Historic Signing @George Fox University

“The partnership created with this agreement will focus on the delivery of Theological education for Native North Americans and other indigenous peoples using instructional approaches and materials developed by NAIITS,” said Terry LeBlanc, founding chair, now Executive Director of NAIITS.  The first offering in the new partnership will be an MA specializing in intercultural studies that is slated to begin January 2011. LeBlanc, a Mi’kmaq from Canada, made it clear that the program features several innovative approaches to theological education and leadership development stating, “The program is deeply rooted in Native thought and reflects Native concerns.”

The courses will be written, directed and taught by an outstanding faculty of international Native scholars. Each course will incorporate Native worldview and values. The entire program is built around an andragogical approach that allows adult students to exercise greater creativity and flexibility as they learn in unique cultural and social contexts. “Finally, there is a program of study that is uniquely designed for us,” observed one student considering her enrollment. “It’s just brilliant!”

Randy Woodley, Distinguished Associate Professor of Faith and Culture and Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies at George Fox, pointed out that, "Since its inception ten years ago, NAIITS has delivered seven symposiums on theology and mission, published six journals (the seventh is going to print as this is written) and facilitated opportunities for graduate and post-graduate study for a number of Native students in partnerships with various seminaries.” As a NAIITS board member, Woodley will serve as a liaison between the two organizations. Woodley, a Keetoowah Cherokee, says “There is a lot of excitement about this partnership, with both parties having prayerfully undertaken their roles in light of several centuries of misunderstanding and broken treaties between our two communities.”

From her perspective as a College and Seminary instructor of many years, Board member Wendy Peterson said, "When NAIITS existed simply as a dream, we longed for this day. Along the journey, it remained a distant dream that seemed to me to be just beyond reach. I commend the hard work of those who have kept the vision of Indigenous scholars serving Jesus in a new way, for the enrichment of all."

Responding to the question of NAIITS’ purpose in all of this, Richard Twiss, Lakota and Vice-Chairman of the NAIITS Board of Directors observed, "Our vision for NAIITS has been to see Native men and women journey down the road of a living heart relationship with Jesus Christ in a transformative way – one which does not require the rejection of their God-given social and cultural identity."

“This partnership will enable the seminary to extend its reach to people for whom theological education would otherwise not be an option,” said Chuck Conniry, Vice President and Dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary. “Our relationship with NAIITS promises to enrich the culture of our institution and make us all better teachers and scholars.”

LeBlanc and Conniry after signing
Shari Russell, Saulteaux and officer in the Salvation Army, has been on the board of NAIITS for about four years in total – her first stint was two years. Taking a year off to focus on some ministry demands, she soon yearned to be back. NAIITS was on the cutting edge of some things in education she wanted to be part of – so she called and said, “I’m ready to rejoin the board – do you have a vacancy?” NAIITS did and Shari has been back for just over a year. Unable to stay for the signing ceremony, Shari observed from Winnipeg that “This first agreement with George Fox is monumental, it affirms my intuition about the path ahead for all of us!”
Ray Aldred, Cree professor of Theology in Calgary, Alberta and incoming Chair of the NAIITS board, pointed out “Since our first symposium ten years ago we have hoped that something like this might emerge.” “This is the first time a distinguished group of Native North American men and women scholars – who are also ministry practitioners – have created such an innovative approach to theological education!” Ray and Terry were integral in the creation of the study program framework with contributions to the finished work coming from Randy Woodley and Richard Twiss.

Asked what further plans NAIITS has for Native North American education, Terry LeBlanc referenced conversations with several other institutions of higher education – both North American and European – which, if brought to the same conclusion as the Fox agreement, would provide NAIITS the ability to offer undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies programs of various types in partnership with a variety of institutions. Seeking to minimize overlap in study offerings, each institution will be invited to take a specific focus. Whereas this first partnership with George Fox has created a degree in Intercultural Studies it is hoped that other partnerships, if successful, will focus their attention on Community Development studies, Anthropology, Biblical Studies and other aspects of Mission Studies.

According to LeBlanc, the NAIITS community is interested in filling a long-standing void for biblical, theological and missiological education delivered in cultural and social context that is clearly evangelical while simultaneously committed to holistic mission with Native North American and other indigenous peoples.

Student applications for the new MA program will be available upon final approvals with links on both websites (http://www.georgefox.edu/admission/index.html and http://www.naiits.com). For more information about this new degree offering, contact Anita Keith, NAIITS coordinator, at Suite 428, 35 - 2855 Pembina Highway, Winnipeg MB R3T 2H5 (office@naiits.com, www.naiits.com) or Terry LeBlanc, Executive Director, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (terry@naiits.com).