NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community is honoured to welcome Yu-Shan Theological College and Seminary in Taiwan as its newest partner.

The schools will work together to encourage Indigenous scholars to reclaim their Indigenous languages and ground their theology in language, commencing with the NAIITS PhD program. NAIITS Director Shari Russell said she anticipates the partnership will grow to include NAIITS’ master’s programs as well.

“This is a very exciting venture as globally we work together in a relational agreement. As such, reciprocity is a key value as we will give and receive through this for the benefit of our communities,” Shari said.

Leaders of NAIITS and Yu-Shan signed a memorandum of understanding and exchanged gifts on Friday, June 7, during the 2024 NAIITS symposium at Kairos University in Sioux Falls.

Shari said during the signing that the MOU is best described using treaty language since it is, at its heart, a relationship.

The MOU reads in part:

"Our first and primary foundation for this is to enter into and maintain right relations with each other and right relatedness and relationship with the land under the auspices of right relationship with our Creator in Jesus. … We choose to use a language of treaty and understanding rather than agreement, which frequently connotes a contract, and we do so to confirm not only our conversations and activities leading up to this point, but also to create a further aspirational trajectory toward increasingly right relationship and right relatedness."

The relationship between NAIITS and Yu-Shan began several years ago, when Yu-Shan graduate student Risaw Walis spoke at the 2022 NAIITS symposium at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

The following year, the seminary invited NAIITS Director Emeritus Terry LeBlanc, who has visited Indigenous communities in Taiwan in the past. Terry, in turn, extended the invitation to Shari and NAIITS Elders Liaison Adrian Jacobs, who traveled to Taiwan in October 2023.

Shari said as they all sang in worship during that trip, she was struck by the similarities in the Indigenous languages of Taiwan and Turtle Island.

“Across the lands, across time and space, although I had never met many people from Taiwan or heard their language, there was an instant connection in a heart language,” she said.

Shari was inspired by Yu-Shan’s requirement that its MDiv students be able to preach a sermon in their Indigenous languages, encouraging NAIITS to explore how it can help students reclaim their languages, too.

Yu-Shan President Walis Ukan said he was struck by the similarities not only in language, but in the stories and experiences that the NAIITS community has shared.

“I found out that all Indigenous people all over the world have the experience of trauma,” he said through translator Ayah Demaladas.

“So I hope that with this type of cooperation we can work together for Indigenous theologies and hermeneutics for the future of our generations.”