 501 Missio Dei/Missio Ecclesia

    The outcome of colonial Christianity is evident all around us. And yet, it would appear, we still have not learned. History is still seldom hearkened to when it comes to understanding the future of the generations to come. Yet, historically, the church appears either eschatologically focused or fully fixated on the present. It’s as if the future will correct all the problems wrought in the past or that the past has nothing to do with the present. The missio Dei, understood through Indigenous lenses, suggests an alternate approach. This course will examine the missio Dei in light of historic understandings of a more ecclesio-centric mission and in light of Indigenous perspective.

    Spiritual Life-ways (Ongoing Instruction/Guiding)

    The following four themes will be the means of focus for personal health and well-being and count as one credit each per semester (three semesters minimum) taken for a total of 12 credits. Couples will be expected to participate in the learning experience together.
    1. Practicing God's Presence in the Margins
      • Spiritual Life Development
      • Spirituality / Religiosity
    2. Mentoring - Individual, Small Group, Couple (as required)
      • Assigned Mentor(s)
    3. Colonization / Decolonization
      • Discussion on the Need to Engage with Indigenous Thought and Perspective
    4. Vocation of Ministry - Developing a Healthy Native Lifestyle
      • Systems Dynamics in Family, Church, Organizations and Society
      • Inenimowin (Recovery From Abuse Training Workshop)
      • Howayenheoh – Men’s Mentoring
      • Through the Pain – Suicide Prevention/Intervention
      • Marriage/Family
      • Understanding Community
  • Scholarship Applications
    Scholarship Application

    While not guaranteed, NAIITS attempts to offer a tuition-directed scholarship for the MA program(s), which is made available through the generosity of faculty and friends. If you believe you might qualify for the scholarship, you are encouraged to apply according to the following guidelines.

    $100 per credit hour taken per award period deemed eligible to a maximum lifetime
    award of $5000.

    Requirements for Consideration

    1. Scholarship awards are directed primarily toward Native North American, then other Indigenous peoples – in that order. Non-Indigenous students may apply and be considered, but will not be guaranteed.

    2. Scholarships will be awarded solely at the discretion of NAIITS faculty and/or administration, which may make other awards as deemed appropriate.

    3. Students must be enrolled or accepted into one of the NAIITS degree programs.

    4. Students must be enrolled full time in two consecutive semesters for the year in which the scholarship is being awarded. Full-time status for degree programs is considered reached at 6 hours per semester.

    5. Students must reapply for scholarships each year. NOTE: Subsequent withdrawal from courses to below the above level, or failure to complete courses in the semester for which the award is given will disqualify the applicant from reapplying for one full year.

    6. Applications must be received by March 1st to be considered for the April 30th awards and by July 1st to be considered for the August 30th awards respectively.

    7. Students who are applying for other student aid in their country of residence must complete and file required documents personally – they will not be filed by NAIITS.

    NOTE: Successful applicants are not prevented from applying for scholarships from other sources of funding.

    Download the Scholarship Application form here
  • Apply Now

    We are excited about your interest in studying in the NAIITS/Acadia program.

    For Admissions information please contact NAIITS at

Honoured to be a candidate for accreditation by:

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NAIITS - An Indigenous Learning Community
NAIITS (formerly North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies) is one of two divisions of Indigenous Pathways, a non-sectarian organization dedicated to working together with the Indigenous community to develop and articulate Indigenous perspectives in theology and practice. We encourage Indigenous learning styles and world views in our instruction as we facilitate the development of a body of written work addressing biblical, theological, and ethical issues from within Native North American and other Indigenous perspectives. We do so in concert with partners of other ethnicities whom we have invited to speak into this context. NAIITS currently has five degree program partnerships offering undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs.
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